You’re expected to dress “Fabulous” for Fuego, promoters Philip Doyle and Hector Zarate’s weekly Saturday-night dance party at Northwest D.C. nightspot Cada Vez, according to the event’s Web site.
After all, you’ll wanna look good for the cameras.
Some weeks, attendees get their pictures taken by Metro Weekly contributing photographer Henry Linser. Scores of Linser’s pics from recent Fuego nights are posted on the local gay-and-lesbian magazine’s Web site.
Yet patrons of the photogenic party were reportedly “startled” earlier this summer when someone else began taking their picture: a strange-acting straight couple standing outside the U Street NW venue, openly videotaping them as they exited the event.
A July 29 report in the Washington Blade outed the camera-equipped heterosexuals as husband Mark Parascandola and wife Christina Parascandola, who live in the neighborhood.
“They were catty-corner across the street,” says Fuego promoter Doyle, recalling the scene after last call on July 10. “She’s holding the camera. And the husband was right next to his wife, kinda like, ‘Hey, look at this,’ directing and pointing and stuff. He was the director.”
Zarate also recalls the couple’s wielding some type of lighting device. “Like when you’re filming a movie,” he says. (The Parascandolas deny the lighting allegation.)
Patrons of the event, which caters primarily to the “Latino, mostly gay and lesbian and transgender” crowd, “felt very uncomfortable” with the ongoing surveillance, says Zarate. “It was very intimidating.”
But then again, clubbing in Washington isn’t really an activity suited to the privacy freak.
Breaking out the camcorder is a popular—if not always successful—tactic for area NIMBYs when they take issue with the operation of their neighborhood watering hole.
Or, say, approximately 90 neighborhood watering holes, as in the case of Kalorama Citizens Association President Denis James. Last summer, the outspoken Adams Morgan anti-barfly produced a six-minute video demonstrating the early-morning booze-fueled antics of patrons along bar-lined 18th Street NW—which he later presented to members of the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board. “There’s some pretty good stuff in it,” James says of the video. “I got drunk girls barfing in front of Saki. I got people pissing outside the SunTrust bank....I got this girl walking up the street, but she was so sloshed she just fell over....I got a woman being loaded into an ambulance after coming out of Fasika’s with some unknown injury. I got a lot of shit. It’s a good movie, too.”
With the video, James aimed to illustrate for the mayorally appointed panel that the neighborhood was saturated with venues serving alcoholic beverages and overrun with oft-intoxicated patrons. He further hoped to persuade the board to uphold an existing moratorium prohibiting new liquor licenses in the nightlife district.
James’ videographic efforts ultimately paid off, sort of. The board renewed the restriction while at the same time loosening the rules to allow new liquor-licensed restaurants, which, neighbors often complain, usually wind up operating like bars anyway.
Wherever there’s a thriving party scene, it seems, there’s a video-savvy neighbor. Georgetown resident Christian Mulder similarly turned to the camcorder a few years ago when “rowdy pedestrians” began causing too much noise outside a club in his ’hood.
According to ABC Board records, Mulder in 2003 submitted a DVD depicting various wee-hour scenes taking place at first daughters Barbara Bush and Jenna Bush’s noted hangout, Smith Point. “The DVD,” records show, “displayed instances of patrons loitering in front of the establishment; crowds of patrons on the sidewalk of Wisconsin Avenue, N.W., attempting to enter the establishment, forcing pedestrians to walk in the street; patrons waiting in the street for cabs; patrons jay-walking; and, patrons exiting the establishment in a loud, disorderly manner.”
Mulder, among other neighbors, alleged that Smith Point was attracting far more patrons than the maximum capacity of 85 that the place is allowed under an existing written agreement with area residents. His DVD footage, alongside other testimony, convinced the board to eventually order owner Bo Blair to stick to the pact’s capacity limit.
The Parascandolas say they were also attempting to gather evidence to present to the ABC Board—not about Fuego, per se, but about the party’s location, Cada Vez.
