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On a Saturday night in October, five well-dressed gents were huddled together at the corner of 18th and M Streets NW. Despite standing smack in the middle of one of the District’s densest nightlife corridors—featuring such trendy spots as Five, 1223, Eighteenth Street Lounge, Andalu, Ozio, Dragonfly, Lucky Bar, Rumors, and, dare we forget, Camelot—these late-night fun-seekers wanted to party in the fashionable hinterlands.
They were waiting for the bus to Love.
S&T was waiting, too. Your patient columnist had been there waiting for more than an hour by the time the others arrived at around 1:40 a.m. in order to catch a complimentary shuttle to the Northeast nightspot.
And waiting. And waiting.
Announced in August as part of nightclub Dream-cum-Love’s renaming, renovation, and egregious marketing campaign, the downtown–to–Okie Street NE connector bus was intended to cater to area clubgoers’ lazy and cheapass tendencies. “Don’t Want To Drive?! Don’t Want To Pay For Parking?! Want To Walk Right In The Hottest Club In The Nation..and Party For Free?!” asked one of the club’s newspaper ads. “THEN GET ON THE LOVE SHUTTLE BUS!!”
The club contracted with Sterling, Va.–based Reston Limousine Service for a fleet of three 25-passenger minibuses with “[c]omfortable high back cloth seats,” according to the company’s Web site, at a rate of about $70 per hour for each bus.
For six consecutive hours, the shuttle was scheduled to make regular runs “every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night between 18th & M St, NW and Love @ 1350 Okie Street, NE,” according to the club’s ad. “Shuttles will depart every 15 minutes.”
After more than 20 minutes of waiting on Oct. 16, the other would-be Love-bus riders got fed up and took off. S&T stuck around until 3:33 a.m., 18 minutes past the last advertised run. Still no bus.
After debuting with much fanfare, S&T later learned, the Love shuttle had quickly and quietly broken down. In fact, it had barely even started. Just one week after its Aug. 25 launch, the Love bus had gone the way of another highly publicized promotional gimmick of the club’s—namely, Who’s the Man Now?, a proposed reality TV show for club promoters hatched by Love honchos Marc Barnes and Masoud Aboughaddareh.
While the club itself may live up to its Web-site-stated motto to “definitely keep your pulse moving,” keeping the buses running, it seems, was a losing battle. Given the recent high gas prices, as well as the District’s controversial friends-don’t-let-friends-drive-after-one-drink-or-they’ll-end-up-in-jail rule, you might think that scores of folks would be lining up for a free lift from a designated driver to “D.C.’s Premiere Nightlife Experience.”
Then again, who really wants to rely on pseudopublic transit into and out of isolated Ivy City?
“The demand for shuttle service was not high,” says Love marketing director Gloria Nauden. “We invested for as long as we could before discontinuing it. We’ve found that unless it’s a special event…the service will not be used.”
Even during the heavily attended Howard University Homecoming festivities, for which the club briefly resumed a slightly reformed shuttle service, the response was not overwhelming. Around 11:30 p.m. on Oct. 22, only six clubbers had boarded a Love-bound bus departing from Union Station. Two consecutive shuttles returning from the club at 2:45 and 3 a.m., respectively, both came back empty.
Busing in boozehounds to help boost bar tabs isn’t a recent Barnes & Co. innovation. Private shuttling companies have been hauling partyers to and from local clubs since long before the brief Love-bus era.
Reston Limousine Vice President Kristina Bouweiri says her company was hired years ago by another area nightclub—“I don’t remember who it was,” she says—to shuttle students from Arlington’s Marymount University into the District. At least until the school’s administrators found out about it. “Marymount called us and said, ‘Stop doing it. These girls are coming back here totally wasted,’” recalls Bouweiri. “So we stopped.”
Although the local limo company may have quit participating in campus pickups, enticing students with a free ride remains a popular marketing strategy for D.C. party planners.
“Promoters, they will use anything from a school bus to a coach bus,” says part-time shuttler Jason Levitt. Even a “Ghost Bus.”
Levitt has worked with a number of nightlife marketers since unveiling his single-vehicle outfit, which, according to its Web site, stands for “Get Home On Sober Transit,” this past June. That vehicle: A circa-1982 47-seat Metrobus, which the Dupont Circle resident and a partner “retrofitted” with a silver paint job, neon blue lights, and a nine-speaker iPod-compatible sound system.
Perhaps most often spotted barreling down East Capitol Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE this past summer, Levitt’s bass-thumping, light-saber-esque glowing machine earned $125 an hour from sponsor Miller Lite, shuttling patrons between sporting events at Miller-serving RFK Stadium and several nearby Miller-serving Capitol Hill bars.
Many D.C. clubs have also enlisted the services of Levitt’s pimped-out ride—the rates for which will jump to $150 an hour on Nov. 1 due to increased fuel costs for its 2-miles-per-gallon diesel engine—usually on a per-night basis.
The primary difference between Levitt’s for-hire club transit and the failed Love shuttle is routing. The Ghost Bus generally carts clubbers from the outskirts of D.C., often such campuses as George Mason University and the University of Maryland, to midcity party spots, including 1223 and Chinatown’s Coyote Ugly. The Love bus moved in the opposite direction.
“In this market, there’s definitely a need for shuttle transportation,” says Levitt. “If you can find yourself a receptive client base that’s consistent, then you can have success.”
Is there any way a far-flung hangout such as Love can make regular club-shuttling work?
Rival Northeast nightclub Fur seems to have found the right formula: Keep the service as simple as possible.
Whisking public-transit-friendly Fur-goers from the nearby New York Avenue Metro station to the back of the club’s general-admission line is a rather compact vehicle labeled with a sheet of white paper that reads “FUR VIP SHUTTLE.”
A breezy, six-seat four-wheeler topped with a flashing yellow light, Fur’s shuttle looks like a glorified golf cart—which, well, it is.
Yet it’s perfectly suited for easing the commute of the industry’s highly coveted women-wearing-high-heels demographic or anyone too lazy to schlep the two-block, five-minute walk.
The stylish buggy was entirely packed once S&T took the last seat just after midnight on Oct. 8. On its previous pass, the shuttle had been too full to fit Myra, 22. The recent college graduate in pointy black shoes had to endure a lengthy eight-minute wait at the corner of First and M Streets NE to get a lift out of the hair-frizzing drizzle.
Once she was picked up, the covered vehicle zipped her to the front of the club in less than 30 seconds. Said Myra: “Now I feel stupid.”—Chris Shott
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Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Illustration by Danny Hellman.