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Riot Act Comedy Theater is about to shed its comedic side, at least partly. The E Street NW club, which opened last August, will become a bar, but the club’s management wants to preserve as much comedy as possible in addition to featuring other kinds of entertainment.
Penn Social, the new bar, will open on July 9, and a grand opening will be held on the 14th. The remodeling is designed to appeal to more people than just those looking for a laugh, says general manager Peter Bayne. “The business model just hasn’t worked out financially for this space,” he says. “It wasn’t the place where you go out with your buds after work to get a beer.” He says the name Riot Act Comedy Theatre, especially, turned off potential customers who were looking for a less specific nightlife experience. It’s a big space, he says—“we need to fill it with more than comedy.”
The comedy club holds 320 seats, and Bayne says Riot Act has been selling about 200 tickets for each show. Summer is always a slow season for comedy, he explains—-people want to be outside—-but the club hadn’t drawn the crowds it needed during colder seasons to coast through the hottest months. “For a while there, we were basically treading water,” Bayne says.
Bayne says he talked to comics and their agents about what Riot Act could do to better sell its shows, but they couldn’t think of anything that the club was doing wrong—Chinatown is just a tough market for comedy, Bayne says.
Jon Gann, the founder of the D.C. Shorts festival, is disappointed to lose an arts venue. (D.C. Shorts held an event at Riot Act.) The space Riot Act occupies is zoned to contain an arts component. “It’s just upsetting that no one in the city is taking responsibility for keeping up the zoning,” Gann says. But Bayne says the new bar will feature arts—live music, open mic nights, and comedy—and he says he made sure to check that it remains in compliance with the zoning regulations.
The revamped space will feature an outdoor patio, a street level bar, and a large space for games and other entertainment. “We want to be really multipurpose,” Bayne says.