You wouldn’t have known it at the time, but if you were at Zanzibar on the Waterfront this weekend for the Howard Homecoming event hosted by Erykah Badu, you were there for the venue’s last hurrah. It’s now closed for business.
Salsa dance instructor Eileen Torres found out Monday night from Zanzibar’s management; she informed her mailing list the next day. Her “Tribute to Salsa Choreographers” was scheduled for last night on one level of the three-story, 1,700-capacity building. Now she’s looking for another spot.
The club’s closing is likely linked to the city’s plans to redevelop the Southwest waterfront into a more tourist-friendly destination. The project, helmed by the firms PN Hoffman and Madison Marquette, is slated to contain 14 acres of parks, 780,000 square feet of office, cultural and retail space, as well as 1,000 housing units. In September, The Washington Post reported:
Construction will require the displacement or demolition of several waterfront businesses that held 99-year leases, including Gangplank’s neighbor, the Capital Yacht Club; the 100-room Channel Inn; the Zanzibar nightclub; and Phillips Seafood Restaurant.
A deal for Zanzibar, a 26,000-square-foot club known for its hip-hop, Caribbean, African and salsa music, could be finished in the coming weeks, Hoffman said. It will eventually be torn down, and its owners might be offered a smaller space for a more low-key jazz club.
But Michel Daley, one of Zanzibar’s co-owners, said nothing is final.
“This has been a very arduous negotiation and Hoffman has been offering a take-it-or-leave-it scenario, so we’re not sure,” he said Friday.
Zanzibar did not widely publicize the closing. My calls since Tuesday to club management were greeted by full voicebox messages. My e-mails to club staffers have bounced. The club has not responded on its Facebook site to a comment posted by a patron asking if the club would stay open beyond last weekend. The website provides no information. The development plans for the area have been discussed in the City Paper and Washington Post from an architectural and land-use standpoint (and in relation to the new Arena Stage), but coverage has barely discussed the artistic and cultural impact. Another nearby club, Hogate’s/H20, featured leading salsa and Latin-pop bands and DJs on Friday nights through much of the 2000s. It [closed down and] fell to a [ceremonial pretend] wrecking ball in [an] August [event] as part of the redevelopment plan.
As Zanzibar’s website indicates, the club opened in 1992 at 1714 G Street, NW, one block from the White House. Its audience there consisted largely of the international clientele who worked at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, plus other émigrés and individuals who have lived abroad. The club’s music format included tunes from the Caribbean, the African Diaspora and Latin America, and live shows with artists from those areas.
In 1998, Zanzibar moved to its current location, with its beautiful river view, at 700 Water St. SW. It became Zanzibar on the Waterfront and expanded its musical offerings to include house, hip-hop, neo-soul, and contemporary R&B. While I was never crazy about its upscale and chic atmosphere and mostly unhelpful management, I have fond memories of seeing soca legend David Rudder, afropop/Latin bandleader Ricardo Lemvo, and reggae singer Richie Spice, among others, perform there.
Just as the demolition of the Capital Ballroom didn’t get much attention when Nationals Park was constructed, the lack of coverage regarding the shutdown of these Southwest nightclubs again demonstrates local media’s cultural myopia. Hopefully Zanzibar on the Waterfront will be back in some form. If not, it will be missed.
Correction added: In August 2010, Hogates was subject to a ceremonial demolition event, but it was not actually knocked down, as originally reported here.