On a recent Thursday, the line outside the Park at 14th is already forming. It’s only 5 p.m. and the suits are waiting for jerk chicken wings and cocktails.
The club, which is celebrating 10 years in the game, can still reliably draw a crowd. That’s in large part thanks to its owner, Marc Barnes, the night-life legend behind the velvet ropes of hot spots such as Republic Gardens and Dream.
Barnes, a moving and shaking Washington native who just wants “the city to win,” sat still with the Reliable Source long enough to try to figure out how he can make that happen.
So grab your cocktail dress and a calculator: Marc Barnes is ready to school you now.
First off, Barack Obama was good for the culture, for the city as a whole, and for business.
“Obama’s inauguration? I made $650,000 that weekend,” explained Barnes, who doesn’t drink, over a glass of water. “Trump’s inauguration? 60K the whole weekend. It destroyed me. It was really, really horrible,” he added. “Nobody was in a festive mood.”
So what did Barnes do a year later? Spent $12,000 wrapping the club in a giant red bow for the holidays. Mood. Lifted.
“I think D.C. would have evolved more if Trump wasn’t here. We’d be more like a New York,” Barnes said. “You got to remember there’s no celebrity, movie star, none of those people want to be here” — here meaning the District, not here as in Park, which is practically a fly trap for famous folks.
Every D.C. mayor since Adrian Fenty has walked through its doors. Omarosa hosted her wedding’s after-party on the top floor. Vice President Joe Biden and wife Jill popped in to surprise DNC staffers at the committee’s 2016 holiday party. Both Chelsea Clinton and Megan McCain campaigned for their parents at the place. Plus, there are those faces more familiar with TMZ than MSNBC who have partied there: Jamie Foxx, Channing Tatum, Taraji P. Henson, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Chrissy Teigen, Pharrell . . . the list goes on and on.
They come, according to Barnes, because of how he treats them.
“That’s the key to my longevity: Great customer service,” Barnes said. He added that his one major talent is “knowing who should be in the place” to make it the place to be. But that’s a boon and a curse, and the reason he still shows up for work every night with no signs of stopping. “I can’t pass that talent on to anyone else.”
Most nightclubs don’t get going until after midnight, but the Park, with its carpeted floors cleaned nightly and its custom handblown chandelier, isn’t most nightclubs. It has Barnes — or more accurately, Barnes’s passion (obsession?) for figures. He’s a self-proclaimed “numbers guy.” For example (and he has many), he thinks DJs are terrible at their jobs because they don’t do numbers. “If they play each song for just a minute, what’s the most amount of songs they can play in a night?” he asks. Then answers immediately: “240.”
“If you can’t make people go crazy off of 240 songs out of the millions of songs that are out there, then you suck,” he said.
“Everybody’s got to want everybody else to win,” Barnes added, another of his favorite lines. Sure, he’s had major losses — bankruptcy, the closing of mega-nightclub Love, his 2014 arrest for theft involving a fake I.D. (The charges were later dropped.) But he’s also got five healthy children, a happy marriage and a thriving business. He’s even been advising the new owners of City Winery, who now occupy the old Love space. “I want them to win. I want the city to win.”
Just the other day, the club owner recalled, he was advising a manager at the new Line Hotel. “I was explaining to him the importance of me explaining to them how to make things work,” he said in all seriousness. After hearing this anecdote, a publicist at Park suggested he add professor to his title. He might. But it’d have to fit into his club schedule, because if there’s one number Barnes isn’t interested in, it’s an expiration date.
“I think the next 10 years are going to be better because we’ve learned how to make it work,” Barnes said, referring to his business. “Yeah, I definitely could teach a class.”