“It sounded like an earthquake,” said de Moya, owner of the Cloakroom. “I walked out of the office, and there was literally no more building behind me.”
Cooks were climbing out the second-floor windows, and patrons and half-naked dancers were pouring onto the pavement at Fifth and K streets NW. For de Moya and his business partner, a year’s worth of work evaporated in a shower of mortar and a cloud of dust.
The club reopened this month, more than four years after the collapse — but the neighborhood it has returned to has much changed.
Nightspots such as Avenue Nightclub and New York Avenue Beach Bar that once occupied the neighborhood are gone. In their place are glass-tower apartment buildings, a law firm’s new headquarters and coffee shops selling $5 lattes and artisanal toast. That makes the strip club an unusual fit in one of the District’s many gentrifying enclaves — even if Washington fixation Stormy Daniels is performing at the grand opening next month.
Even when the club opened in August 2013, the parking lots, warehouses, prostitutes and drug dealers that had once made the neighborhood a no-go zone at night for taxis were giving way to a handful of new apartment buildings, a Safeway supermarket and — the District’s gentrification weather vane — a Busboys and Poets restaurant.
Today, Mount Vernon Triangle most directly competes for residents with the yuppie enclave of Clarendon in Virginia, according to the neighborhood’s Community Improvement District.
“The neighborhood has completely changed — it’s no longer a nightclub neighborhood,” said Jenny Crawford, an economist whose condo in a building across K Street faces the Cloakroom. “It’s a minority in the neighborhood. The whole neighborhood isn’t drunk people walking around.”
Crawford played a leading role in introducing the Cloakroom’s owners to their changed environs. As de Moya and his business partner, Tony Cavasilios, sought approval to add a rooftop bar, Crawford spearheaded a group of 128 neighbors — many living in buildings finished within the past four years — who opposed the proposal.
It was a stark shift: In 2014, the neighborhood had been so deserted at night that some residents welcomed the Cloakroom: Its bouncers were an extra pair of eyes on an otherwise empty corner.
Three years later, with apartment buildings now cheek-by-jowl with the club, those same residents, joined by dozens more, raised concerns in emails and public meetings about potential noise from the roof. Many hadn’t expected the venue to reopen at all.
“People were surprised — it’d been closed down for three years,” said Alex Marriott, chairman of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6E, which covers Mount Vernon Triangle. “There were some not wild about it being a strip club.”
A small but vocal contingent of residents opposed the venture entirely, urging D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) to shut it down, neighborhood representatives said. The calls were ignored, they said, but the complaints stuck with local leaders.
“I mean, you can’t just by fiat. That’s not the way this works,” said Kenyattah Robinson, president and CEO of the Mount Vernon Triangle Community Improvement District. That residents would seek to keep the club from opening pointed to a new type of conflict for the neighborhood, he thought, one arising from the return of an establishment seen as a vestige of the area’s past.
“When you have a bunch of new people with different expectations about what this place should be . . . and then you have something that doesn’t conform to what those expectations are, then how are those conflicts resolved?” Robinson said.
The Cloakroom has taken over the space of the former Louis Rogue strip club, which de Moya bought and shuttered in 2011 for a nearly two-year makeover. It was an establishment where the bathrooms leaked, the pool tables tilted and some dancers were said to have old stab wounds. But it still drew a crowd.
“Local politicians, local dope boys, regular Joe Schmoes working, government workers,” said Tarji Irby, the longtime owner of World Class Cuts, a barbershop around the corner. “I don’t want to use ‘mom and pop’ for a strip club. . . . It was your neighborhood watering hole.”
In buying Louis Rogue, de Moya inherited its liquor license — a coveted rarity, no longer issued by the District, that allows the establishment to stay open until 2 a.m. during the week and 3 a.m. on weekends, and it has to be used at that location. But that corner, once isolated, is now well situated: Remaining parking lots serve fans walking to and from Wizards and Capitals games and concerts at Capital One Arena. Expense-account restaurants such as RPM Italian and Texas de Brazil sit across the street or around the corner.
De Moya put the reopening simply: “Business opportunity. It was a great opportunity to take over this establishment.”
Now it’s what he called an “ultra-hybrid,” a combination nightclub and strip club evoking Miami or Las Vegas, with gold couches and leopard-print carpet and a helix of lights swirling above the main stage like a neon strand of DNA. The name, de Moya said, is a reference to the House and Senate cloakrooms as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary: places where legislators “may relax and confer with colleagues.”
“This is something D.C. needs — we’ve had the same gentlemen’s strip clubs since the ’80s,” said Cavasilios, whose uncles owned Louis Rogue. There are nine strip clubs in the District, according to the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration.
To address the concerns about noise from the rooftop bar, de Moya and Cavasilios agreed to enclose it by 10 p.m., install sound meters and set up a hotline for complaints.
Some neighbors remain wary.
“I am very concerned, still, about the roof deck. I’m happy we were able to come to an agreement,” Crawford said. “I never really wanted to live near a nightclub roof.”
For some who have been in the area long enough to remember Louis Rogue, there are different concerns. “Instead of $20 lasting one hour, $20 gets you in the door,” Irby said. But, he said, he still supports local business.
“If it’s a long wait on a Friday, I’ll tell my clients, ‘Go, have a drink. I’ll give you a call.’ ”
This story has been updated. An earlier version of this article misidentified a restaurant near the Cloakroom strip club. It is Texas de Brazil, not Fogo de Chao. This story has been updated.