Tony Kowkabi is not affiliated with the Saint nightclub. An article in the Jan. 10 Weekend section indicated otherwise. (Published 1/11/03)
I'VE ALMOST reached the end of my velvet rope. So many upscale nightspots opened in the last 13 months -- including Acropolis, Dream, the Harbour Club, Spank, Toka Cafe, the VIP Club, Vida and Zanzibar on the Waterfront's Skyclub -- that the VIP rooms and headset-wearing bouncers were becoming a blur.
So I groaned when I heard that a new four-story club called Home was moving into 911 F St. NW, an address known in recent years as Babylon, the Casbah and Volt, all cramped nightclubs that attracted a hard-dancing international crowd. It had been empty since New Year's Day 2001, and sporadic attempts to reopen it had fizzled. Now, though, the space has been taken over by a consortium led by Tony Kowkabi, the nightclub impresario who runs Sole and the Saint, as well as the Alamo Grill and Tuscana West restaurants. In December, Home became the third see-and-be-seen club on its block.
Thankfully, although Home sports the requisite doormen, dress codes, two VIP floors and cover charges, it's much smaller and more comfortable than other velvet rope clubs. On the main floor, large armless couches are arranged in groups, 30 feet below a carved plaster ceiling. You don't need a reservation to perch on one. A bar stretches along one wall, with decorative marble panels betraying Home's former use as a bank. Actually, much of the building's original architecture was preserved by the designers from Queue, who also worked on the Harbour Club and MCCXXIII. You can take in another view of the scene from a small mezzanine balcony known as the Guest Room, which has table seating -- again, first come-first served -- as well as its own bar overlooking the dance floor.
Home is a narrow shoebox of a club, but it doesn't feel claustrophobic, even on a Friday night. Part of this could be its low capacity -- it's one-third the size of the VIP Club, and just one-fifth as big as Dream. You can walk around without bumping anyone. When the seats are taken, people stand around, chatting with friends, and dancing to top 40, club mixes and even Bhangra music spun by DJ Rob Corbett, formerly of New York's Limelight. He'll alternate with the well-known house DJ Junior Salinas on the main floor on weekends, while other DJs spin simultaneously on Home's other levels.
I'm more apt to spend my time down in the Basement, a cozy warren of small rooms connected by narrow hallways. Each has a long vinyl banquette cut into the wall, and there's space to dance to the DJ spinning hip-hop, although the vibe is more loungey. This level was the bank's vault, and rows of safe-deposit boxes, now lit by colored lights, are visible through a glass wall.
If you want to see the upper levels, dubbed the Master Bedroom and the Attic, there's no nice way to put this: You're going to have to pay. The Master Bedroom is similar to MCCXXIII's Spank: a row of eight large, rectangular banquettes lines one wall, separated by gauzy white curtains. If you want to sit on one, you and your friends (up to seven of them) have to spend a minimum of $500 on bottles of liquor -- and bottles range from $195 for Absolut or Bacardi to $2,300 for Remy Louis XIII Cognac. (It should be noted, though, that reservations include free admission to the club for your party, and the floor has its own DJ spinning international house music.) Up another level, the Attic, with its sculpted PVC ceiling and comfortable leather chairs, is the kind of place the Wizards and their guests rent out for private parties. You can pay $1,000 a year for access to the Attic whenever it's not rented out, and even bring three guests along.
Home's crowds, thus far, are the kind of people who come in to sip champagne on Thursdays, when the bar pours $6 glasses of Moet, and not the party-hungry crowds who flock to the neighboring Platinum and VIP clubs on weekends. The atmosphere at Home is a little more jumping on Wednesday for Flirt, a hip-hop and R&B event with a packed dance floor, but for now, it's a comfortable little lounge-club hybrid that should have little trouble winning over mature been-there, done-that scenesters.
THE BELGIAN CONNECTION A welcome addition to the Washington bar scene in 2002 was the increasing availability of Belgian beers on draft. For a country the size of Maryland, Belgium produces a disproportionate amount of the world's most delicious brews.
Belgian beers aren't entirely new in town -- Stella Artois and Hoegaarden have been offered for a few years -- but in recent months, bar owners have begun pouring the exotic ales and taking their presentation seriously, down to the glassware. In Belgium, each brand is served in its own particular glass, usually a goblet or chalice shape designed to emphasize the taste and nose of the beer, and oversize to provide room for a foamy head. Belgian beers are often much stronger than your average domestic longneck, with brands like Chimay, Lucifer and Delirium Tremens ranging from 7 percent to 10 percent alcohol.
In the last few years, the only restaurant/bar with a reliable number of Belgians on draft was Bistrot du Coin, which boasts an authentic draft system and proper glasses for its all-Belgian draft lineup: Stella, Hoegaarden and the hard-to-find Leffe Blonde and Leffe Brune, two fruity ales brewed at the Abbey of Leffe in the southern part of the country. (This year, Soussi, an Adams Morgan bar and restaurant, introduced a similar system and beer lineup.)
For beer aficionados, though, the most exciting moment was probably the debut of Chimay at the Reef in June. Brewed by monks in a Trappist monastery, Chimay's three bottled varieties (commonly known as Red, White and Blue, thanks to the colors of their labels) are held in high esteem by knowledgeable drinkers. This is the first time the monks have made a draft beer, and it too is drawing raves. Chimay Draft is a version of Chimay White (aka Cinq Cents), a hoppy beer with a light fruit touch. It's now popping up all over the area, from Galaxy Hut to Penang to Pizza Paradiso. But the Reef also stocks other Belgians, including De Koninck, a classic, smooth-drinking ale from Antwerp, and Lindeman's Framboise Lambic, a tart wheat beer flavored with raspberries. Owner Brian Harrison invented his own Belgian half-and-half, combining Lindeman's with Allagash White, an award-winning Belgian-style wheat beer that's made in Maine.
Other new additions were just as welcomed. The walls and ceiling at Chez Antoine, an Adams Morgan creperie, are covered with pink elephants -- the logo of Delirium Tremens, the strong golden ale that won a gold medal at the 1998 World Beer Championships. There's a good explanation: Chez Antoine is the only place in Washington that pours Delirium Tremens (and, in season, its sister beer Delirium Noel) on draft. They're both dry, sweet brews with plenty of spices and a hint of fruit. (And, weighing in at 9 percent and 10 percent alcohol by volume, both pack a pachyderm-size punch.) Chez Antoine, which installed its draft system in the summer, also offers Chimay and Allagash White on draft, and stocks a number of Belgian beers in bottles, including Maes, All Saints and Quintine Hercule Stout. In Mount Pleasant, the Marx Cafe's already excellent draft selection added DeKoninck as well as Chimay. Great Falls's Old Brogue Irish Pub continues to pour the light, sweet Kasteel Golden Triple.
Neophytes who want to join fans of Belgian ales -- in bottles as well as on draft -- should head to Bohemian Caverns for Tuesday's Belgian Beer Happy Hour. "Knowing that there aren't many establishments that appreciate the taste of Belgian beer, we decided to put on the happy hour to see how people react," owner Al Afshar says. "I hope they are going to appreciate it the way we do."
The bottle selection includes brands like Chimay (both the Red and Blue varieties), Delirium Tremens, Delirium Nocturnum, Duval, Lucifer, DeKoninck and Maradsous; several of those are available on draft at other area bars, but this is a cheap way to find out which beers or styles you like. From 6 until 10, all bottles are half price, so you'll generally pay around $3 per bottle. Draft beers are $2.75 per pint.