There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Michael Kurlancheek crouched between two cars, blood running down his face, and waited for his moment. He was hoping his pursuers—bouncers from Ibiza, the District’s hottest megaclub—wouldn’t find him.
They had already caught him once after he tried to escape their custody, a move that earned him a “stomping,” according to a police report. Kurlancheek had managed to escape during that beating, but club security was still after him.
Earlier that night, Nov. 23, 2008, Kurlancheek had just been one of hundreds of patrons enjoying Ibiza. The NoMa club had only been open for a year, but it was already drawing top-tier celebrities and DJs. Kurlancheek’s night soured when he lost his friends. While he was looking for them, Kurlancheek felt club security grab him. Some security guards started punching him, while others dragged him to the club’s “detox” room.
Kurlancheek was trapped. He even had Ibiza’s equivalent of a cellmate—a 20-year-old guy, too scared of being caught underage in a club to call the police.
Kurlancheek declined to comment because of a settlement with Ibiza, but a police report lays out his plan: When a bouncer opened the door, Kurlancheek bolted—only to find himself in a headlock.
Cue the stomping.
Outside the club, Kurlancheek burst from his hiding spot and flagged down a passing car, trying to get as far from Ibiza as he could. At the hospital, he was diagnosed with facial contusions and a sprained ankle.
Kurlancheek’s escape didn’t persuade Ibiza security to stop trapping people in the detox room, even for a night. Later that same evening, Ibiza reveler Carlos Raba’s girlfriend told him a man had groped her. When Raba complained to club security, one guard put him in a chokehold, while another punched him in the head. Bouncers dumped Raba in the detox room.
An Ibiza manager refused to call 911. By the time police eventually sprung Raba, he’d suffered orbital and nasal fractures.
As bizarre as it sounds, the night could have been worse for them both. Unlike other Ibiza patrons trapped in the detox room, they didn’t have to pay the club to get out.
When would-be nightlife mogul Jon Han first dreamed up Ibiza, he wasn’t thinking of the beatdowns its bouncers would deliver, or that he’d eventually be threatened at gunpoint over his share. In 2001, Han was just another pleasure-seeking tourist in Ibiza, Spain, one of the most prominent stops on the drug-and-sun-soaked electronic music circuit.
“I didn’t want to come back,” Han says, “So I said, ‘You know what? I’m taking Ibiza to D.C.’”
By 2005, Han was the co-owner of a struggling Annandale, Va. banquet hall that catered to the area’s Korean community. Han faced unpaid rent, uncertain future business, and an overbearing landlord who had nicknamed Han the Korean term for a dog’s vagina.
Who wouldn’t prefer Ibiza to that?
To attract (and pay for) the kind of star electronic music performers who normally congregate in Goa or Las Vegas, Han needed a club that could fit both thousands of people and a light and sound setup that would keep them satisfied.
Then, the District only had two megaclubs, Fur and Love. Han wanted to unseat the likes of Love owner Marc Barnes, and he announced his outsized ambitions with the club’s legal name: Superclub Ibiza.
Finding that the city’s downtown was already saturated with clubs, Han and Samantha Lee, his partner in the banquet hall and now the nightclub, settled on 1222 First St. NE. The location in the District’s then-desolate NoMa neighborhood north of Union Station put Han less than a block away from Fur.
Han and Lee needed millions of dollars to build the kind of club that could compete with Fur and Love. That forced Han to assemble what eventually became a cast of more than a dozen investors, an unusually fractured ownership structure that would haunt Ibiza for the duration of its run.
To manage the club, Han brought in investors Eric Clay, the son of troubled former Washington football team player Ozzie Clay; Adam Needham, a flooring contractor; and Allah Tung, whom Han had met at another club.
Then Han met Aldo Truong—a young George Mason University grad who would be his business partner and eventually his most inveterate opponent. One night at downtown’s Eyebar, Han spied an elderly couple and a young man who looked to be their son. That unlikely trio could only be at a nightclub, Han figured, if they were planning to invest in one.
Han followed them outside Eyebar to see the young man mooning over Han’s vehicle, an Acura sportscar that could cost as much as $90,000.
