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“Welcome to the Sanctuary,” says Zachary Dorian Smith, warmly greeting patrons to his nightclub like a benevolent St. Peter at heaven’s gate—with kisses and hugs for all who enter.

Party-seekers ascend a flight of stairs to enter the underground-style club at 1928 9th St. NW, where two Fridays a month the DJs play classic house music. Not hyperspeed techno or tinny Europop, but soulful garage house: music made of soaring vocals belted out by bountiful black women and thumping drums that transport dancers back to the motherland.

“This is a refuge from commercialism, from lust, from negativity, where people can get into the music and not be concerned with whether they have the latest fashions or who they’re going home with,” says Smith, sporting a T-shirt from the Paradise Garage, the long-defunct, still-revered New York house club.

Smith and his cohorts chose an unlikely venue for their house haven: Vicki’s on 9th is a small, speakeasy-style neighborhood joint known mostly for its oldies-but-goodies ’70s parties.

“Downstairs, it’s a totally different scene. Right out of the Shaft movie—the original one,” says Smith, well aware that Vicki’s regulars would rather hear the Commodores’ “Brick House” than his brand of house. Still, he says, “it’s important to have this kind of thing on 9th Street, in the ‘hood, so we can bring it back home.”

With resident DJs Oji and Pope, favorites from the Baltimore house scene, spinning contagious sounds, Sanctuary has quickly developed a loyal following.

“A lot of places, the vibe is that everyone wants to stand around and not get their shoes messed up,” says Jason Crews, one of the organizers. “Here, everyone is really about letting the music take you to a place where you can be free. You don’t even have to

know anybody.”

And with a dance floor the size of the average person’s living room, you get to know your fellow dancers quickly enough. The club’s owner, Emmanuel Durant, likes the positive attitude of the Sanctuary crowd, though his business side doesn’t see much money-making potential in it. “It’s not a very good drinking crowd,” says Durant. “All they do is dance.”

Mark Pappas, a regular who describes himself as a “44-year-old Caucasian,” drives from Baltimore to D.C. religiously for Sanctuary nights. “Sometimes I sit and nod my head, but something about this music makes you have to get up and make a fool of yourself. But in this place, nobody seems to mind.” —Holly Bass