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Josh Burdette, door-staff supervisor of the 9:30 Club, says he’s watched stoners go to great lengths to smuggle weed inside. “The club has seen thousands of mechanisms,” he says. “Some that look like they were built in shop class and others that look like they were cobbled together by a 2-year-old.”
Burdette has busted people for puffing on pieces of fruit and has also discovered “thousands of dollars of glassware….We’ve had a little bit of everything,” he says. He once did a pat-down search on a patron and heard something clatter to the floor. “Either a robot just fell apart or a pipe fell out of his pocket,” he remembers thinking. “It just rolled down his pant leg…and right up next to my foot.”
Burdette says the 9:30 Club has always had a “zero-tolerance policy” when it comes to marijuana. As of Jan. 2, enforcing that policy got a lot easier, as the city’s new smoking ban went into effect. “While the taking away of the cover of smoke might eliminate one way to get around the law, there are others we’ll look out for,” he says.
Others, eh? Much has been said about the city’s new smoking ban—but what about the ban’s effects on D.C.’s sneakiest smokers? Are the days of getting high at D.C.’s nightclubs over? Where were the city’s herbal hot spots, anyway? And what happens now?
Clarence Brown, a doorman and bartender at the Velvet Lounge who’s also worked at the 9:30 Club, the Black Cat, and Tracks, says he saw people light up in all of those establishments. “Usually they would stand in the middle of the crowd…and try smoking a bowl. The thing that would give them away is that they would have to keep lighting it. You don’t have to keep lighting a cigarette.”
More blatant blazers almost always got caught, says Joe Easley of the D.C. band Statehood. He recalls getting a whiff of weed during shows at the Black Cat, and then, within minutes, seeing a security guard swoop in and nab the stoners. “Shows on the mainstage, when it’s packed, you could smell someone smoking weed, and then a few minutes later they would be pulled out,” he says.
Now they’re likely to be pulled out even faster, says Black Cat owner Dante Ferrando. The club busts pot smokers “once or twice a year,” he says, and offenders are generally understanding. “There’s no way to say, ‘Oh, I didn’t think it was illegal.’…For us, it’s more frequent for the band to say, ‘Oh, can we smoke pot in here?’ and we say, ‘No, it’s not Amsterdam. Sorry.’ ”
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It’s not just the bands and customers trying to get high at D.C.’s nightspots, either. One 9:30 Club employee was fired after he was caught smoking pot on the premises. It was March 2005, and Queens of the Stone Age—“a stoner band, ironically,” he says—was scheduled to play. Before the show, he went to the club’s basement and walked into the large refrigerator room where kegs and boxes of beer were kept. “I was kind of standing in front of a keg.…My manager came down to tell me something,” he says. “I was basically caught red-handed…I didn’t stick around for the show.”
The former employee, who prefers to remain anonymous, says he has stopped smoking weed in bars and clubs, arguing that public pot-smoking is too perilous now that the smoking ban is in effect. “Lighting up a cigarette in a bar is conspicuous enough, and the sweet, sweet aroma of marijuana is too obvious to miss.…It might be R.I.P.—in memoriam pot—in clubs, at least until after-hours.”
After-hours, or maybe just outdoors. Prince George’s County banned smoking in all eating and drinking establishments in 2005. True to the letter of the law, at Crossroads Entertainment Complex in Bladensburg on Jan. 6, the only haze inside came from the venue’s mist machine. “Marijuana is not something we permit,” says Lisa Hollomand, who handles marketing and promotions for the club.
But outside Crossroads, it’s a different story, says Vincent Hawkins, a security guard who patrols the establishment’s interconnected parking lots. Hawkins says that on Wednesdays, when the club hosts a college party, the crowd at Crossroads is younger and much more likely to get high. Sometimes they drive around the club’s darkened lots while weed wafts out of their windows, he says, or they simply linger in their cars. When they do step out, he says, they go out of their way to disguise the smell. “I’ve seen one lady, she was really wild,” he says. “She stripped down to her bra and panties, and she was standing there and she put lotion on her body, and then she started putting hand sanitizer on. She was standing right here. Her whole body smelled like weed.”
