Arts Desk

Zanzibar on the Waterfront Closes Down

You wouldn't have known it at the time, but if you were at Zanzibar on the Waterfront this weekend for the Howard Homecoming event hosted by Erykah Badu, you were there for the venue's last hurrah. It's now closed for business.

Salsa dance instructor Eileen Torres found out Monday night from Zanzibar's management; she informed her mailing list the next day. Her "Tribute to Salsa Choreographers" was scheduled for last night on one level of the three-story, 1,700-capacity building. Now she's looking for another spot.

The club’s closing is likely linked to the city’s plans to redevelop the Southwest waterfront into a more tourist-friendly destination.  The project, helmed by the firms PN Hoffman and Madison Marquette, is slated to contain 14 acres of parks, 780,000 square feet of office, cultural and retail space, as well as 1,000 housing units. In September, The Washington Post reported:

Construction will require the displacement or demolition of several waterfront businesses that held 99-year leases, including Gangplank's neighbor, the Capital Yacht Club; the 100-room Channel Inn; the Zanzibar nightclub; and Phillips Seafood Restaurant.

A deal for Zanzibar, a 26,000-square-foot club known for its hip-hop, Caribbean, African and salsa music, could be finished in the coming weeks, Hoffman said. It will eventually be torn down, and its owners might be offered a smaller space for a more low-key jazz club.

But Michel Daley, one of Zanzibar's co-owners, said nothing is final.

"This has been a very arduous negotiation and Hoffman has been offering a take-it-or-leave-it scenario, so we're not sure," he said Friday.

Zanzibar did not widely publicize the closing. My calls since Tuesday to club management were greeted by full voicebox messages. My e-mails to club staffers have bounced. The club has not responded on its Facebook site to a comment posted by a patron asking if the club would stay open beyond last weekend.  The website provides no information.  The development plans for the area have been discussed in the City Paper and Washington Post from an architectural and land-use standpoint (and in relation to the new Arena Stage), but coverage has barely discussed the artistic and cultural impact. Another nearby club, Hogate’s/H20, featured leading salsa and Latin-pop bands and DJs on Friday nights through much of the 2000s. It [closed down and] fell to a [ceremonial pretend] wrecking ball in [an] August [event] as part of the redevelopment plan.

As Zanzibar’s website indicates, the club opened in 1992 at 1714 G Street, NW, one block from the White House. Its audience there consisted largely of the international clientele who worked at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, plus other émigrés and individuals who have lived abroad. The club’s  music format included tunes from the Caribbean, the African Diaspora and Latin America, and live shows with artists from those areas.

In 1998, Zanzibar moved to its current location, with its beautiful river view, at 700 Water St. SW. It became Zanzibar on the Waterfront and expanded its musical offerings to include house, hip-hop, neo-soul, and contemporary R&B. While I was never crazy about its upscale and chic atmosphere and mostly unhelpful management, I have fond memories of seeing soca legend David Rudder, afropop/Latin bandleader Ricardo Lemvo, and reggae singer Richie Spice, among others, perform there.

Just as the demolition of the Capital Ballroom didn't get much attention when Nationals Park was constructed,  the lack of coverage regarding the shutdown of these Southwest nightclubs again demonstrates local media's cultural myopia. Hopefully Zanzibar on the Waterfront will be back in some form. If not, it will be missed.

Correction added:  In August 2010, Hogates was subject to  a ceremonial demolition event, but it was not actually knocked down, as originally reported here. 

