Food  |  News & Politics

DC Nightclubs Are Officially Back, and People Are Really, Really Ready to Party

Local nightlife and music venue owners says they're expecting packed houses this weekend.

Photo via iStock.

Tonight, DC 9 will be decorated in streamers like “prom on steroids” with a DJ taking requests from the crowd. The Shaw club is dubbing it the “Lost Birthday Club” to celebrate all the birthdays that everyone has missed celebrating with friends over the past year. Everyone will get a birthday hat, and a cupcake at midnight. Naturally, there will be a rousing chorus of “happy birthday” for the whole room.

Co-owner Bill Spieler and his wife/DC 9 chef Amber Bursik have been waiting for this day for a long time. They’ve operated their venue off and on as a restaurant for the past year, but tonight is the first night that they’re opening up the dance floor again and staying open until 3 AM.

“I don’t even think our patrons can go to 3 now,” Bursik jokes. But they’re expecting a big crowd nonetheless: More than 300 people have pre-registered for the free event across the weekend, and they’ll cap capacity at 200.

After 15 months of closures and restrictions, DC will allow nightclubs to fully reopen today, lifting the last of its Covid-era restrictions. If partygoers are nervous about rubbing up against sweaty, maskless strangers again, you wouldn’t know it from the crowds that many local venues are expecting tonight.

It’s been about 450 days since concert hall and nightclub Echostage last operated. General manager Matt Cronin says the first five shows sold out within a day or two of tickets going live. Things kick off at the nearly 3,000-person venue tonight with Zedd, one of the biggest electronic artists in the world. David Guetta will perform next Thursday, followed by two nights of Tiësto. Most of the shows throughout the summer are also on pace to sell out.

“We’ve never seen anything like it,” Cronin says. “All the top DJs in the world want to come back and want to play. It’s going to be an epic summer.”

While much of the hospitality industry is still struggling with staffing, Cronin says 90 percent of his employees are returning. In fact, he says some staff flying in from Florida or other parts of the country just to work this weekend because they’re so excited about the reopening.

“Just on a personal level, I miss music,” Cronin says. “I grew up on live music. I’ve been in the industry for 20 years. I love live music with all my heart, and to be able to give that gift back to people is special. It’s a special time in music history.”

Echostage has been making upgrades to its HVAC system, furniture, and lighting, but otherwise patrons might feel like they’re back in 2019. Masks are optional.

Antonis Karagounis reopened his downtown clubs Decades and Ultrabar for the first time last weekend. (DC nightclubs were able to operate at half-capacity when restaurants and bars fully reopened on May 21.) Like other operators, he’s expecting a packed house when he goes to full capacity tonight. The clubs will have no cover charge this weekend.

“I’m a little bit relieved that it’s raining, because I didn’t want it to be out of hand,” Karagounis says. He’s found many of the young people who frequent his establishments haven’t had the same fears about pandemic socializing, unless they’ve lost a loved one.

“I got a little bit of a preview of what tonight’s going to be like last weekend. To me, it felt like we never closed. It felt like deja vu,” Karagounis says. “People are ready to get out and party again more than before.”

Though he hasn’t had problems finding people to work, Karagounis is worried staff won’t be trained enough. And he notes the financial situation for many businesses won’t be back to normal anytime soon. Many, like Eighteenth Street Lounge, the Eagle, and Ziegfield’s/Secrets, closed during the pandemic. Cronin notes that “there’s a lot of old bills to pay.” Karagounis says funds from DC and the federal government have helped—as have understanding landlords—but there’s no way the subsidize all the revenue that’s been lost.

“It will take a good year for us to be back 100 percent,” Karagounis says. “It’s not easy.”

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.