How to Party Properly in Washington, D.C.

I earned my hangover by partying like a rock star. It made sense to recover from it like one, too, so I nursed my self-inflicted wound in the most baller hotel room I’ve ever stayed in at the W Washington D.C. hotel. They call it a "Wow Suite," but the expression my wife, Jenn, uttered when we walked in began with the word holy. Wow Suite 606 had a dining room table, a curved couch, a trippy chandelier, red LED lighting, two flat-screen TVs, two bathrooms (one was like a spa), a bar, and a massive bed. It was a corner suite, with views past the Washington Monument all the way to National Airport on one side, and the U.S. Treasury on the other, with the White House just beyond it. Supposedly there are snipers on the roof of the Treasury that keep a close eye on on the hotel’s windows. I didn’t notice any, but if they were there, I hope they enjoyed the show, as proper hangover recovery requires a holistic approach. Here’s how we got there. 

The Setup

What ended up being a weekend of serious and successful partying started innocently enough. We wanted to carve a mini-vacation out of the requisite family Christmas visit to Northern Virginia. I cashed in a bunch of reward points from my Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card on the room for the weekend (the upgrade was a pleasant surprise) and looked up a couple of nightclub contacts in DC. Just like that, two New Yorkers became temporary residents of the District of Columbia for 48 hours with no responsibilities other than feeding our own ids. And so we did.

POV Cool

Point of View

Our first official stop after unpacking was P.O.V. Lounge, on the top floor of the hotel. The point of view up there was even more striking than from the room, with a breathtaking panorama of the city as the sun set on the winter solstice. We toasted the deep freeze with tumblers of Blackstrap Snap (rum, ginger, fresh-squeezed lime, blackstrap molasses, nutmeg) and Washington Apple (bourbon, fresh-pressed apple, maple, smoke, Pork Barrel Aromatic Bitters). The world didn’t end, and our wild night was just beginning. Like the W itself, P.O.V. is a chic yet comfortable space. A large, high-ceilinged barroom is designed with views in mind, both of the city and the comely staff. Booths by the massive windows are low to the floor, while some interior tables are elevated, ensuring that your gaze never rests upon an unpleasant sight. I’ve not been everywhere in town, but I’m reasonably confident in saying that if POV doesn’t have best sunset cocktail experience in DC, it’s easily in the top 5. During the warm weather months, the large outdoor area must be sublime.

Bubbles

Upon returning to the suite, we noticed that a bucket of ice containing a bottle of champagne had appeared. Pop!

Lost and Found

And then we took a taxi to a fun and fancy steakhouse called Lost Society, where we met Tony Hudgins, owner of the new nightclub Capitale (our next stop) and a couple of his friends. For those who love steak but crave a bit more style than the corporate-card set can handle, Lost Society is a great choice. It’s trendy like some sleek Soho tapas joint but a thousand times more satisfying, food-wise. My steak was a perfect medium-rare, my wife’s scallop entree was flawless, and we massacred the fried Brussels sprouts side. The music rose, the conversation got louder and weirder, several rounds of shots appeared, followed by dessert, which included some gooey, decadent chocolate thing that the table went nuts over. The celebrations were well underway, and there were more toasts to surviving doomsday, until it blissfully passed as a topic of conversation. A quick stop at the bangin’ bar scene upstairs got us even further in a party mood (e.g. more shots).

Capitale Photo

Venture Capitale

It was time to finally head to Capitale, so we piled into taxis and giddily watched the ropes part for us. Tony and his business partners opened Capitale a few months ago in the space that formerly held the K Street Lounge, and it’s a sensory overload in all the best ways. A Hogwarts-meets-Hollywood aesthetic (oil paintings and book-lined walls) gives it a smart, cultured vibe, but the thundering sound system and lightning-fast bar staff keep the energy level sky-high. Good thing I’d heard about the massive tilted columns dividing the room in advance, as things were starting to look a little sideways to me by that point. A bottle service setup appeared and I helped myself, though on reflection I’m not sure who it belonged to. But we were all having fun and Jenn was looking sexy and we danced and drank and talked to strangers as you do at a proper party until one of us had the good sense to grab a taxi back to the hotel. My memories of Capitale, hazy as they may be, are of a fun, lively spot with great music, a young, attractive, multiracial crowd, dynamite drinks, and cool, interesting decor. Recommended for anyone wondering if DC knows how to party. (It does.)

