Food  |  News & Politics

Heist Nightclub’s Pop-Up With $1,000 Cabanas at the Kennedy Center Isn’t Happening for Now

The performing arts venue will evaluate whether the event meets its health and safety standards.

Photo courtesy of the Kennedy Center.

Heist nightclub claimed to have sold out tickets in 15 minutes on Monday for a 360-person rooftop event at the Kennedy Center with $1,000 cabana rentals and bottle service. But the performing arts venue has now cancelled the October 3 pop-up with Dupont’s bank heist-themed club to evaluate whether the gathering meets the building’s health and safety standards.

“The Center’s recent and successful return to hosting live performance at reduced capacity required months of rigorous planning. Likewise, we hold outside parties renting our spaces to the same high level of scrutiny and precautionary planning, and more time is needed to fully assess these plans,” the Kennedy Center wrote in a statement.

The Heist event caused confusion from the start as its announcement coincided with the launch of DC’s Phase Two Live Entertainment Pilot Program, which allows for six entertainment venues—including the Kennedy Center—to test live music events with a maximum of 50 people. The Heist event, which was set to have seven times as many people, is not part of the program. (The nightclub did, however, apply for live entertainment and then withdrew the request, City Paper reported.) Rather, the pop-up aimed to operate under the same guidelines as restaurants by offering food and a music playlist “curated” by DJs rather than hosting actual DJs, which are not allowed under current city restrictions.

“Due to this confusion, we agreed with the Kennedy Center that in an overabundance of caution we would delay our opening to ensure public awareness of all our safety protocols,” Heist owner owner Vinoda Basnayake said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. He added: “We strongly believe in this concept and will be announcing our reopening date soon.”

The HEIST x Kennedy Center pop-up, as it was marketed, touted a “contactless set-up,” including temperature checks, socially distanced tables, required masks, limited elevator trips, and hand sanitizer at every table. Versus—the parent company behind Heist as well as Castas Rum Bar and Morris American Bar—sold tables for up to six guests for $240 to $380. ““Infraction VIP Cabanas” went for $500 apiece; “Misdemeanor VIP Cabanas” went for $750; and “Felony VIP Cabanas” went for $1,000 each.

In his statement, Basnayake laid out the challenges his nightclub has faced through the pandemic. While Morris and Casta’s were able to bring back the majority of their staff thanks to outdoor seating, Heist’s outdoor “streatery” permit was rejected because its sidewalks weren’t wide enough.

“Instead of being discouraged, we started looking around the city for an outdoor space to rent in an attempt to create a pop-up Heist. While many of these attempts were futile, we were excited when the Kennedy Center agreed to meet with us. After several months of planning and negotiation we contracted to rent their outdoor rooftop terrace for our Heist pop-up,” he wrote

He says the venue received all the necessary permits and hired a third-party Covid-19 compliance officer. “Our goal was to set the gold standard for a responsible nightlife reopening.”

Basnayake also shot down speculation that his establishment was able to secure the space through his personal connections as chair of DC’s Commission on Nightlife and Culture. “We found a very unique outdoor space publicly available for rental and then applied for a program that has been accessible to every operator in the city for months,” he says.

This story has been updated with a statement from Heist owner Vinoda Basnayake. 

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.