In 2005, upscale D.C. lounge Chloe was cited for several potential liquor-law violations, including illegal use of a DJ, and—worse—providing a place for people to dance.
Promoters of the weekly party called Hush at Chloe in Adams Morgan like to emphasize the event’s groove factor. “Our Deejays are second to none,” states the organizers’ Web site. “Move yourself to euphoria while listening to the music you LOVE to hear.”
Patrons who turn out for Chloe’s gay-themed soiree each Thursday, though, get a very different message from club management. Directly beneath the cagelike elevated platform where resident DJ Kadem Carson often works the turntables, employees have posted a warning to potential head-bobbers and foot-tappers: “NO DANCING.”
To sum up: The promoters talk about euphoric movement. The club has a turntablist, not to mention a designated DJ booth. He plays stuff like funky Mary J. Blige and Madonna remixes. And clubgoers have to sit still? If the apparent boogie ban strikes you as a bit baffling, you’re not alone. “This is supposed to be a dance club,” scoffs self-described Thursday-night regular Ricardo, who’s standing at the bar around midnight on Jan. 5.
Actually, it’s supposed to be a restaurant, a distinction that neighbors in this town take seriously. Nearly two years ago, fearing an all-too-typical restaurant-to-nightclub transmogrification, activists strong-armed Chloe owner Alireza “Haji” Hajaligholi into signing a “voluntary agreement” outlining the anti-prancing policy. Of course, if you go by that document, Chloe isn’t supposed to have a DJ, either.
Yet as the Chloe situation illustrates, it’s hard to regulate hip movement. Witnesses have reported multiple dancer and DJ sightings since the two-level venue on 18th Street NW opened last February. During Chloe’s grand-opening bash, socialite blogger Kelly Ann Collins snapped a photo of a person manning the DJ booth, which she later posted on her Web site. Shortly thereafter, Washington Post nightlife chronicler Fritz Hahn noted the existence of a “dining-area-cum-dance floor,” as well as scheduled performances by local-club-circuit standout DJ Dirty Hands, in his April 8, 2005, review of the place.
But perhaps most damning is the evidence offered by city regulators. On April 23, an undercover investigation by the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) uncovered some illicit vinyl-spinning and a whole lot of shaking going on at Hajaligholi’s place. Though “[n]o specific dance floor was observed,” according to an agency report, ABRA secret agent Kevin Lee did spy “a DJ playing music and approximately 120 patrons drinking, dancing, and watching each other which is a violation.”
Hajaligholi says he never expected anyone to take the no-DJ, no-dancing rules seriously, especially given that the chief proponent of these party-pooper provisions—outspoken regulatory stickler and Kalorama Citizens Association President Denis James—was cut out of the voluntary agreement for refusing to show up for a settlement conference, city records show. “Wouldn’t you laugh at me if you came here and I said you can’t dance? All my employees laugh,” says Hajaligholi.
Facing a date with the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board over the documented infractions, however, isn’t so funny. Breaching a voluntary agreement with neighbors can be a serious buzzkill for bar operators, punishable by sanctions ranging from a verbal warning to a revocation of a liquor license.
Things aren’t looking that ominous for Hajaligholi, however. Last week, the embattled lounge mogul, who also owns neighboring spot Saki, scored a decisive victory in the battle to undo the restrictions on jockeying and gettin’ jiggy. At least partially. On Jan.4, the Adams Morgan advisory neighborhood commission (ANC) approved a controversial measure to scrap the no-DJ rule.
Hajaligholi had been lobbying for changes to the legally binding agreement for months. Trying to comply with the provisions has been a hassle, he says. Apart from posting a sign, there’s really nothing you can do to enforce the boogie ban. “I can’t stop it,” he says. “They are dancing all the time.” As for the DJ rule, Chloe got creative. Hajaligholi says he doesn’t hire full-time jocks anymore. Instead, he’ll tap a waiter. Or a doorman. “My manager can do it; my bartender can do it; my server can do it,” he says. “I simply cannot have someone who gets paid specifically to do that job.”
Before rolling out the regular jocks, Chloe still needs the ABC Board’s OK. But garnering the ANC’s endorsement is a big step. Usually, the advisory body isn’t so receptive to bar operators’ after-the-fact rule-change requests, says commission member Bryan Weaver, who sponsored the DJ-restoration amendment. Hajaligholi, though, had established “a certain degree of good will,” Weaver says, after hosting charity events, committing to hiring local residents, and spearheading an effort by neighboring bars to consolidate trash collection.
But why allow only the turntablist? Don’t DJs and dancing go hand-in-hand? At least one ANC member called the partial change nonsensical. “To me there was too much of a contradiction,” says Wilson Reynolds, who cast the lone dissenting vote on Weaver’s proposal. “On one hand, you are discouraging dancing. On the other, you are creating an environment for dancing by having a DJ.”
Strange as it might seem, Weaver suggests a possible divide between bass beats and happy feet. “The guys at Perry’s tell me there’s this new New York concept of dinner DJs,” he says. Instead of working their bodies to the beat, customers apparently do a sort of chopstick cha-cha. “This might be Haji just trying to get out in front of the pan-Asian-fusion-DJ craze,” says Weaver.—Chris Shott
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