The Hangover

I woke up first at around 6:30 to go to the bathroom and drink some water, then slept blissfully until 10:00. Jenn was still asleep when I got out of bed and explored the scene. Our clothes were scattered across the room. A container of fancy pretzels from the minibar sat open on the table. My head pounding, I texted Tony to see if I had anything to apologize for (all clear), then pulled on my outfit from the night before and headed out to get some air. I came back a half-hour later with a hangover-busting haul of coffee, juice, Gatorade, and some crepes from some nearby creperie. Jenn got up and we drank coffee and munched on crepes as warm sunshine filled the room. I crawled into the shower, still feeling awfully grim but enjoying my hangover, and turned the dial until warm water flowed from the rainfall shower head. Over the next 20 minutes, I must have done every position on the evolutionary chart until the purifying waters and fancy soaps, gels, and shampoos finally brought me to back to modern homo sapien. Jenn went to the W’s SWEAT fitness center for a run. I took a nap, then another shower.

Keytar

The Recovery

By about 2:00 in the afternoon, we were mostly recovered, and realized that the day was getting away from us. With more dinner and nightclub plans ahead of us, we had just one opportunity to do something cultural with our time, so we could tell people we did something other than party on our trip to DC. (Basically, we needed a cover story.) We bundled up and headed into the cold, walking past the Washington Monument and heading to the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Let me tell you, it’s the best place to walk off the remaining pains of a trenchant hangover. We saw the Greensboro lunch counter, the Emancipation Proclamation, a soul-crushing pair of shackles used for child slaves, Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, Dorothy’s red slippers, a stoneware rum jug, Kermit, and a U.S. Army Jeep from World War II. I took a picture of Jenn standing in front of a keytar.

Back At It

We’re beer enthusiasts, so we had dinner at a beer-centric restaurant called Birch & Barley, which we loved. Our waiter, Carl C., was extremely well-versed in all the different varieties of beer they had, both on draft and in bottles. We ordered a cutting board of charcuterie, which included various different pork products from a whole pig they butchered in-house, and was delicious. And we were delighted to be able to order four-ounce pours of a bunch of different beers. It would be folly for me to recommend any one in particular, just tell your server what kinds of beers and tastes you like and they’ll sort you out as Carl sorted us out.

Heist 1

Thieves in the Night

Soon it was time to hit another nightclub, a posh spot called Heist. Heist used to be called Fly Lounge, but it’s been redone spectacularly to resemble a hideout for jewel thieves. Heist is the brainchild of partners Timothy Sheldon, Patrick Osuna, and Charles "DJ Dirtyhands" Koch (all three with interesting and varied backgrounds, look them up), and it’s a rather small room, comparable to something like Mister H in New York. But whereas Mister H has decor reminiscent of a Shanghai speakeasy in the 1930s, Heist is all about modern luxury with a soup├žon of international intrigue. Design details beg to be dissected over a cocktail or two. In various recesses of the space you’ll find a collection of stolen art, a teddy bear stuffed with diamonds, and a suitcase with handcuffs attached to the handle. The bar itself is riddled with bullet holes. Closed circuit TV footage of actual robberies plays on a continuous loop on three small monitors. A gold-dipped water buffalo skull hangs on the wall behind the DJ booth. (Of course it would be the height of irony if Heist itself was robbed, but they’ve probably taken that into account.)

The result is a fascinating subterranean spot to sip a cocktail like the Gold Rush–whose flawless ice cubes sport beveled edges–and feel a bit dangerous yourself. We were among the early shift, drifting in at around 10:30 to chat with the owners. The real spenders started showing up at midnight, as Dirtyhands brought the beats (Biggie mixes, among others) and young women wearing short dresses served trays of vodka shots in crushed ice as sparklers lit their way through the silvery darkness. Heist seems to draw an upscale, sexy crowd of bottle buyers who love good tunes and ample eye candy. Compared to Capitale, which was a big-room blast of high-wattage fun, Heist is a more intimate environment, a chillout spot for the city’s coolest cats. Both are perfect when the night calls for them, and either would thrive in New York City, competitive with the sleekest spots in Manhattan or Brooklyn. As the crowd at Heist grew wilder and sequins and stilettos started slicing through the dance floor, we took our leave and scooted back to the W in yet another taxi. (DC has ample cabs, at least downtown.)