The licensed restaurant has shown “outright disregard for the terms of its liquor license and for its adverse impact on our neighborhood,” Christina Parascandola writes in an e-mail. (Cada Vez General Manager Charles Zhou disputes her noncompliance claim, noting that the venue met its city-mandated food-sales requirement last year and has passed numerous subsequent inspections.)
The Parascandolas and other anti– Cada Vez compañeros in the neighborhood embrace the ethics of NIMBY surveillance. “Photographs were taken from across U Street, which is very wide, and, given the distance and lack of light, individual patrons are not identifiable,” the group called Concerned Residents of 15th Street explains in a recent e-mail. “In fact, we will ensure that no individuals are identifiable in any of the images before they are submitted as evidence in the protest process.”
Though the neighbors claim that their “longstanding dispute with the Cada Vez establishment long pre-dates the once-a-week Club Fuego party,” promoters Doyle and Zarate nonetheless feel that their party has been somewhat spoiled by the Big Brother tactics. “If people feel uncomfortable, they’re not gonna come,” Doyle says. “Maybe you don’t wanna be outed. Or, especially, if you’re from a culture where, you know, being gay isn’t such a good thing, then you certainly don’t want your face plastered everywhere.”
Of course, George Orwell– inspired concerns about the consequences of nighttime surveillance don’t disappear once you get past the disgruntled NIMBYs hovering around a club’s front door.
Though proprietors might take issue with outsiders zooming in on their clientele, many of them also like to keep an eye on the inebriated masses who pour into their venues. Cada Vez, for one, has cameras overlooking both bars and its 10-by-15-foot dance floor, according to Zhou. Lots of other spots are also outfitted with surveillance systems that closely monitor customers’ movements.
Remember your recent trip to Southeast stripperplex Nexus Gold Club—y’know, the one you didn’t tell your wife about? Guess what? Your dollar-bill-dispensing ass was on camera the whole exotic time. “We have everything in our club on surveillance,” notes Nexus owner Ron Hunt.
Northeast megaclub Dream is no different. In fact, owner Marc Barnes takes his surveillance system so seriously that in February he refused to turn over the tape of a recent stabbing to authorities because, according to his lawyer, David Wilmot, he was afraid the cops might destroy it. Hey, it happened once before, the attorney added.
The clubs’ internal surveillance is intended to protect not only their patrons but also the club’s own liability when incidents arise. Not that this system is always effective.
At East End nightclub Platinum, 12 security cameras are “strategically, yet discretely [sic] placed throughout the Club,” which are constantly “monitoring and videotaping all 4 floors,” according to the venue’s security plan.
Yet somehow this pervasive surveillance system failed to shed any light on how American University student Adesegun Adeniyi got injured there back on Dec. 26, 2004.
Adeniyi claims that the club’s bouncers “beat me up, then threw me out,” causing a busted lip, contusions to the head, and neck and back pain, as he told the ABC Board on May 25. Platinum owner Abdul Khanu disputed Adeniyi’s claim, arguing that the student had been escorted out of the club after harassing female patrons. On his way out, Khanu said, “he fell. That’s how he got a cut lip.”
But when asked by ABC Board member Judy Moy whether the club’s video cameras had picked up any footage of the disputed incident, Khanu said no.
In at least one case, the rationale for videotaping mirrors the rationale for clubbing: entertainment.
Been to posh spots such as Panache or Vida lately? You might wind up seeing your gelled hair on late-night TV.
Since 2003, party promoter– turned– TV producer Eric Seltzer has been videodocumenting the area club scene for his low-budget program Late Nite With Erik Haase, which airs Saturday mornings at 2:30 a.m. on WBDC-TV. Despite its less-than-desirable time slot, the show recently garnered a Nielsen rating of 1.2—translating to an estimated 26,800 viewers in the local market, according to the station.
Seltzer focuses his camera with a purpose altogether different from that of club owners and embattled residents. “D.C. is awesome, dude, but nobody knows about it,” he says. “There’s always celebrities coming through. There’s always hot girls. People just don’t know where to find them.”—Chris Shott
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Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Illustration by Rebecca Hahn.