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No one would mistake Dream, perhaps D.C.’s largest nightclub, for a restaurant. It’s more like a warehouse for dancing: 52,000 square feet of space parceled among four floors, with concierge service, 1,100 parking spaces, and shuttle service. Not many restaurants book DMX, Wyclef Jean, or Destiny’s Child or attract thousands of patrons a night.
And to most folks, it doesn’t really matter whether Dream is known as a restaurant, a nightclub, a hotspot, or whatever. But the nomenclature does matter to the establishment’s insurance provider, the Burlington Insurance Co.
In a suit filed last month in federal court, Burlington charges that Dream held itself out to the insurer as a restaurant, not as a nightclub that hosts concerts. The alleged fudge could end up costing the club in a $50 million wrongful-death suit.
On Aug. 10, 2002, an intoxicated 20-year-old woman left Dream in her car and then struck and killed U.S. Park Police Officer Hakim Farthing on a highway ramp. Soon after the incident, the Farthing estate slapped Dream’s parent company, Okie Dokie Inc., with the complaint. If Dream had not served the underage woman alcohol, claims the estate, Farthing would still be alive.
Nightclubs may purchase insurance for such occasions, and Okie Dokie has $1 million worth of commercial general liability coverage. But on Sept. 26, Dream’s insurance company filed suit in federal court seeking to nullify the policy. On the hook for the Farthing legal bills, North Carolina-based Burlington discovered what’s obvious to anyone who’s ever passed through the club’s doors: Dream doesn’t really do dishes.
Burlington claims that Okie Dokie or someone operating on its behalf misrepresented Dream as a “restaurant/bar with dance floor” on its insurance application. If Burlington had known about the nightclub’s concerts and “18 and over” nights, the company claims, it never would have provided coverage in the first place. Dream is categorized as a “nightclub” under D.C. liquor regulations. “Usually insurance companies don’t like to do nightclubs,” says Rebecca Johnson, locally based commercial agent for Nationwide Insurance.
According to Burlington’s complaint, it agreed to cover Dream but only under the condition that liquor sales represent no more than 25 percent of Dream’s $4 million revenue. Burlington alleges that the application falsely stated that food sales represented $3 million, or 75 percent of the total, and that Dream didn’t sponsor “social events.” Burlington wants out of the policy, and it wants restitution for the legal costs incurred thus far in Okie Dokie’s Farthing defense. An attorney for the company declined to comment on the case.
Dream, located just off New York Avenue NE, does offer a mix of food options. The club provides catering services, and the kitchen serves up such entrees as jerk chicken, crab cakes, and pasta. Dream is open Thursday through Saturday, but on Friday and Saturday nights, there is a complimentary food buffet. Yet Marc Barnes, Dream’s owner, says he wouldn’t be surprised if 75 percent of his business came from food sales. “I wouldn’t even know what percentage it is, actually,” he says. Barnes refers further questions to his attorney, David Wilmot, who says he is not yet familiar with the case.
However the numbers fall, Dream’s Web site doesn’t exactly promote a dining experience. Recently, the site opened with a filmed tour of the club, beginning with a bottle of Vox Raspberry vodka superimposed on Dream’s Red Room, followed by a bottle of Alizé cognac floating across the second-floor VIP Room. The “rest of the club,” according to the sequence, is an “Absolut Dream.”
The club also has a detox room, which doesn’t rate a mention on the Web site.
Clubgoer Olivia Kwok, whose boyfriend used to work at Dream, may get one $8 drink per Dream visit, but her friends can easily spend over $100 each on drinks in one night at the club. “Nobody I know buys food there,” she says. Kwok sometimes goes for the free buffet: “Who am I to resist?” CP