At the nightclub Love, the loading dock serves many functions. During the day, delivery trucks deposit their goods there. Come party time, it’s a stealth passage for celebrities headed to the club’s stage. It also houses Love’s “customer-care” center, where patrons slump in neatly arranged chairs, vomiting into buckets lined with plastic. And when the hour gets late, the brick-and-metal atrium becomes a full-service processing center for the club’s troublemakers, a final stop before being banished from the club altogether.
Makan Shirafkan, Love’s general manager, says approximately three people get banned from Love on any given weekend. Common ban-worthy offenses include underage drinking, theft, and fighting, but there are other no-nos that can get you thrown out of the club.
On Dec. 29, a woman was banned from Love after getting caught smoking pot within the club’s confines. She was ushered to the customer-care center, where an attendant wrote down her name and a description of her transgression. The woman posed for a photograph to accompany the report and was told not to come back for six months.
At Love, incident reports like this one form the backbone of the club’s banning process. “The way we do things, we have incident reports for everything that happens,” Shirafkan says. Two shelves in one of Love’s hidden offices are stocked with fat binders chronicling incidents from the last year alone. Some incidents are relatively minor and don’t end up with a patron being banned, Shirafkan says, such as an allergic reaction, a twisted ankle, or a foot impaled by a stiletto heel. Others are more serious: One binder includes a photograph of a man whose face was mauled in a fight with multiple attackers. People who start fights are among the most likely candidates for banning, Shirafkan says.
When people are banned from Love—and many have been, says owner Marc Barnes—chances are their vital stats and pictures are in one of those binders. If the clubgoer has been banned for life, the picture is attached to an official D.C. police-department “barring notice.” A barring notice, says Metropolitan Police Department Public Information Officer Israel James, includes the time and date of the offense and indicates that an individual is not permitted on the grounds of the club, subject to prosecution. “That person could be arrested based on the fact that he was warned,” he says.
Most of the time, however, it’s up to Love’s security to prevent banned individuals from entering the club. Shirafkan says guards posted at Love’s entrance rely heavily on facial recognition to keep the ruffians at bay. If someone looks familiar or suspicious, security radios the customer-care center, where an employee checks names against a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet listing everyone who has been banned from the club. “It’s the same people who constantly get into trouble,” he says.
Ejecting people from D.C.’s nightclubs isn’t exactly a science, but it’s becoming more so as club owners across the city experiment with new technologies to track who’s been busted, booted, and banned.
At Eyebar on I Street NW, for example, security personnel use CardVisor ID scanners to defend against fake IDs. The CardVisor technology, made by a company called TokenWorks, allows clubs to check the validity of an ID and to recognize whether the ID-holder has been banned. “It’s basically a palm pilot,” owner Lieven DeGeyndt says.
Scanners, though, can be less reliable than the husky bouncers who wield them. David McLeod, security director at Fur nightclub, says his establishment bought two ID scanners about eight years ago (a different brand than TokenWorks) but stopped using them after the pricey devices kept malfunctioning. When it comes to banning, Fur mostly uses police-department-issued barring notices. “It’s not in stone until [the department] gives a barring notice,” says McLeod. The only problem, McLeod says, is people sometimes forget the whole incident and return to the club as if nothing had happened. “We let them know, ‘You can’t come into the club,’ and they want to know why, and we show them the paper. That’s the funny part. They don’t remember it.”
It’s times like those that Kodak moments come in handy. “You take their picture. It’s almost like a photo album,” says Abdul Khanu, owner of the waterfront club H2O. As for the guards, “You have to use old-fashioned techniques like memory.”
McLeod says he wishes all clubs could afford a scanner—and could pool information. “Everyone has a bad night, and you have to take that into consideration,” he says, but “if we could type in your information, and it says you’ve been banned from this club, that club, and that club, it would be lovely.”
Lovely, sure, and fairly simple, says Aiden Ferguson, president of Eyebar Network Security Systems, an Ontario-based company. With the help of TokenWorks technology, Ferguson hopes to create a banning database. The goal, he says, is to have a regularly updated master list of people who have been banned in a given region. Local bars and clubs could then subscribe to the database for a flat fee of about $175 per month. Ferguson says he doesn’t have any takers yet.
That ambition seems a little Big Brothernish to certain D.C. club owners. After all, “somebody who causes a problem at my club might not cause a problem at another club,” DeGeyndt says.
Over at Love, souped-up surveillance is the name of the game. Shirafkan says Love is hoping to harness the computerized facial-recognition technology used at casinos in Las Vegas. The surveillance cameras at Love already have the ability to recognize people and track them as they move through the venue, Shirafkan says, which came in handy when the club hosted a fundraiser for John Kerry. Security highlighted Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, who were headlining the event, and the cameras kept a close watch over the two former presidents. “When you have a night like that, I can scan their images right off the camera and the cameras would follow,” he says. “The next step is not too far-fetched.” In the meantime, he says, Love is working on compiling a notebook of its 10 or 20 least-wanted clubgoers.
Indie store emerges amid Tower’s ruins
When the Tower Records in Fairfax shut its doors, former Tower employees Ryan Hill and Joseph Nicolia threw a party. The point wasn’t to celebrate the demise of Tower, where Hill and Nicolia worked for eight and five years, respectively. It was to celebrate Strangeland Records, the Annandale store Hill opened in March. “We had an invite-only party at the shop, a thank-you to shop friends and regulars,” Hill says.
Strangeland sits across a wide parking lot from a Giant supermarket. It focuses on punk, metal, industrial, and electronic music, the kind of stuff Hill used to purchase for Tower. It also hosts live local music on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. “It’s like hanging out with the biggest music nerds ever conceived on this spinning ball of space-bound dirt,” reads the store’s Web site. “Except we don’t live in our mom’s basement and you don’t have to sneak in through the back door.”
Hill says he started planning Strangeland in 2004. “I knew that Tower was on the ropes for years. I was kind of hoping that Tower would go under,” he says, quickly adding, “Tower was almost a kind of second education.” Hill met his wife there and got to know Nicolia, who designed Strangeland’s aesthetic concept (“very propagandistic, minimalist, dada,” Nicolia says). “Tower had a lot of flaws, but it was a really good chain,” says Hill.
In fact, in the wake of Tower’s collapse, some of the chain’s employees have been throwing business Hill’s way. For example, the woman in charge of industrial music at the former Tysons Corner Tower e-mailed Hill to ask him if she could refer her customers to Strangeland. And as Tower began shuttering its shop, Hill says, his friends at Tower handed out fliers and put up stickers advertising the new indie store.
Now that Tower is gone, Hill says he wishes he could return the favor. “A lot of people are out of work now. If I could afford to bring more people here, I would.”