“You want me to teach you how to own that?” Han said.
Truong joined up, and the club’s group of five owner-operators was complete. Over eight years, Ibiza would make enough money to buy Han’s car dozens of times over—if not always legally, according to some involved in the club. Ibiza would become perhaps the District’s most prominent megaclub, attracting thousands of people each weekend and earning millions.
Along the way, Ibiza’s patrons and staff left behind head wounds, more than 30 lawsuits, and at least one collapsed lung. At the same time, the superclub’s personnel earned a bizarre reputation for trapping customers inside the club.
“It pretty much ruined my life,” Needham says.
July 6, 2007. Celebrity performer D.J. AM—the kind of mega-artist who would usually play the other Ibiza—spun tracks while Ibiza’s first customers sipped from an ice luge. Outside, the sizable red carpet crowd snaked around itself four times.
“I’ve been to the real Ibiza in Spain, and this is just like it!” declared Kim Kardashian, the celebrity “hostess” for opening night.
It might not have been Spain, but between its sunken dance floor, the second-floor mezzanine, and its rooftop bar, the Washington Post declared Ibiza “one of the most impressive club spaces in the city.” The New York Times wondered whether the new megaclub had made Fur and Love obsolete.
All that buzz came at a cost, and while Ibiza’s patrons danced on opening night, business was already souring in the club’s backrooms. Ibiza was more than $1.5 million in debt due to construction overruns, according to Han. The check for D.J. AM’s opening night performance, along with tens of thousands of dollars in checks written to the club’s vendors, would bounce.
“It was mismanaged from the get-go,” Needham says.
The club’s money problems only got worse. Two months after opening, Ibiza stopped hiring police security on slow weekends in a bid to save money. Han started asking his family and friends for loans at exorbitant interest rates to cover the bounced checks, then just to buy liquor for the weekend.
It only took a few months for Han and his investors to begin turning on each other, even as the club remained popular.
Han claims his partners would start a Friday or Saturday night by complaining that they didn’t have any cash. At the bleary end of the night, though, Han says he would reach into their pockets to find thousands in pilfered money. Han’s relationships with his investors became so bad that he began to suspect the investors of shorting the club on a returned order of toilets. (Tung and Clay didn’t respond to requests for comment for this story).
While Han forced his fellow owner-operators to turn out their pockets, most of the club’s investors had decided that the problem was Han himself. After a night of heavy business, Han would leave Ibiza in the early morning with a security escort and a duffel bag stuffed with the night’s returns. Han claims he took the money home for his wife to count while he slept, but his investors suspected the money was being siphoned off. According to other investors, Han hired an armed detail for his “personal security.”
“That’s just crazy the way he was running it,” Truong says.
Jon Han stormed out of Ibiza one day in November 2007, taking with him $8,000 in petty cash and two pieces of sound and lighting equipment, worth a combined total of $50,000. He knew the court hearing would not go his way.
A week before, Ibiza’s four other operators and most of its investors sued Han and Lee in a bid to kick Han out of Ibiza’s management. Their lawsuit blamed Han for punching holes in the club’s walls, trashing equipment, bouncing checks, and forging Truong’s signature. The day after Han took the equipment, a judge granted the disgruntled investors a restraining order that removed Han from the leadership and forced him to hand over the club’s financial records.
“We knew money was missing because he was hiding records from us,” Truong says.
The judge’s order marked the start of what became Han’s years-long war of attrition to retake his dream club. There would be lawsuits, guns, and a bogus attempt to backdate the club’s lease to give Han control of the land, a scheme that not even his lawyer could pretend to believe. But first, Han would take whatever he could get his hands on.
Han says he took the equipment and cash to pay back one of the club’s vendors. But for Truong, taking the equipment was sabotage—and a clear violation of the court order that forbid Han from interfering with Ibiza.
“If he wasn’t going to be in management, he didn’t want the club to survive,” Truong says.
Han eventually returned the equipment, but he wasn’t done. A liquor board inspector complained to the remaining operators that Han was blowing up his phone with attempts to get Ibiza shut down for violations.
