The 2007 Nightlife Hot List
The Hot Neighborhood
Hint: It's not H Street, U Street, Clarendon or Columbia Heights. Nightlife is moving back downtown, with bottle service-focused nightspots increasing clustered on 14th and K streets NW, right around McPherson Square. The four-story Park at 14th was the biggest opening of 2007, with its plush lounge setting, DJs and invitation-only admission policy, though a lot of the buzz came from its owners Marc Barnes (Love), Masoud A. (Lima) and Dirk Van Stockum (of '90s hotspots Zei and Fifth Column). Around the corner, Fur Nightclub owner Michael Romeo unveiled two lounges, Tattoo and Lotus, which sit directly across the street from each other. Lotus is funkier and Asian-inspired, while Tattoo aspires to be a biker bar for the new millennium -- one with plenty of leather and rock music to go along with $300 minimums. These three join the established kstreet and Lima, and later this month, we'll get a peek at Josephine, a subterranean lounge run by the Jetset Mafia promotions crew. It's only going to be open on the weekends, and it will save most of its space for folks who can drop a few hundred dollars on a table for the night.
The Hot Drink
Whether you're talking about lounges, gastropubs or high-end restaurants, this was a great year for fans of the exquisitely crafted ales of Belgium. Dr. Granville Moore's brought dozens of bottled beers with exotic names like Kwak and Pannepot to a dimly lit tavern on H Street, with two former brewers serving as guides. (Take time to eat, too; The mussels and twice-fried frites are probably the best in the city.) Thievery Corporation DJ and Eighteenth Street Lounge founder Eric Hilton chose Belgium as the theme for his new nightspot, Marvin -- the name is an homage to native son Marvin Gaye, who lived in Europe for a few years. Soul music plays in the attractive upstairs lounge, while bartenders pour Belgian drafts on the large back patio. Belga Cafe signed a contract to have a Belgian brewery produce two custom beers. In a league of its own is Brasserie Beck. The restaurant's beer program is under the guidance of Bill Catron, who flew to Brussels in August to be made a knight of the Belgian brewer's guild. His selection (12 drafts, around 80 bottles) always includes seasonal specials and something you've never heard of, and the bartenders are skilled at recommending and properly serving the beers.
The Hot Trend
Privacy. The Space, a handsome old Shaw carriage house that's been converted to a place for art shows, fashion shows, avant garde performances and DJ nights, announced that it was going to become a members-only club. The owners were mum on what the annual fee would be -- rumors suggested it was north of $2,000 -- but until that happens, anyone can visit. The building has a full bar, a candle-covered fireplace and (seasonally heated) rooftop deck, plus DJs on the weekends. I've never encountered a cover charge, so go now before you have to pay. In Georgetown, L2 Lounge is bringing a splash of style to sleepy, shop-heavy Cady's Alley, and it's so exclusive that you need a password to look at the Web site. Members must pony up $2,500 for a two-year span, if they make it past the application process. What does that chunk of change get you? Admission for you and five members of your entourage to the loft-style space. You'll still have to pay for every drink, though the cocktail list was designed by famed New York bar chef Stephan Trummer. The public can check the place out on weekends -- just be prepared to drop $30 to cross the threshold, and you better be dressed to impress.
Six Hot New Bars and Lounges Worth Another Visit
The restaurant's menu mixes soul food with mussels and frites, while an impressive roster of DJs mixes up classic soul and funk music for the folks who come to chill in the upstairs bar or on the large deck.
A snazzy champagne bar with DJs, leather couches and prime people-watching on weekends. The champagne cocktails on the menu are fun to explore.
Nellie's Sports Bar
D.C.'s first gay sports bar has a mixed crowd for watching football games, though it's predominantly male late at night when the soundtrack switches to house music and Top 40 remixes. The expansive rooftop deck will be a treat in the summer.
The only bar in town with a Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots game, this is a beer-and-a-shot joint with boxing photos on the walls and Irish music on the stereo. It's owned and operated by Tony Tomelden, who won legions of fans during his over-a-decade-long tour at Capitol Lounge.
The Red Derby
The Columbia Heights newcomer sports friendly staff, a pool table and a selection of comfortable couches. Two things that really won me over: All beers are served in cans, from basic Schlitz and Natty Boh to fancy Wittekerke and Old Chubb, and in lieu of a jukebox, the bartenders encourage customers to punch up a few songs on their MP3 players.
