Credit: (Illustration by Kyle T Webster)

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Michael Clautice lives in Annapolis. He doesn’t get to D.C. much, so when a bunch of his friends decided to head to Adams Morgan for a night out last October, he went along. “It was a good time and everything,” Clautice remembers.

For a little while, anyway. Sometime after midnight, as Clautice, 23, and his friends were getting ready to leave Tom Tom, a woman toward the back of the bar started screaming that her purse had been stolen. “Then all of a sudden, she starts throwing bottles off tables,” says Clautice’s friend Anthony Horton. She hurled one, then two, three, four, five bottles. “One whizzed past my head, and I was like, ‘I’m outta here,’ ” says Horton. He urged his friends to leave the bar fast.

But just as they were about to flee, a bottle came spinning towards Clautice and hit him in the groin. “It hit me right where it mattered,” says Clautice. “It was like Moses parting the sea. One of my boys went one way, one of my boys went the other way, and the bottle hit right in the center.”

Clautice’s friends rushed him out of the bar, where he proceeded to vomit blood. Medics handed him an ice pack, and the assailant was arrested on the scene, a police report says. “It sort of broke me in, and it broke me,” Clautice says of his first time partying in D.C. “I’m not going back anytime soon.”

On March 14, Tom Tom manager Brian Vasile described the incident to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Andrew Kline, Tom Tom’s attorney, told the board that such events are “unfortunate,” but “incidents of this sort happen from time to time in this industry.”

Some ABC Board members, however, suggest that bottle-related incidents are becoming too commonplace at D.C. bars and clubs. “I’ve heard a lot about broken bottles lately,” board member Albert Lauber said at the hearing. A few weeks ago, the board listened to the story of Adam Packham, who was hit with a bottle during a Hank Williams III concert at the Black Cat (Show & Tell, “Hank Yanked,” 3/16). Last December, the board heard about an April 2006 fight between two dancers at the Royal Palace Nightclub in Dupont Circle. The two strippers, who are sisters, had an argument that led to one slashing the other three times on the head, shoulder, and arm with a broken beer bottle, according to an alcohol administration report.

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In a way, these bottle attacks might signal that area establishments have tightened their security, board members say. Speaking to Vasile at the March 14 hearing, Lauber said, “You have been very good at keeping guns and knives out.” The problem is, he added, “if they can’t grab a knife, they might grab something else.” Too often, he said, a beer bottle has become a pissed-off patron’s weapon of choice. Lauber wondered whether Tom Tom might consider abandoning glass altogether.

Perhaps, Vasile responded. After all, he said, “they do make plastic bottles.”

“I’m a big fan of plastic being used instead of [glass] bottles. Bottles hurt and can kill,” board member Audrey Thompson said.

Some club owners, however, say cracking down on glass bottles isn’t necessary. Dante Ferrando, owner of the Black Cat, says his club’s recent bottle-bruising was the first of its kind. “I never had any incidents like this one in 13 years until now. It was a fluke.” The club sometimes uses plastic cups, he says, but that’s usually when there’s a big dance party or, occasionally, because a band makes a special request. Rancid, for example, recently asked the Black Cat to use plastic for its show. Most of the time, Ferrando says, when a band asks for an all-plastic performance, it’s because one of its members had a traumatic run-in with a bottle-wielding concertgoer. “It’s a pain,” Ferrando says of plastic cups, “and it looks bad…I prefer to serve in a glass.”

Lieven DeGeyndt, co-owner of Eyebar, says glass adds class and cachet; it’s what separates a swank lounge from a stadium. “It’s an image thing,” he says. Replacing glass with plastic beer bottles would limit the patrons’ options; big-brand domestic beers sometimes come in plastic bottles, he says, but smaller-name and imported beers rarely do. 

Still, plastic is becoming more common in D.C. nightspots. Marc Barnes, owner of the nightclub Love, says his establishment switched to plastic cups instead of glasses a year and a half ago. “We only use plastic cups…because we don’t want people to use them as weapons.” Plastic can also be a big plus for women who prance around the club wearing open-toed shoes, he says. In fact, the decision to use more plastic wasn’t the result of a bottle-bashing incident. It came after a woman’s foot was sliced by a shard of glass. However, the change has its drawbacks. “I think it does hurt sales,” Barnes says.

That’s better than hurting people, says Meredith Mikesell, who was recently bartending at the Reef’s roof deck in Adams Morgan. “All of our beer is on draft,” she says referring to the roof’s selection. “That’s just something we do for the safety of people up here and down there [on the street].” Chris Santulli, a customer, says the plastic doesn’t bother him. “Even if it’s good beer, you don’t want it crashing on your head from three floors up.”

Plastic isn’t yet the wave of the future for D.C. bars and clubs. “It’s been an issue,” says ABC Board Chairman Charles Burger, “but I don’t think it’s rampant.” At Tom Tom, “the woman would have thrown anything,” he says.

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