Around the same time, Han told the investors that the mezzanine he’d helped construct was at risk of collapsing. In exchange for a $1 million payoff, Han told them, he’d drop his legal fight and stop raising concerns about the construction.
In truth, according to Han, the mezzanine was fine.
“I wanted to mess with them and shut them down,” Han says.
The judge appointed Clay as Ibiza’s new managing partner, while Tung, Needham, and Truong continued as managers in charge of different parts of the club’s operation. According to Needham, though, Han’s departure didn’t result in a new style of fiscal management at the club.
“[Clay] used to just abuse our checkbook,” Needham says. “He would write checks just for everything.”
Han, meanwhile, was failing spectacularly at an attempt to operate two Ibiza sister clubs in Baltimore. A splashy debut in 2008 prompted the Baltimore Sun to ask whether Han was the city’s “ace of clubs.” Then-Sun nightlife reporter Sam Sessa warned Han that his upscale clubs would flop in Baltimore’s more casual scene.
Han responded that Sessa’s concerns didn’t make any sense. This was the man who founded Ibiza, after all.
“‘That makes me special,’” Sessa recalls Han saying.
Han’s foray into Baltimore was even more disastrous than his business in the District: Within months, both Baltimore clubs closed. One nightlife wag picking over the remains compared Han’s failed multimillion-dollar clubs to the Titanic; another likened him to the huckster who sells Springfield a monorail on The Simpsons.
Back in the District, Han’s one-time partners were learning just how deep in debt he had left them. By December 2007, Ibiza owed almost $1 million to a slate of increasingly irate lenders and vendors, a list that ranged from Crate & Barrel and Ikea to DJ A.M. and celebrity DJ Samantha Ronson.
“It was just too hard to overcome,” Truong says. “I’m actually surprised it lasted as long as it did.”
A customer waiting to get into Ibiza when it was the District’s hottest megaclub wouldn’t have known how perilously close to collapse the club regularly came.
Han designed Ibiza for Club Glow, a popular weekly electronic dance party. But Ibiza lost Glow and with it, its most reliable event. Truong blames Han for squandering the club’s relationship with the promoters; Han says his fellow investors thought black customers who preferred hip-hop clubs would spend more money.
After losing Glow, Clay and the other members focused the club on radio events for hip-hop and rap stations. Han’s dream of making Ibiza a stop on the global electronic dance music circuit was over.
“We had to do what we had to do to make ends meet,” Truong says.
Despite the genre change, the line to get into the club—and the pre-gaming revelers annoying the club’s handful of neighbors—stayed diverse.
“We didn’t just hit one demographic of customers,” Truong says.
Complex put it less optimistically in a story that ranked Ibiza as one of the District’s “douchiest” clubs. Ibiza was a place for “equal opportunity douchery,” a club that “douches of various creeds and colors will love.”
The newly hip-hop-centric club was a hit with Nu’ the Mayor, a D.C. area rapper and friend of Clay’s who says the club made him feel like Jay-Z every Friday. Ibiza’s rising profile moved Nu’ to take a cue from rapper Rick Ross, who once rap-boasted that he knows former Panamanian strongman “Pablo Noriega/the real Noriega.”
“I know Eric Clay/the real Eric Clay/Ibiza every Friday,” rapped Nu’.
After paying a cover charge that could go as high as $60 (or $100 for underage revelers, according to a police report), Ibiza customers entered the club’s cavernous main room, “Space.” They could take LED-lit stairs to the mezzanine or find bathrooms decorated with continuously running waterfalls (as it turned out, a novelty too expensive to last).
At one point, Ibiza featured a bedroom-themed lounge, where couches were replaced with beds. But don’t get any ideas.
“I don’t think nothing ever went down,” Nu’ says.
Han lost control of the club in November 2007, but financial troubles continued to plague the club. To stanch the flow of money every weekend, Needham says that bartenders were trained to “marry” empty bottles of high-priced brands with full bottles of rail liquor, then sell the expensive bottle (now filled with cut-rate booze) to customers who wanted Ibiza’s pricey bottle service.
