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“RIP Velvet Lounge.” Those three words made up a twitter storm on Wednesday evening, following a couple of ambiguous tweets from current and former Velvet Lounge staff about the pending closure of the downstairs dive bar and cozy, upstairs music venue that’s been shuttered since the pandemic began in March 2020.
Roughly 24 hours after the rumors began swirling on social media, Velvet Lounge posted on Instagram: “Thank you so much for all the years of love. We are closing the physical establishment for good but we’d just like to say thank you and leave you with this. Please keep you head up and continue to try your best, you gave us some of your most beautiful years so thank you. @velvetloungedc and everyone who was ever apart of that experience. The end of an ear.” [Sic]
On July 20, @ElScumbagg, who goes by Synkami, tweeted a photo of Velvet’s cash register with the caption: “Today is the first time this POS has turned on since March 2020 and the very last time.” One of the business’ owners, Abdul Kayoumym, told DCist via text that he did not sell the bars, blamed COVID for the closure, and said it was “very emotional.”
On Wednesday, Dwight “Juice” Jones, one of two managers at Velvet Lounge, tweeted in “response to the rip @VelvetLoungeDC tweets,” with a voice memo stating: “I basically found out when you guys found out.” Jones continues, “I just wanted to say thank you for all the great memories. It’s been a decade of hugging everybody over the years, hosting shows, giving people a chance when it came to their crafts, throwing good times. […] I wish things could have ended on a different note, but due to COVID, we all know what it is.”
“From what I’m seeing, because I haven’t been told this directly by the owners, Velvet is now in the hands of new management, and it’s gone,” Jones said in a phone call with City Paper on Thursday afternoon. He also emphasized that his statement was in no way a slight against the owners. “I have no clue what has been going on since COVID,” says Jones, confirming that the bar was last open the weekend of March 13, 2020—his birthday. “It’s probably been a fight on their end, figuring out how do we get money together for the landlord when we haven’t been open for a year?”
According to the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration’s records, Velvet’s liquor license was canceled in November, because the bar had failed to pay its license fees for the second year.
In April 2020, Kayoumym, one of Velvet’s co-owners at the time, launched a GoFundMe to raise money for the bar’s out-of-work staff. “Like so many other bars and restaurants across the country, we are going through it,” states the fundraising page. “Any and all donations would be much appreciated at this time.” The donations, which totaled $2,482 of the $5,000 goal, were promised to the bar’s employees. Jones received some funds, which he called a “blessing,” considering he wasn’t eligible for unemployment during the first two months of the pandemic.
Kayoumym, along with Haile Berhane—two former U Street bartenders—bought Velvet Lounge from Chris Connelly in early January 2008; Connelly opened the bar, under the same name and with similar vibes, in 1997. When Velvet transferred owners, DCist reported that the new buyers intended to purchase the adjoining building. Dodge opened two years later with additional co-owners Angie Hopson and Patrick Mucklow. In 2017, the Washington Post named Velvet one of the best “true dive bars” in the city. And in 2020, right before the pandemic, City Paper visited Velvet Lounge at last call. City Paper reached out to Hopson, who did not comment.
Raman Santra of @barredindc tweeted back in October 2020 that he’d heard a rumor that Dodge and Velvet were closing: “Dodge City and Velvet Lounge share owners—someone spotted locks being changed on Dodge City door.”
Following Jones’ tweet, and before making an official announcement, Velvet began retweeting messages from loyal customers and musicians. The bar, on Twitter, also called Jones the “Best Manager Ever.”
Velvet, and Dodge, were loved by many music lovers, bar fans, and staff. And the outpouring of tweets in response to the presumed closure exemplified this love. “Where else could my fledgling band have played our first show?” tweeted local journalist Mike Janssen, who plays banjo in The Boundary Stones. In an email exchange with City Paper, Janssen called the bar an important venue in D.C.’s music scene. Of that first gig, Janssen says, “I’m sure the crowd wasn’t huge that night, but it’s when I started to learn how to connect with an audience.”
Local hip-hop artist Special Berriez says he started going to Velvet as a “kid on the scene” to watch his favorite local bands perform. Eventually, he too performed at the venue. “Velvet was always a place where you could count on seeing a good friend, and have a great time all night,” says the artist. “Juice is usually at the door, making you feel like a friend that just came back to a mini reunion.”
Janssen also credits the space for its “eclectic lineups and a takes-all-kinds approach,” many of the shows he’s seen at the venue over the years stick with him still.
Velvet’s eclectic vibes stands out in many memories. Jones says the venue worked hard to create a safe space for people and for creatives to get their foot in the door. “There’s not a lot of spaces right now where people are able to try something out and see if it works,” says Jones. “There aren’t a lot of spaces where people are able to figure themselves out as DJs and we gave a lot of DJs their first chances in the city.”
Located just next door, Dodge also offered two stories and a back patio. For nearly a decade it was also home to the annual queer summertime tea dance, OverEasy. (Writer’s note: I co-hosted OverEasy from 2011 to 2013).
“Velvet and Dodge, as seen through parties like OverEasy, belonged to a class of event space where different nightlife communities around the city could come to find common ground,” Alex Douglas-Barrera, a.k.a. DJ Wannabe told City Paper. “I’ve danced to, heard, played, and sung pretty much every type of music I’ve ever loved on those dance floors, stages, and booths. It’s hard to think of many other places that opened themselves up to that level of innovation and variety in programming, and D.C.’s legacy in art and music has absolutely benefitted as a result.”
As Special Berriez concluded: “I love you Velvet, you will be missed.”
Updated Aug. 23:
The owners of Dodge City have confirmed suspicions. A statement sent via email early Monday, Aug. 23, announces: “It is with great sadness that we must confirm rumors that Dodge City has closed.” The bar closed due to the pandemic just a month shy of its 10 year anniversary, with the intent to celebrate the milestone upon reopening. “But unfortunately that celebration did not happen,” states the release. “Like so many other businesses that suffered during the pandemic-related closure, we held out hope for as long as possible that we could reopen to rejoin the thriving U St. nightlife scene. The year-plus financial hardship just proved to be too much to overcome.”
With a thank you to friends, patrons, and employees, the owners offer a sliver of hope at the statement’s end: “This isn’t a farewell but ‘see you soon’ as the Dodge City core ownership partners have other projects on tap and are actively pursuing new endeavors.”