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Reggae fans let out a collective sigh of disappointment when U Street dancehall spot Patty Boom Boom announced via Facebook that it will close its doors on February 21. The response has been grumbling about another beloved piece of D.C. nightlife falling victim to gentrification, but according to Eric Hilton, who opened Patty Boom Boom in 2010 with his partners from Marvin and Eighteenth Street Lounge, its demise is simply a business decision.
“We love the business and what it became, but ultimately it was always sort of a break-even proposition,” Hilton says. “It was a lot of work for breaking even, so we decided to sell the building to someone who was enthusiastic about doing something different.” Taking the baton from Patty Boom Boom will be Cloak & Dagger, which is expected to open this spring, per its Facebook page. Its Facebook page also positions it as a “speakeasy,” which is interesting, considering that, well, it will legally serve alcohol in a well-publicized location. And the Gibson—which Hilton also has a stake in—serves the same dubious purpose just around the corner on 14th Street.
According to Hilton, calling Cloak & Dagger a “speakeasy” might be a bit of an exaggeration. “I haven’t talked to the guys; I’ve only heard a little about what they’re gonna do,” he says. “It doesn’t really sound too much like a speakeasy, but if it is, and it’s good, then that’s great. Gibson has its own loyal following, so we’re not really too worried about that.” Moreover, Hilton is adamant about the fact that Patty Boom Boom’s closing has little to do with gentrification and everything to do with a decision he and his business partners (who all purchased the building a few years back) made: They aren’t interested in owning real estate.
“It’s really just the nature of running a business that is predominantly based on dancing. You don’t really make money based on people dancing, as sad as that is,” Hilton says. “People are really wary about paying cover charges, and the DJs are quite expensive because they’re so awesome, and the space literally holds 99 people. It just kind of physically didn’t work with the small bar, and most people dancing. That’s basically my mistake; I didn’t really think that through.”
Spyda the dj, who’s controlled crowds at the club for years and will give his final performance this Saturday, agrees that the end of Patty Boom Boom doesn’t exactly represent the slow, painful melting of Chocolate City. “A lot of folks actually believe that [Patty Boom Boom] is a black-owned business. A lot of folks think that, because of gentrification, we’re losing all of these places that we had before,” he says. “You’re talking about the best sound system on the block, and you’re talking about a spot on the corner of 14th and U that they decided to sell patties out of. It’s not like it’s a mom and pop shop that we’re losing. A lot of people are approaching me like ‘Everything that we had, they’re taking away,’ and I’m like, ‘No, it’s not like that.'”
However, Spyda does acknowledge that the closing of Patty Boom Boom is an unequivocal loss for U Street. “You don’t get the type of vibes [that Patty Boom Boom brings] on 14th and U presented in that manner,” he says. “[The owners] did it very well, they did it very classy, and they showed a lot of respect to the folks here in D.C. [They] kept it authentic for the culture. That’s the thing that made Patty Boom Boom so unique—it tried to maintain authenticity as much as possible. That’s why a lot of folks felt comfortable there.”
DJ Amen Ra, also no stranger to the club’s DJ booth, shares Spyda’s disappointment. “That’s what [seems to happen] every six months on U Street: Something goes, and [U Street] loses a piece of its culture,” he says. “It’s just unfortunate because it’s been a staple for so long. There aren’t too many reggae-influenced venues in D.C. that you can go to on any given day and know that you’re going to hear good reggae music.”
“That’s one of the things I was the most proud of—it resonated with the population who really knew that music,” Hilton says. “It wasn’t some sort of novelty space.”
Although the spirit of Patty Boom Boom will live on in pop-up parties at Marvin and Den of Thieves, Hilton and his partners hope to give it a legitimate revival in a new location with space to accommodate the crowd. “[I] definitely would be interested in relocating it and having the space to do it a little bit better,” he says. “I haven’t even talked to the 9:30 Club about it, and they’d be surprised if they read it, but I have considered doing a Patty Boom Boom monthly at the 9:30 Club. We’d get all the really good DJs and a few top level MCs and just do a big reggae night to keep the name viable. It seems like it’d be a pretty cool party at 11:30 p.m. on a Friday. I’d like to see 500 to 600 people dancing [to] dancehall in the 9:30 Club.”
The silver lining to Patty Boom Boom’s closing could be its return in a building better-equipped to house its crowds. Hopefully, that bittersweet trade-off is somewhere on the horizon.
Photo via Google Maps