The astronomical mark-ups on bottles at nightclubs would mean the refilled, fraudulent bottles brought high profit margins—an $8 bottle of rail vodka, for example, could be transformed into a $275 bottle of Grey Goose with the customers none the wiser.
“It got so ridiculous that the barbacks didn’t know any better,” Needham says. “They just thought it was regular business.”
Truong denies knowing about the liquor scheme. If it did occur at Ibiza, he says, it’s on Needham, the club’s bar manager.
There’s one thing everyone involved in Ibiza’s management agrees on: In a single successful night, the club could bring in enormous amounts of money. With tables going for between $1,500 and $3,000 on big nights and roughly 2,000 people each paying at minimum $20—and in some cases, as much as $100 to skip the line—Ibiza could easily bring in nearly $100,000 in a single night, not counting alcohol sales. But, for some reason, Ibiza still didn’t make enough money to pay its investors.
Needham blames the club’s money woes on leading investors, including himself. After Han’s ouster, Needham says, he and his partners stole tens of thousands of dollars from the club after each major event. In an affidavit, Needham detailed how he would go out to dinners before a big night with Tung and Truong to decide how best to steal money from the club. If the club made $200,000 on a big night, Needham estimates, managers would lift $70,000 of it.
“A lot of it was just being stolen every which way,” Needham says.
On a big night—with a famous artist like rapper Waka Flocka Flame in the house—the top investors aimed to score a combined $30,000 skimmed off the top. (By this point, Clay had been pushed to the side in the club’s management, according to Needham.)
The most tempting money came in the form of untraceable cash cover charges. Even on a quieter Friday, 700 people could be expected to pay between $20 and $40 for a cover— translating to as much as $28,000 that was hard for both the other investors and the District’s Office of Tax and Revenue to spot. In another scheme, Needham and Han say the other operating investors would sell tables for thousands of dollars each, then close them on the club’s system and pocket the money personally.
Ibiza investor Steve Han, Jon Han’s nephew, remembers the four leading investors bragging to him that Shaquille O’Neal was coming to the club and would likely spend as much as $100,000. By the end of the night, though, Han couldn’t find any evidence of that windfall in the night’s receipts, leading him to believe that the investors had each pocketed the money themselves.
Truong denies any knowledge of illegal club management practices. Ibiza’s management already had enough trouble with the District’s government, which received more complaints about noise and violence at Ibiza as NoMa slowly became more residential. By 2012, the Metropolitan Police Department had started bracing for an early morning rush of 1,400 partygoers around NoMa when Ibiza and other nearby clubs finally closed for the night.
“They tried to keep the noise down as best they could,” says Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Tony Goodman. “But people did not show up to Ibiza sober.”
The extra police attention didn’t stop the bouncers, according to Needham—drugs abounded in the club. When staffers confiscated customers’ drugs, he says they wouldn’t report the contraband to police. Instead, staff would pocket the drugs themselves. Needham says he bought drugs at the club from other employees.
Ibiza staffers, though, had even an even more unorthodox way of making money.
Michael Kurlancheek and Carlos Raba were both taken to Ibiza’s detox room, a place that was theoretically for drinking water and calling for rides home.
Truong says the detox room—officially, the “Customer Care Room”—was created to control drunk or rowdy patrons. But even that benign description doesn’t make sense to Fred Del Marva, a nightlife security consultant who was identified as an expert witness in Kurlancheek’s lawsuit before it was settled.
“I had never heard anything like that in my life,” Del Marva tells City Paper. “It was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard.”
According to Del Marva, a nightclub dealing with a drunk customer should try to get them a cab or call the police. One thing they definitely shouldn’t do? Charge patrons money to get out.
When Han still ran Ibiza, he says he refused when the four other owner-operators proposed instituting a $250 “processing fee” to get out of the detox room. Needham says Tung controlled the detox room.
“He would basically shake people down in there,” Needham says.