Blog Widget by LinkWithin
  • Pingback: Zanzibar on the Waterfront Closes Down | Email Mailing List

  • Michel Daley

    I am a co-owner and spokesperson for Zanzibar that you referenced in your article. I am surprised that you took my quote from a Washington Post article, printed months ago, and stated that I said it on "Friday." What Friday? You left the reader with the impression that you were referring to last Friday, which is disingenuous. You are also inaccurate in stating that Hogates/H2O "fell to a wrecking ball." This was a Fenty con. He staged a photo-op to imply the building was quickly coming down. It is still standing, although it is scheduled to be demolished soon. For the record, Zanzibar did close to make way for the Southwest Waterfront Redevelopment. We are optimistic that we will have a final agreement with the developer soon. Michel Daley

  • stevekiviat

    Thanks for responding. We have corrected the piece to note that there was a ceremonial demolition for Hogates but that it has not actually been knocked down yet. We also note that the use of the phrase “he said Friday” was from the indented September Washington Post article. We regret any confusion regarding the phrase's meaning.

  • Melissa

    I am VERY happy to see the Washington City paper cover this issue. I LOVE Zanzibar. It was one of the few places where you can experience true diversity of international music.
    It was a shame that the focus on the redevelopment of the Waterfront has given minimal attention to the cultural impact, as you mentioned in the article.

    DC officials who promote the city for diverse lifestyles and its eclectic nature has failed miserably with this endeavor. I hope to see Zanzibar return soon... and not as a 'low key jazz club' but in its true authentic form.

  • Algate Munyambu

    I loved Zanzibar to the core. I met my wife there. I'm very sad to see it go. I hope the DC Government will provide another venue to the many international music lovers to enjoy true diversity in the Washington DC area. This is an international city and it deserves better like Zanzibar was!

  • Tom Mayave

    It was a good ride with many fond memories. I will miss the old waterfront Zanzibar. I have lots of sadness when I think it's forever gone.

  • ENomis

    I know that they say that you can't meet a decent nor maintain a love in the club, but I met my husband at the Zanzibar nearly 10 years ago and we have been married for 5 of those 9 years. It was always "our place" where at 6ft1 (myself and he 6 ft 9) could feel there was enough space to move around and cut a rug or 2. We were MORE than happy to bring our sand to the beach, as the patrons who came there were there to enjoy a GROWN-FOLKS night out!! We are truly saddend as this week marks our 10th year of meeting at the "Z" and it will be sorely missed by this native Washingtonian. I'm down for urban renewal, but my gosh, it would have been nice to have had a respectable farewell. Job well done Zanzibar, I owe you lots :)


  • Pingback: Zannzibar On The Waterfront Closes Its Doors | MyMajicDC - Majic 102.3 DC's Home for the Adult Urban Community

  • angela gross

    I see i have no reason to come to dc anymore....I will miss it

  • Callender

    I was on my way home this past Saturday night 11-20-10.
    I decided to stop by Zanzibar on my way home.

    I was shocked too see no lights On; or neon, no people buzzing around, no one parking cars, the Zanzibar neon sign was not lit.

    I could not believe it; and I asked a taxi driver what happened ? He said it's been that way for about two weeks since first week in November.
    We have also lost alot of Taxi business in the process.

    I have been coming to Zanzibar since 1998 and have always enjoyed myself for happy hour, birthday parties, jazz on the patio; the view from that vantage point is just beautiful.
    It was a meeting place for Black professionals in DC; or just folks wanting to enjoy themselves on a night out.

    Moreover, it was indeed a diverse cultural atmosphere ; and I have seen some of the best Jazz, Reggae, Smooth JAzz and local talent in the DC metro area right there at Zanzibar.
    The club itself was spacious and enjoyable unlike your typical sweat box atmosphere at most clubs in DC.

    South West DC has always been my favorite section of the city; with the waterfront, park, marina it reminds me of the beachfront cities in Los Angeles and San Diego.

    As SW is being redeveloped, revamped, and redefined .
    I urge residents too insist on being involved and included in the process of knowing what's going on and who is making the big decisions.

    Zanzibar, was a wonderful meeting place for people; un- congested like G-town, U-Street and Adams Morgan.
    Never had any problems there; somehow I think it is "Unfair" that it Closed without any Celebration or Notification to those of us who Loved going there;
    the holiday season 2010 will be less joyous.

