The nation’s capital, Washington D.C. is known for statues, monuments, power and government. It is arguably the center of our universe yet its nightlife scene is not often talked about. In comes Capitale. Its whimsical decor has been described as "Hogwarts-meets-Hollywood featuring four massive, brass leaning columns and a library-like feel". It throws a food truck/happy hour into the mix where patrons can pop outside for a bite and bring it in for a drink. Owners Tony Hudgens and Sherif Abdalla are DC nightlife veterans with Play Nightclub, Public Bar and K Street Lounge to their credit. I caught up with Capitale partner Tony Hudgins and asked him all about it.
Nightclub Confidential (NCC): Tony you have great experience in the DC market having owned and operated Play Nightclub, Public Bar and K Street Lounge and now Capitale. What are the unique things about the DC market that make it difficult and/or easy?
Tony Hudgins: The D.C. market is not a difficult one. Being a DC-native has allowed me to see the market mature in various ways. And recently, it seems to have acquired a very real and significant sense of self. More than ever, people are walking around that are very proud to say they are from D.C. Though DC attracts a lot of people with money, it is not a flashy place. It's a very conservative and intellectual city and people like to demonstrate that first, rather than go for glitz and glam with no substance. The market needs to respond to that accordingly. As a result, it's a much more casual nightlife environment here than NYC, Miami, LA, Vegas or even Chicago. Ironically, the same person that won't throw their cash around in their own backyard will do so in other cities. Here, they expect value for their experience and they expect a level of sincerity that comes with what the nightlife experience offers. I see eccentricities that need to be attended to by the nightlife/hospitality sector that just don't exist in other places. In a lot of ways, D.C. is the biggest small town in the world.
Capitale partner Tony Hudgins, photo credit: Alfredo Flores
NCC: Tell me about your marketing strategy and your patrons. What do they want or require from the space?
Hudgins: Our patrons at Capitale are young professionals that tend to be very social, gregarious people. They have wide circles of friends that span the entire spectrum of the city's demographic. As a result, we take an unusual broad-based, yet still grass roots, marketing approach. I believe that introducing the venue to as many people as you possibly can in a way that allows direct one-on-one interaction is most effective. In order to tell the story, you need to build a relationship with your clientele. To gain their business, they need to feel connected to the story in a way that they can support it and carry it for you to their community of people and in return, make you a part of their community.
With the building of the relationship, we in essence have a very diverse group of people who find a way to engage with the venue in disparate ways. As a nightclub, we run the gamut. From Urban-based promotions, to international and industry nights, all of our patrons appreciate the venue in different ways. Even when they cross-populate the different segments. Therefore, the music is different depending on the night and partygoers. We range from blasting Dubstep on a Wednesday evening to playing Katy Perry on a Friday night. We let the crowd dictate our music.
NCC: Is it mostly local or does suburban DC feed you as well?
Hudgins: The DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) area is a mixing bowl. We cannot define the local and the suburban DC. People come from everywhere to experience the venue and the nightlife in general. The growing trend is the resident that lives in the confines of DC proper. As a businessman, I try not to make a distinction. However, we do notice the IDs checked at the door from outside the city are more frequent on certain nights, typically Saturdays.
NCC: Tell me about the happy hour food truck concept and how does it impact your bottom line?
Hudgins: The impact is yet to be seen as we just launched the concept last Thursday. We do, however, expect an intrinsic and necessary part of how we grow our bottom line. There are very few nightclubs that venture in the happy hour scene. Having built Public Bar with my business partner, I learned that Happy Hour is very important to introducing the venue to a casual crowd and to driving revenue into the business at times that many don't expect it. I believe that no significant happy hour can be established without food. I’m constantly following DC’s foodie scene and was always intrigued by the accessibility and on-the-go nature of our booming food truck empire. Our venue has no kitchen, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want our patrons to snack while they sip. The weekly, rotating selection of food trucks will offer Capitale guests the luxury of a casual, delicious bite in a cozy and elegant venue. Providing a unique "mobile kitchen" is a win-win concept to a venue that can as easily appreciated between 5 pm and 9 pm as it can between 10 pm and close.
NCC: What is your sound system like and what are the brands of equipment used?
Hudgins: We are pretty standard in the sound department with EAW across the board and a professional pioneer in the booth.
NCC: Has bottle service had an impact in D.C.?
Hudgins: Bottle service is as much a staple in the industry here as it is anywhere else. What you get and what people want is what differs. In other places, people want the table service because they want to establish that they can own the real estate in the club. It shows clout and bravado. In DC, more people want the table particularly when they want to be part of the party without being in the masses. Therefore, the real estate is necessary on a value oriented basis. More directly, in most places, the tables drive the party. Here, it is very often the reverse.
NCC: Is pricing a huge factor or has the economy improved enough for extravagance and conspicuous spending?
Hudgins: People want value. But if they can rationalize the value, they can make just about any price makes sense to themselves. The level of spending is not like it was in 2005/2006, however it's certainly improving.
NCC: Have you considered expansion of the brand to other markets?
Hudgins: We have, however, we have no plans to do so just yet. I see Capitale in many cities, either as a direct brand replication or a tweaked spin-off brother/sister.