Three months before Kurlancheek and Raba were introduced to Ibiza’s detox room, Ibiza bouncers caught an underage girl drinking Champagne in the club. They tossed her in the detox room and told her to pay $400 if she didn’t want them to call the police. The girl managed to collect $370 from her friends—not what the bouncers asked for, but enough to get her out.
Ibiza’s customers created enough trouble without employees’ help. A knife fight between two men and a group of about 20 other club-goers left one member of the duo with a collapsed lung. In one memorable incident, an underage patron with black Xs still markered on his hands jumped the bar, grabbed a bottle, and insisted he was an undercover FBI agent when security caught up with him. Records show that bottle-service champagne and a fire extinguisher were both employed in Ibiza brawls.
But if Ibiza’s customers were inventive in their troublemaking, the club’s security seemed just as ready to match wits when it came to their counter-measures. In a September 2008 incident that borders on the torturous, one Ibiza bouncer caught a man smoking in the club and responded by putting the customer in a headlock and extinguishing the cigarette on his arm, according to a police report.
As the smoker was kicked to the curb, he realized that his 16-year-old brother had just managed to sneak into the club. The bouncers had the same realization, much to both brothers’ chagrin. They tossed the younger brother into a back room, turned off the lights, and started beating him while the older brother begged bouncers to let his sibling go.
“How much is your brother worth to you?” said one.
The answer they were looking for, it turned out, was $400.
After the Kurlancheek and Raba night, MPD Chief Cathy Lanier shut down Ibiza for four days. Following an Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration investigation, Clay fired around ten security employees and took security responsibilities away from Tung.
“I consider it the most egregious breakdown of responsibilities of a license holder that I’ve ever seen,” ABC Board Chairman Charles Brodsky said.
Two years later, Brodsky would compliment Ibiza’s operators for turning around their “trainwreck” of an operation. Still, there’s evidence that Ibiza staff continued to hold customers against their will. In a pending lawsuit, six friends who went to the club in December 2009 accuse Ibiza staff of holding them in a back room until one of them could visit enough ATMs—with an escort from Ibiza bouncers, naturally—to come up with $400.
In October 2010, Jerome Messam, a Howard University student and freelance videographer, filmed Ibiza staff brawling with customers. The catch earned him an involuntary trip to a club bathroom, where security threw him headfirst into a wall and deleted the footage on his camera. Messam, who came away with an eye gash, won a $175,000 decision against the club, which is still fighting the judgment.
In 2011, Jon Han was back on top. After spending more hours over the past four years in courtrooms than on the dance floor, the aspiring nightlife mogul won a trial victory that preserved his stake in Ibiza. His dream of running the District’s hottest megaclub had been delayed, it seemed, but not forever. Even the warning shots that he says were fired at him one night by an unknown assailant as he left Ibiza couldn’t scare him off.
Then, Han says, he came face to face with a handgun.
Walking out of his Alexandria apartment building one May evening, Han heard someone call his name. He turned to see a weapon pointed at him.
“Hey, let’s take a walk,” the man with the gun said, Han recalls.
The gunman gestured Han into his own car. Then, other men Han had never met before flashed their lights at them from another car and walked over. In Han’s telling, they gave him a choice: drop his ongoing lawsuit against his Ibiza co-founders, or another man with a gun would be back. This time, he’d pull the trigger.
“The message was very clear,” Han says, “‘Walk away from the Ibiza case and we’ll let you live.”
After Han’s encounter with the gunman, David Lee, whose wife had invested in the club, had his own run-in with hired muscle. According to an affidavit from Lee, he was approached by investor Anthony Vuong as he took a smoke break on the club’s roof. In Lee’s version of the story, Vuong, Truong’s father, said he had sent 10 men from New York to threaten Han.
“He pee in his pants,” Vuong said, according to Lee. “You don’t want that to happen to you or your family, right?”
In an email, Truong denies the conversation on his father’s behalf.
“Jon and David are in the mood of making up stories that you would likely see in a movie,” Truong writes.
The fight to control Ibiza took yet another twist before Han won at trial. In 2008, Han convinced many of investors who sued him the year before with Needham, Tung, Clay, and Truong to switch and side with him. It wasn’t hard to win the investors over—according to Han, the investors still hadn’t made a penny from their investments. By 2012, Needham had defected from Clay, Tung, and Truong over the club’s money woes, spilling details to angry investors about the operators’ alleged theft.