  • Melissa Mcgee

    WOW I had my B-Day party there and I came all the way from Rochester,NY..Zansibar was a good place to meet people and have a good time...Oh well there is no reason for me to come back to the area now that there is no place to go...I am sorry to here that it is closed....To all the people that I meet there..See ya on the other side I guess....TEARS....

  • Michelle M

    The Zanzibar was my fav club of all time, & I don't say that lightly I am a devoted party goer I feel music and relaxation keeps you grounded. the zanzibar offered so much more the music it offered culture, style, and class. anytime I waited a guaranteed good I would travel faithfully to dc from bmore sometimes solo. When word spread up here abt zanziar I couldn't believe it, I'm still in shock all I can say is I hope something is worked out where we can still enjoy the life of zanizar until then I have no more reason to come to DC

  • stevekiviat
  • AdaezeC

    OMG...say it isn't so...who made the unfortunate and illwilled decision to mess with a proven DC nightclub Icon like the Zanzibar OTW? I guess am all late cause I just learned about it from my son-in-law after I informed him that some of us nurses would be celebrating Christmas eve at "Z Zbar" - the one place we can go that actually had class and patrons conducted themselves with much welcomed decorum. I am so sad about this. The management was polite to us. The bouncers and staff were always polite, on guard and moved around in the crowd making sure the folks were having a good time and not starting trouble. I never witnessed any kind of unrest. It was pure and simple good times. Please owners and
    co-owners you've got to somehow come together and help us out with this awful 'withdrawal' symptoms from not having a place to go when we have time off from work. Time off is hard to come by for most professionals. Please help us out. We are part of your Zanzibar family. I support most patrons by expressing the flavor has gone out of wanting to do business with DC, even at the nightclub disposable income level. Punk ass district officials and snooty, cut-throat businessmen, I bet you never thought about the backlash. Michel Daley do not accept any compromising deal(s) from some inconsiderate, callous and shrewd business people. You have gotten us addicted to quality fun. Don't back down now. Move to someplace else. We will be there with bells on, supporting you all the way.

  • afia nson

    we understand change in my age set. really. but we also deeply understand the significance of positive cultural environments of which there are few. now that Zanzibar is gone, there is probably nowhere else in dc to go, negatively effecting a population that has depended on it's ambiance, location, commitment to quality and incredible cultural contribution. i wish i could say i had faith that a comparable site for the Zanzibar would be a priority for dc planners

  • marlboropikeD

    I hate to be like this, but it seems D.C. is hell bent on getting rid of all it's successful hip hop/r&b clubs in the name of redevelopment, Funny how these white or gay clubs never get shut down, adams morgan is a drunk fools paradise, georgetown is for the whites, you gotta play for the redskins or the wizards to go to the park on 14th street, I remember going to the ritz, dc live, vip, when white people would'nt dare hang around after dark, it was just us, the bums & the rats.

  • steve k

    MarlboropikeD, you're incorrect regarding your suggestion that the "gay clubs never get shut down." The ones in Southeast near where the baseball stadium is were shut down as were others in the SW waterfront area near Zanzibar.

  • Bashman

    Now i've got no place to go and chill out in the weekends. Any substitutes?

  • Madou

    This is SAD. First, there was Kilimanjaro in the 80’s, and now Zanzibar. For those who have been around long enough know what I am talking about. When Kilimanjaro was closed, we had to try all those crummy little Clubs around the DC area until Zanzibar came along, so now we have to go through the same pain again. It is important for the former Peace Corps Volunteers, USAID, and Embassy people to have a place like Zanzibar to go to, so they can relax, and meet decent people from Africa, and the Caribbean.
    As someone said earlier, location is very important for these unique Clubs, and DC Government, in their decision making, needs to understand the importance of these cultural impacts. Just reading some of the comments here, you can see the impact this is having on people and the economy of the City.