Arts Desk

A Brief History of D.C.’s Mistrust of Nightclubs

Last week, 13 people were injured in a drive-by shooting in front of the Tyler House apartments on North Capitol Street NW. In response, Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells vowed to shut down two nearby nightclubs, Fur and Ibiza, that he thought played an indirect role in the violence. No connection was made between the clubs and the shootings—in fact, an Ibiza owner said that club was closed the night in question—and Wells eventually backed down.

But this isn’t the first time D.C. area nightclubs have come under attack for alleged quality-of-life crimes. Contrary to what some might think, it’s been going on for generations, not just in these days of soaring property values. Interfering with nightclubs—sometimes justifiably, and sometimes not—is practically a local tradition. Here’s an abridged history.

April 2008
Led by the group Hear Mt. Pleasant, the Mount Pleasant neighborhood finally overcomes the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance’s 11-year-old ban on live music and dancing on the neighborhood’s main drag.

June 2007
Ward 5 residents rally to prevent several gay clubs from opening in the ward. Displaced by the construction of Nationals Park, the clubs are left scrambling for a new home. Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr., bolstered by vocal Ivy City and Trinidad residents, vows to block their arrival in the area. The Washington Post quotes community activist Kathy Henderson as saying, “We will not stand idly by and allow our neighborhood to be dumped on with businesses that nobody else wants.” The D.C. Council votes to allow some, but not all, of the clubs to reopen in Ward 5.

June 2005
Club U, a nightclub and cafeteria inside the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center at 14th and U streets NW, loses its liquor license and closes: After nearly a dozen stabbings, shootings, and assaults took place inside or near the venue, its fate was sealed.

February 1993
Tension peaks between Dupont Circle residents and the owners of gay bar Rascals, who face hostility from neighbors who don’t want to see the business reopen as a noisy nightclub. The owners respond by placing an ad in the Washington Blade that accuses residents of homophobia.

July 1991
Dupont Circle gay club Badlands squares off with its local ANC when it tries to convert its restaurant license to a nightclub license. ANC 2B opposes it, having already voted to oppose liquor license applications from clubs that employ nude dancers. When the club offers to pull nude dancers, the ANC still protests, saying it doesn’t want any new nightclub licenses in the neighborhood at all.

December 1988-June 1990
Tenleytown residents mobilize to block a liquor license application by Cates Restaurant and Jazz Club. The owners battle it out in court for two years before they finally win a license in 1990 to serve alcohol in the club.

April 1988
After the Franklin Square Association and other groups wage war against a proposed nudity-friendly “nightclub zone” in D.C.’s central business district, Mayor Marion Barry’s administration scraps the idea.

February 1987
The D.C. Court of Appeals rules against reinstating the liquor license of Georgia Avenue NW nude club Shepherd Park Restaurant. After six years of neighborhood griping, the ABC Board had previously voted to suspend its license. In a Post story, one resident is quoted as saying, “We saw Georgia Avenue in danger of becoming a strip.” That resident is partially credited with shutting down three other nude clubs in the area. A waitress at Shepherd Park Restaurant says neighbors are just upset that their men are patronizing a strip club.

March 1983
After a group of residents calling itself the Wisconsin Neighbors lead an organized and prolonged attack, the ABC Board denies a liquor license renewal application of Paragon Too, a maligned go-go club on Wisconsin Avenue NW in Glover Park. The club owner had previously dismissed their complaints as blatant racism.

June 1977
Georgetown residents wage war on a “California-style café” that threatens to open in an old auto showroom on M Street NW, saying the strip is already liquor-soaked as it is, and local residents are sick of the associated traffic, garbage, and urine. Sound familiar?

This post appears in this week's print edition.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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  • Left for LeDroit

    This is an awesome roundup, but I disagree that all of these incidents are, as you say, "quality-of-life crimes." A quality-of-life crime is a crime like vandalism, which doesn't involve violence against a person. Shootings and stabbings qualify as serious violent crimes, not quality-of-life crimes.

  • drez

    You say mistrust, but many would argue it's more an issue of distrust.
    Mistrust is born from misconception. Distrust is born from experience.

  • monkeyrotica

    No mention of Club Ibex? That place was stabby/shooty central in the '90s and singlehandedly gave go-go a bad name.

  • Ally Schweitzer

    @Left for LeDroit, I agree that murder and assault aren't just quality of life issues (for the victims and their families especially). Though, you could argue that violence in the neighborhood does impact residents' quality of life.

    @drez, mistrust is not always born from misconception; it refers broadly to a lack of trust or confidence. To be more general I went with "mistrust" instead of "distrust." It's not always clear that residents are suspicious of nightclubs because of their experience with bad ones.

    @monkeyrotica, oh man, there have been SO MANY club shutdowns (successful and attempted) in D.C. over the years, it was hard to choose. I could do 20 more lists like this. Ibex would be another great example, though I'm not sure it "singlehandedly" gave go-go a bad name.

  • Tony Ross

    Let's not forget that in the '80s, the Franklin Square Association hired private detectives to document ABC and other violations at the strip clubs around 13th/14th/NY Ave. so that they could get those places shut down and cleared out for development.