In 2013, six years after the club opened in debt, Ibiza was still besieged by angry lenders who had made loans to Ibiza when Han ran the club. In May, one investor who lent the club $48,000 won a $528,348.94 judgement in Fairfax County against the club, based on a whopping 48 percent annual interest rate to which Han had agreed.
Ibiza filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy two months later. The club’s debts ran to $1.7 million, including $40,000 in unpaid taxes.
“That was when we said enough is enough,” Truong says.
Potential buyers headed to Ibiza this week to inspect the club’s remains, now up for auction. They saw bottle service ice buckets, what’s left of the club’s vaunted sound and light system, and, inexplicably but perhaps fittingly, a straitjacket.
Also left behind, but presumably not for sale: stacks of seized IDs and abandoned handbags, plus a pair of used condoms. A spreadsheet in the abandoned back office lists who was ready, in October 2014, to drop as much as $3,600 on table service.
This party has been over for a while. What’s left of Superclub Ibiza has to be out by the end of the month.
Ibiza staggered through Chapter 11 protection for two years, theoretically shielded from its creditors. But the club’s history—and a propensity for the outrageous that angered both regulators and police—caught up with it.
Since Ibiza filed for bankruptcy, the area immediately around the club saw one murder, six assaults with a deadly weapon, and 15 robberies. In one night, four people were shot after Ibiza let out. Making matters worse, Ibiza finally lost a long-running feud with the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs over whether it needed a public hall license to operate.
On Oct. 18, 2014, MPD officers responded to a noise complaint at an Ibiza concert by rapper Future. Marijuana smoke was so thick over the crowd, according to an ABRA report, that the agency’s investigator reported feeling dizzy. Asked about the smoke, according to the report, Truong blamed it on the fog machine and complained that he couldn’t stop customers from smuggling marijuana in their “butts.”
Five months later, last March, Ibiza’s trustee used the report as evidence that Ibiza should be put into permanent bankruptcy. In May of this year, the ABC Board took away Ibiza’s last significant asset by revoking its liquor license.
The District’s nightlife scene doesn’t have much room anymore for megaclubs, according to promoter Mitch Mathis. With the exception of Echostage, founded by Club Glow organizers, District clubgoers have moved away from megaclubs: Nightlife habitués now want daytime parties and smaller—and more exclusive—lounges.
“It’s more things to do, but it’s not that big, exciting thing anymore,” Mathis says.
NoMa has changed, too. While the once-empty neighborhood offered relative freedom for the club’s rowdy patrons and management, people who pay for luxury condos and access to the nearby Harris Teeter aren’t as willing to wake up to news of another early morning Ibiza shooting.
“It was a moment in time,” Nu’ the Mayor says.
Now there’s nothing left of Ibiza but a handful of lawsuits still making their way through the courts. At a July status conference on one lawsuit amongst the investors, attorney Robert N. Levin, who represents some Ibiza investors, effectively admitted to the judge that there’s no point in still fighting over the club.
“Ibiza is gone as an entity,” Levin said. “It hasn’t been finally shot.”
Han isn’t done, though. After Truong announced to the club’s investors this May that the club would be closing for good, Han fired back.
“Hell no, you stole my money from me,” Han wrote in an email to Truong. “See you in court.”
Truong considers Ibiza an expensive business education, although he concedes that Han seems set on seeing the legal cases through to the end—if either side can still afford the lawyers at this point. As of this writing, Ibiza has inspired more than 30 lawsuits, with a new lawsuit about a stabbing at the club filed this month.
“To me, it’s a zombie lawsuit,” Truong says.
Ibiza leaves behind some good times, some bloody faces, and a lot of people who wish they had never gotten involved. Investor Steve Han’s girlfriend dumped him over Ibiza, but not before telling him that he had wasted his life on the club.
“My whole life just became ruined and now I’m working front desk at a hotel,” Han says.