My favorite D.C. wine bar is small, candlelit, attractive and very, very loud. Its by-the-glass selection, offering 60 different labels, is full of good finds -- feel free to ask your bartender's advice -- and the two dozen themed flights are a good gateway for novices and oenophiles alike.
Honorable Mention: The Deck
The simple hangout -- a wooden patio outside the Savoy Suites hotel in Glover Park -- was a go-to spot for me this summer, especially on "Sunday Funday," until the neighbors complained about noise and got the place shut down for good in July.
Hot New Dance Club
Ed Bailey and John Guggenmos have been fixtures on the gay nightlife scene since the '80s, running Tracks and the landmark Velvet Nation dance party before opening Halo lounge. Now they've unveiled a two-story space that's built for drag shows, go-go boys and DJs who spin until 4 a.m. Despite its massive size -- about 20,000 square feet -- Town lacks attitude and manages to feel surprisingly cozy.
Runner Up: Ibiza
Vast and boasting a very impressive sound system, Ibiza clearly has potential. But a fluctuating lineup (celebutant DJs? A quick-changing cast of "house" mixers?) kept it from dominating the city's club scene, though Saturday's Glow events have been bringing in a solid lineup of trance and house superstars, from Armin Van Buuren to Sander Kleinenberg.
The Hot Party
Gilbert Arenas's 25th birthday party at Love, with P. Diddy, T.I., Lil' Wayne, Busta Rhymes, Doug E. Fresh, Marion Barry, a host of professional athletes -- from Clinton Portis to Alexander Ovechkin -- and around 7,000 other close personal friends. Gil made a brief appearance onstage, announcing "Everybody get drunk and make bad decisions!"
Runner Up: The Dismemberment Plan reunion shows at the Black Cat, which felt more like a class reunion than concerts put on for a very serious cause.
The Hot Happy Hour
DJ Dave Nada is one of D.C.'s top turntablists, setting off crowds at clubs here and abroad with a mix of hip-hop, electro, Baltimore Club and old-school mashups. But my favorite place to hear him work his magic is in Vegetate's upstairs lounge on Wednesday nights, when the music is fresh and the veggie sliders are a buck apiece.
Runners Up (tie): The breathtaking view of Capitol Hill and endless political chatter that went along with glasses of wine and free snacks at the weekly rooftop happy hour at Charlie Palmer Steak, and the relaxing poolside with a frozen cocktail at the Omni Shoreham Hotel's Code Orange happy hour, where swimsuits were encouraged. Hopefully both will return with the warm weather.
Warmest Destination for Smokers
Thanks to the D.C. smoking ban, most smokers have to huddle around braziers to keep warm in the winter. Now they have a new option: Aroma, which became the first nightspot to win an exemption from the ban due to falling sales. Lighters have been firing up in Cleveland Park since October, when we broke the news on this blog. Which bar will be next?
Hot Local Music Video
"Read a Book" by Bomani Armah
First aired on BET over the summer, this decidedly Not-Safe-For-Work video gets crunk with Beethoven while encouraging listeners to read books, raise their kids properly, spend money on land instead of fancy rims and practice good dental hygiene. Watch the video, then check Armah out at the weekly open mike night at Artmosphere Cafe in Mount Rainier, where he's the host and hype man.
Auf Wiedersehen to Max Blob's Bavarian Biergarten -- better known as Blob's Park -- which closed New Year's Eve after 74 years. Known for German beers, weekend polka shows and its annual month-long Oktoberfest party, Blob's was a landmark, and I'll really start missing it in September.
Dragonfly, a staple of the D.C. lounge scene since opening in the early '90s, closed in May and is being made over into a fancy yacht-themed lounge (with lots of bottle service!) by the team behind Fly Lounge. Those who loved the sushi happy hour and progressive music choices mourned.
While Yenching Palace's Chinese food was never great, I'm going to miss the landmark's tiki cocktails, including the giant flaming volcano drink.
After months of false leads, Chick Hall's Surf Club, the last honky-tonk in P.G. County, is closing its doors on February 1.
And you have until 2 a.m. on January 27 to make one last visit to Dr. Dremo's, the Arlington institution formerly known as Bardo Rodeo and Ningaloo. As you might expect, the building's being torn down to make room for condos, because, you know, that's what the Court House area needs.
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