Arts Desk

On U Street Music Hall and Douchebags

A venue's age policy shouldn't be news. When the people behind U Street Music Hall change theirs, however, it apparently kinda is. Since it first turned on its lights last March, the venue has been the only dance club on U Street NW open to 18-and-over crowds, but today it announced a tweak to that policy.

If you've been to U Street Music Hall over the past few Saturdays you've surely noticed that there's been a change in the crowd – more bad behavior and less respect for other patrons. In an effort to curb this, as of Friday, February 18th we'll be admitting patrons 18-20 years of age by advance ticket only on the weekends (ticketfly.com). If you're over 18 but under 21 and you come to U Hall to hear great music then we still want you to be able to see your favorite DJs and bands, but what we don't want is to be the hot underage party spot just because our doors are open.

Our weekdays will remain 18+ at the door, this change only applies to Friday and Saturday nights. And if you ever see anyone of any age at U Hall acting like an asshole, feel free to mention it to our staff and we'll take care of it. Without a great crowd it's not a great club.

This follows an incident Saturday in which a rowdy Steelers fan was kicked out of the club and was banned for life and caused his team to lose the Super Bowl after he requested that a DJ spin Wiz Khalifa's Pittsburgh-repping "Black and Yellow" after it had already been played. Rebuffed, the patron slammed the DJ's laptop shut. Interesting! Fucked up! But not necessarily a big deal.

Except that the not-very-serious item I wrote on the incident generated a decent amount of traffic. And now the changed age policy has merited a medium-length article on The Washington Post's Going Out Guide blog. People really care about what happens at UHall.

In his GOG Blog item, Fritz Hahn starts getting to why:

Last Saturday was the tipping point, [Will] Eastman says. I was there, and it's easy to understand his frustration. Outside, I watched a woman try to use her George Washington University student ID to get into the club. When the bouncer refused to accept it because it didn't have a date of birth on it, she responded, "But you let in people who are under 21, right? Just mark me as being under 21."

At the bar, a friend and I watched as a guy (clearly over 21) took off his coat — and also tried to slip off the wristband identifying him as being of-age so he could hand it to the under-21 woman who was with him. Unfortunately for him, he wasn't smooth enough, and the bartender saw what he was doing.

As someone who has been going to U Hall since it opened, the crowd just felt ... off. Many of the people were more dressed up for a velvet-rope style place than the casual U Hall.

D.C. has a history of smart DJs with punk values—think Dava Nada, or Tittsworth, one of UHall's owners. Tittsworth and Will Eastman and the other owners of U Street Music Hall almost said as much when they opened the space—the idea was a club that was inclusive and unpretentious but for people who are serious about music. City Paper wrote at the time: "The vibe is largely populist—there are no reservations and no bottle service—to the point that the space is unfriendly to benchwarmers. 'The club is for dancing, not for sitting,' says Tittsworth."

As I think most followers of the scene agree, D.C. has no shortage of "high-minded" DJs—a term I frequently hear in reference to UHall. "Black and Yellow" notwithstanding, you'll almost never hear Top 40 at UHall; many of the DJs that spin there have large, serious, world-spanning fanbases.

And yet: If the music moves, often it'll move the masses. Punk openness works for punk shows because not everyone wants to hear punk music. The distinction between "high-minded" electronic music and the bland house and Top 40 you'll hear on K Street is huge if you know about that stuff. But I'm guessing to most people, U Street Music Hall is just a hot, newish spot with low covers and long lines. If you want anyone, you might get everyone—especially in a nightlife scene that's not exactly huge.

UHall remains one of my favorite spots in the city, and I applaud any and all moves meant to repel douchebags. I also wouldn't be surprised if many of those douchebags turn out to be over 21, and aren't disappearing anytime soon. Oh well.

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