Hawkins, who has worked at Crossroads since October 2006, says the club is clamping down on parking-lot tokers. “I can tell you, when I first got here, I saw a lot more of it,” he says. “They don’t want anything that’s detrimental to the club.”
Just like the folks over in P.G. County, it seems D.C.’s weed smokers will have to take their fire outside. On Jan. 8, two Mount Pleasant residents huddled in the Raven Grill’s doorway, sharing a joint. The man, who asked not to be named, says he has gotten high at several D.C. nightspots, though “the Raven’s the coolest.” Asked whether the pair would be smoking under the Raven’s roof if it were not for the smoking ban, the woman answered, “Hell yes.…It’s cold out here.”
At Chief Ike’s Mambo Room in Adams Morgan, a barfly confessed to “puff puff”-ing at establishments across the city. He said he would be “very less likely” to burn one down postban but called the ban “a good move” because it means people are becoming more health-conscious.
“Pretty soon people will have to smoke cigarettes outside but will be able to smoke weed inside,” he predicted, pulling out a card identifying him as a “medical cannabis volunteer.”
Big in Ohio
Artomatic was great last year. Fire eaters. Art cars. Performances and parades. With more than 5,000 people in attendance, the event was a stunning success. In Toledo.
Artomatic, the monthlong biennial festival dedicated to strengthening Washington’s artistic community, never made it to D.C. last year as planned. But it did take the western-Ohio city by storm. Marc Folk, executive director of the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo and a steering-committee member for Artomatic 419, says the impetus for Toledo’s iteration came out of conversations with George Koch, chair of D.C.’s Artomatic. While working together on arts projects at Bowling Green State University, Koch told Folk how, in 1999, developer Douglas Jemal donated the vacant Manhattan Laundry buildings on Florida Avenue NW to a group of artists to use for an unjuried art show. The first event drew thousands, Koch explained, beginning a biennial tradition for D.C. artists.
Inspired, Folk helped organize Artomatic 419, which featured Ohio artists and performers for four Saturdays in September 2006. Meanwhile, Artomatic’s organizers in D.C. were still seeking a space for their event. By fall 2006, it looked like they had found a spot at One NoMa Station, the old Woodward and Lothrop structure—until negotiations with the Bristol Group, the building’s landlord, fell through. “In this case, we just weren’t successful,” Koch says. “We made them an offer, and it was not accepted.”
“We’d really hoped to do it,” says David Alperstein, assistant vice president at Jones Lang LaSalle, which represented the Bristol Group in negotiations. “We agreed that the NoMa neighborhood would have benefited,” but other paying tenants approached the Bristol Group at the same time. “The timing wasn’t right,” he says.
There is some good news for Artomatic, though. While the event itself didn’t happen, Koch says, a group of galleries in Bethesda expressed interest in exhibiting Artomatic’s artists. Through a collaboration between the Bethesda Urban Partnership’s Arts & Entertainment District, Catriona Fraser of the Fraser Gallery, and local visual arts Web site artdc.org, a group of Bethesda gallerists will be featuring “Artomatic Associated Events” in January and February.
To make it happen, Artomatic directed its artists to upload their work to artdc.org. Bethesda gallerists then visited the online gallery to make their selections. “I looked at every single artist’s work that had registered” on artdc.org, Fraser says. In addition to her gallery, Creative Partners Gallery, Gallery Neptune, Heineman Myers Contemporary Art, Washington School of Photography Capitol Arts Network, Joy of Motion Dance Center, the Writer’s Center, and Round House Theatre will also be participating in Bethesda’s Artomatic Associated Events.
Jesse Cohen, who created artdc.org in March 2004, was happy to provide a launchpad for the artists. “It really is a groundbreaking idea to say, ‘Here, upload your work, and brick-and-mortar galleries are going to look at them.’ ” Cohen’s work wasn’t selected by any of the participating gallerists, but he says he wasn’t too disappointed. “In the end, I know galleries are looking for a cohesive exhibit.”
Additional reporting by Sarah Godfrey
An opening reception for the exhibitions takes place at five Bethesda galleries on Jan. 12 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. More info is at bethesda.org/arts.