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One Saturday night last August, local self-produced hiphop artist and T-shirt designer Tabi Bonney was looking to infiltrate the exclusive recesses of swanky H2O Restaurant & Lounge on Water Street SW. The club has not one but two VIP rooms, where even semicelebrities including Wedding Crashers bit-part actress Camille Anderson and Shavonda Billingslea from MTV’s The Real World have reportedly gained entry.

Yet access beyond the coveted velvet rope requires a certain form of cred that Bonney lacked: a VIP wristband.

Bonney’s buddy had one and took off in search of another. Left to fend for himself in the less exclusive general-admission section of the waterfront art and alcoholic-beverage gallery, Bonney got into a bit of trouble. The 28-year-old Stanton Park resident was allegedly “kicked, punched, hit with a foreign object and/or stomped at least one time by an assailant or several assailants,” according to a lawsuit filed in November in D.C. Superior Court. His battering was so severe, the lawsuit charges, that Bonney lost consciousness.

When he woke up, “bleeding profusely from the head,” according to the complaint, Bonney noticed that he was in a different room, being bandaged up by several unidentified H2O staffers, “including one employee dressed in a laboratory coat and impersonating a medical doctor.”

Not a real doctor? Maybe he plays one on TV. Had Bonney finally arrived in VIP?

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More like a makeshift ER, where the injured clubber received a level of care that the lawsuit decribes as far below star treatment. The suit states that Bonney’s would-be physician “repeatedly refused” to tell him what had happened, refused to let him leave, and refused to call for additional medical help. Eventually, Bonney was released to a friend, who drove him to Howard University Hospital, where the clubgoer spent the next four days undergoing treatment for “several facial fractures, hemorrhaging and amnesia,” according to the complaint. Bonney is now suing H2O for negligence and false imprisonment, seeking a combined $900,000 in damages.

Contacted via e-mail, Bonney referred all questions to attorney Rob Goldman, who declined to discuss specifics of the H2O incident while the litigation is pending.

Club management hasn’t formally responded to Bonney’s charges yet, either. But allegations of customer mistreatment are nothing new to H2O head honcho Abdul Khanu, who also declined to comment on the case—except to confirm that “there is an area in H2O for patrons who become sick or are in need of minor first aid.” Even so, the allegedly halfassed health care that Bonney experienced could be viewed as a marked improvement over prior incidents handled by Khanu’s staffers.

Back in November 2004, Khanu was summoned before the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board to explain how a pair of his female patrons wound up in an alley behind his other D.C. dance club, East End party spot Platinum, where police had found one lying unconscious and another “very intoxicated” that February, according to a police report. Platinum manager Deen Maweyia informed liquor-control agents that the ladies’ back-alley ejection occurred because the Germantown, Md., duo had refused to go to the club’s intox room and were then kicked out, pursuant to club policy (Show & Tell, 11/26/2004). Deeming that intox-or-else rule unnacceptable, the board ordered Khanu & Co. to revise the club’s security plan.

It wasn’t long before the expulsion of another patron at Platinum would trigger more regulatory handslapping. In December 2004, American University student Adesegun Adeniyi claimed that he was jumped by Platinum security guards as he attempted to leave the premises, suffering contusions to the head, neck and back pain, and a busted lip. Khanu disputed Adeniyi’s account of the incident. The club owner testified last spring that Adeniyi had been harrassing female patrons and was being escorted out of the club’s front door when his alleged injuries occurred. “He fell,” Khanu told the ABC Board. “That’s how he got a cut lip.”

ABC Board Chair Charles Burger didn’t seem to take much comfort in the results of the club’s newer frontal ejection procedure, however. “Everything was mishandled,” Burger said. The club’s own explanation of events only seemed to heighten its liability. “This has lawsuit written all over it,” he said.

But attorney Dimitri Mallios—just one of many on Khanu’s lengthy roster of legal advisers—suggested that the Adeniyi incident demonstrated a renewed commitment to improving customer relations. This time, Mallios pointed out to the board, Platinum employees had at least notified police of the expulsion.

Burger agreed with that point: “It’s better than dumping ’em out the back door,” he said.

Lawyers could conceivably cite Bonney’s experience as another sign of continuing improvement. Not only did H2O staffers allegedly restrain themselves from promptly ejecting a troublesome patron, but they also appear to have compiled to comply with a provision in sister club Platinum’s security plan: to have “a first aid trained staff member available on each shift in the event of a medical emergency.”—Chris Shott

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