In the early evening of June 3, Russell Campbell was in the middle of cooking when he first saw the news. The DMV native noticed a message from Chris Stiles, a.k.a. Stylus Chris, in a group chat for DJs he’s in. Campbell was a resident DJ at storied nightclub Eighteenth Street Lounge (ESL) before the pandemic, and when the club vacated their Dupont location last June, Campbell and the others formed a group chat to keep in touch and coordinate Twitch streams. Unable to perform in person, they used the platform to stream live DJ sets.
“Awww shit,” Stiles’ message read.
He linked to an ESL announcement saying the club would reopen.
Technically, the club hadn’t closed last summer. DJs were playing sets online and management was looking for a venue. But there was no telling when or where they might actually return. At the time, the club was still dealing internally with the loss of community leader Sam “The Man” Burns. The well-known house DJ and mentor passed before the pandemic.
It was a low moment. The lease for the 18th Street location had expired and, because of the pandemic, prospects were dim. Not finding an appropriate lease agreement, they moved out. The club doors closing felt emblematic of a failure to support the hospitality and music industries. Between three floors with distinct DJs and bars, the club had been known since the 90s as a place where anyone could find a home.
ESL Owner Farid Nouri responded to Stiles’ message in the group chat. Including Campbell, Stiles and Nouri, there are 16 DJs in the group.
“Respect and gratitude to all of you who kept the brand alive and encouraged me to get back in the mix,” Nouri wrote. “I’m grateful and super thankful.”
The new location, which opens this fall, is located at 1230 9th St. in Shaw. They fill the space between Lost & Found and Columbia Room in Blagden Alley. Nouri signed the lease yesterday afternoon and started sharing the news shortly after.
The news follows a difficult year. Aside from losing Burns and the club closing, another tenant recently moved into their former space, branding themselves “The Lounge.” Allegedly in tribute to ESL, the justification felt specious to Nouri, who has never met the proprietors. In the past, club-goers used “the Lounge” interchangeably with “ESL” in referring to the club.
But nevertheless, Nouri speaks of the ESL’s 18th Street exodus as a blessing, allowing them to relocate and downsize. Dupont had changed considerably since the club opened in 1995 and between rent rising and offices replacing nearby bars, Nouri wasn’t sure what it would take to fill the 10,000-square-foot space.
“For the clientele and product we have, it was becoming not the best fit,” he says.
Already before the pandemic, he was considering a move to a smaller space that was closer to residential areas but still accessible to commercial corridors.
Between Mount Vernon Square and Shaw, Blagden fit the bill. The two-story, 5,000-square-foot space will have two or three bars and an upstairs patio. They expect to open this fall, depending on when DCRA approves their license. The space holds 249 people.
In terms of design, Nouri wants to build on the plush Victorian style found at the old location, adding elements of 70s disco glamour as well as street art, depending on where you find yourself in the club. Nouri wants to include food items for nearby residents as well, saying he will look to local chefs and BIPOC candidates.
ESL’s neighbors, he adds, have nothing to fear in the way of crowds and noise.
“We’re not a full-on rave or a ‘club club’ per se, where there’s 1,000 people or people waiting outside [for a] raucous event. It’s quality controlled, especially with a relatively smaller space.”
Nouri anticipates the new club will be better for musicians, too and cites returning to ESL’s roots of providing leading dance music as a reason to downsize.
“A bigger space requires more people to fill it up in order to get energy up, and creative music or anything creative when it comes to the arts doesn’t have a mass appeal.”
They never reached that point at the old location, he says, but he saw it coming.
For Campbell, the other DJs and club-goers, the news is a needed bright spot after a year of playing sets online and ESL joining, albeit briefly, a long list of shuttered D.C. dance venues including Dragonfly and U Street Music Hall this past year.
“ESL’s a staple place because it was very consistent for the people who needed to hear dance music,” Campbell says. “If you have a place to go to get away to celebrate life, you go to ESL — no doubt. It was ready and open.”
Look for that place to celebrate life again this fall.
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