City Paper is not for tourists
The party at Republic Gardens is over, at least for now. Whitney Restaurants Inc., the company that operated the club at 1355 U Street, was evicted Oct. 29 due to “over $200,000 [owed] in back rent [and] taxes,” landlord Henry McCall says.
U.S. Marshals carried out the eviction Monday morning. “That building has been gutted out,” McCall says. A day later, McCall changed the locks and padlocked the double doors at the club’s entrance. “I’ve never seen anybody I’ve wanted to shoot as much as him,” he says of his former tenant.
According to McCall, Whitney Restaurants Inc. stopped paying rent, water and electricity bills several years ago, prompting him to sue his tenant in July 2005. In February 2006, the two sides discussed a possible settlement of $105,029.05—-less than the company actually owed, says McCall’s attorney Robert Bunn.
The settlement never came to pass. Elbert Robinson, Whitney’s president, says that’s because McCall was “unreasonable,” unwilling “even to make an agreement.” He suspects his landlord wants to redevelop the precious U Street property, with an assessed value of more than $1.6 million. But Bunn says the company never paid the settlement money, and when the lease expired in 2006, “no new lease was ever entered into.”
“We went to court and got judgment,” says McCall. “They were supposed to pay the money. When they didn’t pay the money, we got them evicted.”
McCall says he hopes to replace Republic Gardens with another nightclub. “I’d love to put a club there, because I feel they’re the ones making the money that can afford to pay,” he says.
And, according to Robinson, Republic Gardens will live on, too. He’s now “looking for a more suitable, more profitable location to go to,” he says.
That’s good news for the club’s loyal fans, who’ve swarmed the U Street institution since Marc Barnes owned the place in the 90s. Daryl “Uncle Q” Francis, who DJ’d there a couple of times and hung out there often, says Republic Gardens “was one of the only establishments that catered to…sophisticated black folk without a too upper class attitude…It was always a nice place where you could see nice women.”
Alexis Diop, his girlfriend, was one of those women. She began bartending there soon after Barnes sold the club, in 2003, and says “the staff was like a family.”
A family with some secrets, perhaps: She said she didn’t know anything about the financial troubles the club was facing.
Francis says he’d heard rumors, but had no idea Republic Gardens was on the verge of eviction. “I was there Saturday night,” he says. “It was very much a surprise that it happened.”