Countdown for Chaos?

The decade-old 17th Street gay nightspot is forced to halt its entertainment and now faces an uncertain future

Despite rumors to the contrary, Club Chaos, a 10-year-old GLBT restaurant and bar located at 1603 17th St. NW, has not shuttered its doors. It remains open for business — for the moment — and is even advertising a ”Valentine’s Day Dinner for 2” special on its Web site, www.chaosdc.com. But in recent weeks the excitement of patrons shouting ”Bingo!” and larger-than-life female illusionists like Xavier Onassis Bloomingdale presiding over evenings of salsa dancing and drag productions has given way to a spacious interior rendered eerily quiet and, some might even say, joyless.

Club Chaos
Club Chaos’ Aguilar (2nd from left)
File photo by Ward Morrison
See hundreds more pics from Club Chaos from 2002-2008 here in Metro Weekly’s Scene

Due to a recent order from the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board, the District agency responsible for issuing alcohol-license renewals, owner Carlos Aguilar was forced to strip the restaurant of its trademark events, including drag bingo and the monthly drag king show, as well as its DJs. The ABC Board order is based on the fact that Chaos does not have an ”entertainment endorsement” as part of its license.

”Until three weeks ago, we had a full house,” Aguilar says, adding that since halting the events, the subsequent drop in business has been ”devastating.”

Chaos operates under a ”retailer CR 02” license, which basically allows the venue to operate as a restaurant.

Aguilar, who says he has now applied for an entertainment endorsement for his license, says he didn’t make such an effort before Chaos added entertainment, as these rules ”weren’t enforced until recently.”

”I’ve even had [ABC] investigators [at the club] and it was never brought up,” he says. ”I trusted my lawyer to be on top of everything, but even with investigators that I’ve had, it’s never been an issue. They never stopped me from operating, and it wasn’t like I was hiding [it].”

Aguilar says he started providing entertainment several years ago as a means of bringing people downstairs to his basement-level venue, competing on a street that holds many other restaurants with patio seating.

”I learned rapidly that I needed to do something else besides being just a restaurant,” he says.

Now he’s trying to get Chaos’ trademark entertainment back on track.

”We have put in an application, we have filed all the necessary papers and we are just in the process of waiting,” he says. ”We’ve been told this could be a long process. Usually, for a normal business without a protest, it could take only a few weeks. But in our case, because we have a group [protesting it], it could take months.”

The Dupont Circle Citizens Association is the group opposing Chaos’ entertainment endorsement and liquor-license renewal, apparently following its mission ”to promote and protect the interests of the residents of the neighborhood.”

Last summer, when Chaos was being considered for liquor- license renewal, the DCCA and 17 independent residents of the neighborhood in which Chaos sits, protested the renewal with documents citing that ”peace, order, quiet, cleanliness and public safety problems remain unacceptable especially when Club Chaos closes at 2 a.m. on weeknights, and 3 a.m. on weekends.”

After investigating the business further, DCCA President Rob Halligan discovered that the restaurant was operating without an entertainment endorsement.

”There’s been quite a few issues,” Halligan says of Chaos. ”There was a stabbing, an assault…. With the stabbing, we would imagine [a] functional ABC Board would have noticed that they didn’t have their license in order.

”I find that the ABC Board and its enforcement [the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, or ABRA] completely failed at their job. [Chaos] has turned into a club.”

But Aguilar says the stabbing incident, which occurred in January 2006, is being used by the DCCA to advance its agenda to rid 17th Street of Chaos.

”It was a minor incident in which the person was never in any serious danger,” says Aguilar. ”The media got a hold of it and it got blown out of proportion. This happened around the same time when somebody died in the government building [used as a nightclub] on U Street so the media was fishing for a story to tie them together, but it was nothing like that.

”Halligan seems to think that this is grounds for us to be closed down,” Aguilar continues, ”but there’s much more violent places in D.C. and they remain open. It can happen at anytime, anywhere.”

After the stabbing, Chaos implemented greater security, including posting two security guards and utilizing metal detection at the club’s entrance.

”In 10 years [the stabbing is] the only incident that’s happened to us, and nothing has happened since.”

Feb. 6 marked the first Wednesday in eight years that Kendra Kuliga and her crew of drag kings didn’t perform their monthly show. They showed up at Chaos nonetheless to protest the DCCA. ”It’s unfortunate that a small group — and this is important — a small group of people can have this much influence,” she said that night.

Kuliga told a reporter that Halligan and other members were working to stop Chaos because they did not like its GLBT clientele.

”That’s completely false,” responds Halligan. ”We don’t care what’s going on inside of an establishment. What we’re trying to do is have it quieter, as people are trying to sleep in that same building.”

The current situation has left Aguilar feeling uncertain.

”I don’t know how long I can continue to operate the business the way it is going,” he says. ”I feel like [the DCCA] would pretty much like to see us leave 17th Street and go somewhere else.”

As of Monday, Feb. 12, Aguilar, whose lease ends this month, had not decided whether he IS going to renew, putting him on a month-to-month basis with his landlord.

”This has had a huge impact on our [finances],” he says. ”If something isn’t resolved soon, we may have to think seriously about either closing the business or relocating.”

According to Aguilar, the ABC Board is requesting that the opposing groups approach the board with a resolution.

”The ABC wants us to come in front of them with a resolution with a voluntarily agreement,” he says. ”But the DCCA hasn’t really made an effort to agree to anything at this point. They’ve said that even if our renewal was to happen, they were going to take it to the Court of Appeals. That even if our entertainment endorsement is granted, that they’re going to fight it. What type of agreement am I going to have with these people? Nothing seems to work.”

The Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B was slated to discuss Chaos at its Feb. 13 meeting, after Metro Weekly deadline.

Doug Rule contributed to this report.