What Happened?

Armed with a late checkout, we slept in again the following day, sipping coffee and snarling as the mood struck, finally packing our bags and heading back to the real world in the afternoon. It was officially a whirlwind weekend of food, cocktails, music, dancing, socializing, danger, fun, and even some culture, and looking back from a week’s distance it’s impossible to pick a highlight. My recommendation: for lack of a better itinerary, do DC like we did: W Hotel – POV Lounge – Lost Society – Capitale – Smithsonian Museum of American History – Birch & Barley – Heist. You’ll love it all. And to my fellow New Yorkers, I heartily recommend Washington, D.C. as an easy weekend getaway. It punches well above its weight entertainment-wise, yet has a wonderfully laid-back vibe. And the hangovers are spectacular.

[Related: BlackBook DC Guide; listings for W Washington, D.C., P.O.V., Lost Society, Capitale, Birch & Barley, Heist]

The Great Escape of Timothy Sheldon

Timothy Seldon was a frequent face and long, lean figure in nightlife just a short while ago. He lived in my neighborhood and I’d often catch him in the nearby deli on the way home. There was rarely any small talk, just good conversation about what was up our lives and the world at large. Mostly I’d just be admiring his outfit because it was always swanky. At 6’5” he loomed large as the doorman of Southside. I would always chat him up on the way to GoldBar or on the way back home. Often he’d pop me inside to see the Southside scene. In an incident that was over-reported and little understood, Timothy and Southside went their separate ways. It turns out that my ever clever friend went south, way south. We always talked about exit strategies for nightlife workers. Too many of us get trapped in the trappings of the life and have little to show for it. Timothy was determined to use the connections he made at the door to build a better life for himself. He seems to have succeeded. I received this email from him yesterday and I’m going to run it warts and all.

Hi Steve,

Timothy Sheldon here. It’s been a while since we last spoke, so I wanted to drop you a line to catch up. I moved to Mexico at the beginning of the fall. I partnered with some guys I met in Vegas a while back and we bought a dump nightclub in a fantastic location in Cabo San Lucas. Steve- it’s GORGEOUS here! We renovated it into a beautiful space that has been getting great feedback. I will attach some pictures at the end of the email so you can see for yourself.

Reality is a lot more real here. The people are poor, but happy. I am happy, because I get to have fun and take care of people. I surf during the day, ride around in an old Ford Bronco, make lots of new, interesting friends and not take Life too seriously. I always capitalize the “L” in “Life” because I hold it in the highest regard. Kind of like how people capitalize “G” in “God.”

I don’t have a dress code at my place or a cover charge. People can come in, have a shot of tequila and a beer, or a cocktail, dance and have FUN. That’s what I found that a lot of places in NYC were lacking… Fun. I just had a large group of hospitality/nightlife friends come visit for a week. Mark, Eugene, Aalex Julian, Eric Marx, Danny Volk and the team from Tenjune. Jason Strauss made an appearance. The Body English and Vanity peeps showed up, and so did the Tryst/XS/DraI’s heads. Also, teams from Vancouver, Seattle, Dallas and others came through for a week of sun and fun.

I do miss the culture, fashion and speed of NYC. Sometimes it takes a while to get things done down here, but that’s ok. I am enjoying my Life. Too much stress in the city and not enough appreciation of things. Sometimes I think people forget to appreciate the small things because they’re moving too fast.

What is interesting is that even without worrying about revenue, promoters, bottle minimums, how cool the crowd is, etc, I am still making money. Our New Year’s Eve did numbers that rival any NYC nightclub. Ironic.

I won’t be here forever, but I do plan on being here for a while. I remember an article that you wrote about “Exit Strategies”. I felt that I needed to prioritize what was important in my Life and take an opportunity that may lead me to interesting and enlightening experiences. I like it a lot here. I am also opening a small restaurant next to my nightclub, and it has been really exciting designing everything, putting the menu together, etc. Maybe you can come down for a relaxing vacation!

Anyhow, just wanted to say “Hola!” Hope you’re well, and Happy New Year! TS

Sometimes we do forget the meaning and frailties of our life. Sometimes we drown out our priorities with booze and other distractions. Sometimes we think we have to climb real high up on the pole to see what’s around us. Sometimes it’s right there in front of you and easily seen and obtained. I might take Timothy up on his offer and pull myself from my passions and visit.

