- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2005

Washington is all about business and politics — unless you’re a college student, an intern or one of the hundreds of thousands of young adults who converge on the city every summer to learn a little and live a lot.

The steady stream of young people who crave an outlet after a long day on Capitol Hill or in the classroom has prompted many area nightclubs to lower the age of admission from 21 to 18. And despite D.C.’s strait-laced reputation, the ventures have often been successful.

The D.C. area has between 15 and 20 dance clubs that hold 18-and-over nights, says Russ Davis, marketer for Home Nightclub in Northwest. By contrast, there are only about five such clubs in New York City, according to New York City promoter John Nova. According to citysearch.com, an online business search service, Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles all have fewer 18-and-over clubs than D.C.

Many clubs don’t open to under-21 patrons because they can’t buy liquor, explains Masoud Aboughaddareh, owner of Masoud A. Productions, one of the largest promotion companies in the District.

“It’s more headache and less money,” he said.

Ramiro Inguanzo, chief of staff for Miami’s city manager, said the Florida city raised the minimum age at nightclubs to 21 because of problems with underage drinking.

“It became really taxing for our police department to monitor,” he said. “And nightclubs preferred to cater to the 21-and-over crowd because then they could serve alcohol on an open basis.”

Despite these concerns, some of the biggest clubs in D.C. — Dream, Platinum and Fur, just to name a few — offer 18-and-over nights. Local club owners and promoters attribute the success of these 18-and-over clubs to the area’s large concentration of young people.

“If you look around you, in D.C. it’s all colleges,” said Michael Romeo, owner of Fur, a multi-level dance club in Northeast. “George Washington University, American University … most people are 18, 19 and 20 years old.”

Fur is 18-and-over on Saturday nights when it hosts Glow, the biggest trance night in the city. Promoters have found that the 18-to-21 age group is more receptive to electronic dance music. Without this crowd it would be impossible for large clubs to book big-name disc jockeys and pack the dance floor, says Pete Kalamoutsos, music director for Panorama Productions, the promotion company that produces Glow.

“If you open up a big venue, it’s not that easy to fill it up with all 21-and-overs,” Mr. Romeo agrees.

Instead, large dance clubs open to younger patrons and charge them steep covers at the door — often as much as $20.

Djifa Samvee, an 18-year-old from Silver Spring, stands in line for Glow. She says she comes out “clubbing” every other weekend.

Miss Samvee says 18-and-over clubs are a great option for people her age “because if you’re not (at the club), you’re probably in the streets doing something worse.”

Big clubs such as Fur also turn to 18-and-over nights because the over-21 crowd — usually the main source of a club’s cash flow — prefers small lounges, said Kwasi Frye, director of business development at DCNites, an online nightlife magazine.

“The 18-and-over crowd is definitely a crowd that comes in to dance and have a good time,” he said. “It’s a lot more a ‘party, party, party’ atmosphere. The over-21 crowd has been through it before. They’re still having fun, but it’s more about drinking and having a conversation.”

Mr. Aboughaddareh explained that if a club can’t stay afloat from weekend bar revenue, it has to open on weeknights. But since the over-21 crowd won’t pack a club on a weeknight, the club has to lower its age limit.

Many clubs in other cities don’t need mid-week profits because they charge more at the door — $40 to $50 is standard for a popular New York City club, according to Mr. Aboughaddareh — and because their liquor licenses allow them to serve alcohol later into the night. D.C. bars can only serve until 2 a.m. on weeknights and 3 a.m. on weekend nights.

Some clubs are finding creative ways to walk the line between warehouse rager and swanky lounge. Home Nightclub lets 18-year-old women in on Friday nights but always keeps the minimum age at 21 for men. Mr. Davis said the rationale is that in his experience underage men are more likely than women to sneak drinks in the club.

Fur also attempts the best of both worlds by designating VIP lounges for the over-21 crowd while opening the massive dance floors to younger patrons.

As 19-year-old Cee Toles dances to hip-hop music in one of Fur’s all-ages rooms, he says he’s glad some clubs admit those under 21.

“We need to party just like they need to party,” the Stafford, Va., resident says. “We’re grown.”

Mr. Romeo said the hybrid setup offers the older crowd a more intimate setting while making it easier to monitor underage drinking.

“It’s so much easier because it’s one area that’s saturated with (patrons under 21), and it’s the one area with most of the security,” he said.

“It’s all about show business,” Mr. Aboughaddareh says. “It’s all about making it attractive enough to stay in business and make the money.”

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