The historic Greek Revival building at 915 F Street NW, with its colossal white marble columns, has gone through many incarnations over the years.
Built in 1911, the three-story Frederick B. Pyle and Arthur B. Heaton-designed structure originally served as the headquarters of one of the District’s oldest savings and loans. More recently, it has become associated with drinking and debauchery, most notably as the site of impressario Abdul Khanu’s ill-famed and ill-fated Platinum club, which shuttered after a shooting in 2008.
Last summer, a new owner, Peter J. Andrulis III, purchased the imposing property for $10 million, city records show.
Andrulis has far loftier ambitions for the space than just another boozy nightspot: an “[e]ducational setting,” according to an application filed with the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) in late March, “featuring exhibits of artwork, artistic performances, lectures, poetry readings, comedic acts, chamber music, audio/visual presentations and recorded music, with a cover charge, serving some food.”
Still, there will be mingling. “This establishment will be a social/networking venue that allows customers/clients to meet and interact with one another,” the application says.
And drinking, with proposed hours of alcohol sales from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. weekdays and continuing until 3 a.m. on weekends.
And dancing: “Three dance floors of approximately 40’ x 40’, 34’ x 20’ and 30’ x 10’.”
The listed trade name of Andrulis’ new venture: Museum of Arts and Sciences, LLC.
Neighbors aren’t buying the curatorial theme.
“It’s not a museum, it’s a nightclub,” says Matthew Small, a resident at the Ventana condominiums across F Street. “Everyone knows it’s a nightclub, and [they] are going to want to sell as much alcohol as [they] can to the people who go there.”
For years, District residents have complained about unruly nightspots masquerading as quiet, neighborhood-friendly, white-table-clothed restaurants, in order to better appease city regulators. In that context, the museum shtick might seem a new twist.
Not so, says Andrulis’ supervising security manager, Misha Kapourchali. “Everyone keeps saying, ‘OK, this Museum of Arts and Sciences is to kind of trick people into opening a nightclub,’” says Kapourchali, a veteran of the D.C. nightlife scene, including prior stints at 1223, Lima, K Street and Love.
But the museum moniker is just a corporate name, he says; an official trade name does not yet exist. He points out that the operators have applied for a CX-class “multipurpose facility” license to sell alcohol, which is technically a separate category of booze distribution than the often maligned CN-class nightclub license. “People have adopted their own definitions of what is a nightclub,” Kapourchali says. “However, what is important here is to go by the definitions established by the District of Columbia.”
How individual patrons define Andrulis’ new venture will likely depend on when they show up. During the day, Kapourchali says, the venue will host corporate events; only at night will it take on more of the traditional party atmosphere. “Could an individual that attends the nightly events come to the conclusion the place is a nightclub? Possibly,” he says.
Last week, Andrulis & Co. attempted to better explain the multipurpose concept to the members of the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2C. (The two sides are currently negotiating a voluntary agreement covering the venue’s hours and method operation.)
“We’re trying to bring something new to D.C.,” general manager Joshua Craig told the panel. “We’re doing everything in our power for people not to believe that it’s a club.”
The part about hosting corporate events sounded reasonable enough to Del Persinger, a resident at Mather Studios, located behind the proposed venue at 916 G Street NW. But with three dance floors, Persinger says, “you know 90 percent will be dance events.” He says the area is saturated with partiers enough as is: “We already hear Ultrabar’s bass in our apartment every night they’re open.”
Fellow neighbor David Bernstein complained that the specifics of Andrulis’ multi-faceted concept simply don’t add up. “The vision that is described in our opinion is a loser,” he says. “It paints a picture that we don’t believe is going to be feasible at all.”
Undoubtedly, inheriting the Platinum legacy will be difficult for Andrulis and his team to shake. Neighbor Smalls, for instance, has vivid memories of the former nightspot at that address. “You can’t walk from the wall of [Platinum] to ours at 2 a.m.,” he says. “Our building is a public restroom.” With a capacity of up to 1,300 partiers, he adds, “it’s not even kind of loud, it’s someone screaming in your ear in your bedroom.”
Kapourchali counters that to compare Andrulis’ concept with that of the previous operator is simply unfair. “We’re coming into this with baggage that we had nothing to do with,” he says. “It is unfair to assume this establishment will operate in the same manner. This establishment has a new owner, new management and new personnel.”
Newfangled security apparatus, too. For instance, Andrulis plans to install 64 high-tech security cameras with storage of up to 10 terabytes. “I have not seen any [venue] close to that amount,” Kapourchali says.
As the sole owner, Andrulis told the ANC he has a “very keen interest in making sure that the property is not damaged. I’m very interested in not destroying value. The greater value here is the property itself.”
But new management, good or bad, doesn’t change the issue of the venue’s considerable size and scope, Small says: “You can’t serve alcohol to that many people in that spot.”
Kapourchali notes that the venue’s occupancy limit of 1,300 was grandfathered in, based on a variety of factors including the number of exits, width of exits, and ventilation. “I think 1,300 is too much, but it’s a number…it’s just something that’s there, and it doesn’t make sense for us to submit plans just to bring it down so that everybody’s happy,” he says.
City regulators will have their chance to weigh in, beginning with a hearing on June 1. “[ABRA] has significant conversations about how big is too big…we have a relatively short fuse,” says Charles Brodsky, chairman of the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, who also attended last week’s ANC meeting. “Businesses have a right to open…but I have tons of empathy for the people who live there.”
Brodsky told Andrulis: “You need to run a very tight ship.”
Kapourchali says the whole museum-versus-nightclub dialogue has been blown out of proportion. “At the end of the day, there isn’t this whole conspiracy everyone thinks is going on,” he says. “Nobody can really get away with that.