Sometimes people want to tempt me back into the game. Let’s just assume I could answer all the technical challenges, would I want to do it? I had my run. I did what I did when I did it. Certainly had some ups and certainly some downs. I find myself fortunate that I was able to translate the things I learned while running The World and a dozen or more other nightclubs into a few new careers. Prior to the beginning of the last decade, I had not written before. Now, while very aware that I’m not the world’s greatest writer, I write and the good folks at BlackBook feel I have something to say.

Prior to 2000 I never really designed too much either. I did get involved with the designs of the clubs I helped run like Limelight, Palladium, the Palace de Beaute’ and Spa, but it never occurred to me that I would someday do this. Today my firm Lewis and Dizon is involved with over a dozen projects in New York, Vegas and now Asia. I redefined myself completely since 2000. Many of my friends are alcoholics or users and get depressed over time wasted and the places they find themselves. I tell them all the same thing: Do something you want to do and create a new world for yourself. If I could do it at my old age, after my “dilemma,” then you can as well. Timothy always quietly thanked me for teaching him little things. Maybe that was true or just polite chatter. Well now it seems that he has shown me something. I might just take a moment to check out his paradise and compare it to mine. It is after all a new decade and I’ve got this itch lately that I haven’t been able to scratch.

A Touch of Class at Southside

Door guru Timothy Sheldon rules the gate at Southside, one of my favorite haunts. Let’s talk about larger than life — he already measures up to about 6′ 5”, but on a weekend night he still stands on a wooden crate to pick through the crowd. Southside and Timothy have a firm attitude about their door; they firmly believe that mixing up the crowd and having a variety of enthusiastic patrons is the key to long-term success. Timothy is a classic figure — invariably dressed to the nines — and he takes being a gentleman very seriously, both on and off of his little box.

In 2006, Timothy was employed as P. Diddy’s assistant and stylist. He traveled extensively with him as movies were made, fragrances were launched, and events were nonstop. He lived in his house, woke him in the morning, put him to bed and generally kept him on schedule. After his Diddy experience, he went to Vegas, where he handled VIP services at Wynn’s Tryst nightclub and Drai’s as well. Tryst, as a club, grosses more than any other club on our small planet (Tao figures include food). “I learned hospitality at a high-volume monster venue with yearly revenues over $50 million. It’s a place where hosts drive Lamborghinis!” he told me. After that he touched down in DC and planned an excursion to New York City to work at trendy club run by a couple of buddies. Timothy still feels that owning a joint is in the future, but he’s more than content with learning and meeting fabulous folks until that night.

With the continuing success at Southside, Timothy can be found — in case you’re looking for him — Wednesday through Saturday at the door. I DJ there for fun, friends, and no money at the Sunday party, and he’s always there as well. The truly good ones just can’t stay at home because a good club becomes a child that needs to be nurtured. At my clubs, I was always the first to arrive, I answered phones, did the schedules, booked the talent, worked the room and the door, and at the end of the night swept out the place. He does the door because “it’s an opportunity to network with all that’s cool in New York. I meet creative people from all crowds.”

Timothy lives in my hood, so I run into him in delis at 4 a.m. after we’re both weary from having conquered our own little worlds. He is always impeccably dressed, extremely well-mannered, and his home is described to me as based on Andy Warhol’s Factory, where creative people are always gathering and pushing agendas. Timothy is obsessed with returning traditional service values to hospitality. Besides the door-god job, he is also very hands-on with the all-important table seating of clients — making sure that tables are compatible is an art that can make or break a good party. In a world where bottle service is going the way of the dodo, Southside is selling more and more without compromising the crowd with another rare bird — yuppie scum. Timothy takes the door seriously, and he sees it as an opportunity to teach the people who aren’t quite getting in how to close the deal and become next month’s customer. I’ve always felt that to be all-important. He tells me that he’s looking for a great attitude from people trying to get in and that “a sense of entitlement won’t work here.” There is a great deal of cross-pollination between Southside and around-the-corner neighbors La Esquina and GoldBar, where my man Jon Lennon mans the door, but that’s a story for another time.

[Photo: Patrick McMullan]