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D.C. nightlife mogul Marc Barnes put a lot of effort into his aging, circa-2001 dance club’s recent makeover.
The Northeast entrepreneur spent about $650,000 on new carpeting, flooring, and furnishings, plus another $100,000 on lighting and audio/visual upgrades. He also hired a local public-relations agency, Stanton Communications, to help him trumpet the club’s relaunch—and its new identity.
In a move worthy of pop-music impresario and occasional club patron Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs (aka “P. Diddy,” and now, just “Diddy”), Barnes announced that he was renaming his popular Okie Street NE nightspot. No longer would the four-level, 52,000-square-foot megaclub go by its original, ubiquitous title, Dream. As of Aug. 25, call it Love.
At a recent grand-opening party, Barnes told reporters that by pulling the ol’ trade-name switcheroo, he hopes to “cause a stir” throughout the local club scene.
But one thing that Barnes isn’t about to shake up is his club’s proven formula for drawing distinctive crowds. His adoption of a more affectionate moniker doesn’t coincide with a more inclusive marketing strategy. In that way, at least, Love is the same ol’ Dream: Same nightly formats. Same specialized promoters. Same ethnic divide.
“I didn’t even know it had changed,” said Jack, a 29-year-old Chantilly, Va., clubber, who learned of the venue’s altered handle only upon arriving there around midnight on Sept. 5 and seeing the letters
L-O-V-E all lit up on an 8-foot-tall neon sign facing New York Avenue.
Jack, who refused to give his last name, didn’t really care what Barnes calls it. He was more concerned with the club’s demographics.
Winding up at Barnes’ place wasn’t the first choice for Jack, a self-described member of the Asian set, and his three-member crew, which included two other Asians and a Latino from Pittsburgh. The foursome originally planned to spend the last night of their long Labor Day holiday weekend clubbing at competing Northeast venue Fur, located less than a mile away. But when they got there, they found the crowd a bit “too urban” for their liking. The group gathered outside Love, by comparison, seemed “more diverse,” Jack said. If only slightly—the difference being S&T, a lone scrawny, white-skinned patron standing amid an otherwise entirely African-American queue. Jack viewed the racial makeup with a sense of caution and pondered an exit strategy. “Can we walk out with you?” he asked.
Despite their minority status, Jack & Co. each paid the $20 cover charge and were allowed entry, though once inside, they primarily kept to themselves.
If they had wanted to avoid the socially awkward situation of clubbing outside their ethnic grouping, they should’ve come to Love the night before. That’s when clubbers of their own kind converge each week.
In the parlance of local nightlifers, there are basically two categories of D.C. dance-club-goers: “urban” and “international.”
Dream—er, Love—caters to both. But on different nights. On Fridays, it’s urban night, hosted by Barnes and his promotional protégé, Taz Wube. Thursdays and Saturdays, meanwhile, are international nights, hosted by Barnes’ cross-cultural associate Masoud Aboughaddareh.
What separates the two groupings isn’t so much varying musical preferences. Hiphop largely dominates all three nights. The most visible difference is race. Fridays attract an overwhelmingly black turnout. Thursdays and Saturdays draw whites and everybody else. It’s been that way since the club first opened. And it’s not gonna change—no matter what benevolent title Barnes comes up with.
“We’re not segregated. We’re not saying it’s only for African-Americans,” Love marketing director Gloria Nauden says of the club’s Friday-night party.
Calling it “the nation’s largest urban night event,” though, clearly sets the tone. The promotional terminology, scenesters say, is obvious.
“Everybody knows what that means,” says promoter Rashad
“Ra-Ra” Jenkins, whose IDC Group markets its Friday-night parties at Avenue nightclub in Shaw to the same demographic as Barnes: “predominantly African-American,” he explains, “but you would also have Ethiopians, Somalians, Nigerians. You also get the reggae crowd, from Jamaican descent.”
And just like Love, Avenue switches formats the next night to “International Saturdays.” “You’ll get more whites there, more Europeans, a light Asian following. You’ll get the Latin Americans, the Puerto Ricans,” says Jenkins. “No matter how far along we get in the future, it’s still segregated,” he adds. “They just mask it under different things.” #—Chris Shott
WHERE’S YOUR PARTY?
If you are: black, African-America, or other African; or Jamaica
If your brand loyalty is: Cristal, Hennessy, Ciroc, or Heineken
If you favorite dance music (besides hiphop) is: R&B or reggae
If your radio is tuned to: 93.9 WKYS-FM,’DC’s #1 Station for Hip Hop and R&B”
If you enjoy celebrity appearances by: pop stars Ludacris and Alicia Keys, Redskins running back Clinton Portis, or D.C. Councilmember Vincent Orange
THEN YOU ARE: “URBAN”
Please proceed to: Andalu (Mondays), Zebra Lounge (Tuesdays,) 1223 or K Street Lounge (Wednesdays), Pearl or Home (Thursdays), Love or Avenue (Fridays), H20 (Saturdays), Platinum (Sundays).
If you are: white, Asian, Middle Eastern, Latino, or Pacific Islander
If your brand loyalty is: Red Bull, Grey Goose, or Corona
If you favorite dance music (besides hiphop) is: house, trance, or Latin rhythms
If your radio is tuned to: 99.5 WIHT-FM,’Washington’s #1 Hit Music Station”
If you enjoy celebrity appearances by: Playboy’s Kristin Jackson, Wedding Crashers co-star Camille Anderson, or Danny and Melinda from MTV’s Real World
THEN YOU ARE: “INTERNATIONAL”
Please proceed to: Chi-Cha Lounge (Mondays), Andalu (Tuesdays,) Modern or Eyebar (Wednesdays), 1223/Spank or Dragonfly (Thursdays), H20 (Fridays), Love or Fur (Saturdays), Ozio (anytime).
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