Just when you thought that nightlife in the D.C. area was becoming stagnant, two of the most creative owners open The Huxley, an incredible venue with two very distinct rooms – The Ballroom and The Library. The Ballroom is encircled by 13 banquette-style tables and adorned with gold plated and crystal chandeliers. The Library has the words of literary greats resting elegantly on the bookshelves creating a cozy lounge for guest’s intimate conversations.
The venue provides Vegas-style service from the expertise that co-owner Ryan Seelbach received when working for TAO Group as the business operations manager. D.C is an international city and arguably the center of our universe but it hasn't seen world class bottle service until Ryan came along. With a manageable capacity of 350 people, quality in guests is sought out and that means superior service.
With Harvard, TAO Group and NFL experience Ryan uses it all to carve out his niche in this smaller than he's used to market. Take note, there is much to learn from Ryan and Nightclub & Bar sat down with him to find out how he does it.
Nightclub & Bar (NCB): The Huxley brings the international club mentality to Washington DC. Tell us about your concept.
Ryan Seelbach: The Huxley, modeled after an old world mansion, is a 4,600 square foot boutique nightclub and event venue with two luxurious rooms, The Ballroom and The Library. A large gold plated grand chandelier surrounded by smaller crystal chandeliers welcomes guests as they enter The Ballroom. Rich red wall coverings and beveled mirrors aligned with velvet curtains mimic the striking floor-to-ceiling windows often found in traditional ballrooms. The elegant hardwood floor is encircled by 13 banquette-style tables with leather-tufted cushions that are strong enough to withstand stilettos. The Library is a cozy lounge featuring a vintage library with real books, immaculate coffered, dark wood ceilings and dimly lit candle chandeliers. Seven spacious elevated table alcoves, each adorned with its own masterpiece fixture, surround the room providing guests with a much more intimate experience.
NCB: You worked for TAO Group in Las Vegas and also attended Harvard. What has each of these venerable institutions taught you about the business?
Seelbach: I like to say that attending Harvard Business School provided me with a Masters in business while working for TAO Group gave me a Masters in hospitality. HBS does a phenomenal job of teaching you 1) the correct tools to analyze a potential business opportunity, 2) how to build, motivate, and incentivize your employees and management team, and 3) how to sustain and, ultimately, grow your business. On the other hand, TAO Group trained me in the very best customer service, marketing, and live entertainment practices used in the highest grossing nightclubs and restaurants in the world.
NCB: Certainly Vegas and DC are different cities to operate however do the fundamentals apply or is there a great divide in operational models?
Seelbach: Nightclubs in Las Vegas distinguish themselves from those in other markets by a combination of three factors: 1) top customer service, 2) celebrity-driven entertainment, and 3) rigorous systems and controls. Although our venue is much smaller than the mega-clubs in Las Vegas, The Huxley’s operational model is extremely similar to those of the largest nightclub companies in Sin City. At the front of the house, we have taken great lengths to ensure our patrons receive outstanding customer service starting with how they are greeted and recognized by our doorman to how their cocktail server pours our clients a glass of champagne. From a celebrity entertainment standpoint, we have already had Lebron James, Jack Osbourne, Miss Sweden, and Glenn O'Brian host parties and GQ and HBO have thrown private events at The Huxley. In the back of the house, we employ the same inventory management controls, accounting practices, and HR policies that I learned at TAO and HBS.
NCB: How has your NFL experience helped you?
Seelbach: There are few environments more culturally diverse than that of a professional football team. When I was at the Cleveland Browns, I was the link between the board room and the locker room. I had to be able to go from outlining an upcoming contract negotiation to senior staff, to explaining eligibility status to a player. The ability to navigate a wide-range of people and situations has been invaluable in my transition to working in nightlife. Also, as an entrepreneur and business owner, I am negotiating every day. What I learned during my NFL days going up against some of the most cunning and sophisticated player agents benefits me now in negotiations with vendors, suppliers, talent agents, and private event customers.
NCB: Where does the name come from?
Seelbach: We wanted the name of the venue to be European because we felt it would work well for a nightclub that also serves as a corporate event space. We thought a British theme would be a good fit, especially with us having a Ballroom and a Library. We looked at all the street, district, and borough names in London, most of the famous towns and mansions in England. We thought The Huxley was extremely unique, sexy, and classy which is not an easy combination to find. We have been very happy with the choice.
NCB: Although you have not operated in NY you are aware of the way things work there. Are they similar markets?
Seelbach: Aside from NYC obviously having a greater population including many Wall Street and fashion industry folks, the biggest difference between NYC and DC nightlife markets is that DC venues rely heavily on freelance promoters who take hefty commissions for their role. NYC venues handle a lot of their marketing in-house (as they should) in order to drive greater profit margins. Upon coming to DC, my strategy was to find a local partner who could help replicate the NYC marketing model. Before partnering with me as an owner-operator, Eric was the top nightlife promoter in DC and produced 200+ events annually for nearly a decade, including massive afternoon pool parties and brunch parties during the summer months. Eric started his career in nightlife while studying at The George Washington University getting degrees in entrepreneurship, hospitality management, and marketing.
NCB: Are tourists a big part of your business?
Seelbach: DC does not get a massive influx of weekend party tourists like some other markets. The tourists come primarily for the sightseeing and museums, which is hard to do after a long night of bottle service and dancing on tables (which is encouraged at The Huxley). So the key is attracting the wealthy weekday business travelers when they come into town.
NCB: What types of music formats are you offering and do you bring in big name DJs?
Seelbach: Given the size of our venue (350 person capacity), we are able to sell out the club on a nightly basis without having to book big name DJs. We book the top local DJs that play mainstream dance music and top 40 then we sprinkle in various live instrumentalist, costumed dancers and surprise entertainment. Once a month we will have a celebrity host or guest DJs from out of town.
NCB: How do you handle the door?
Seelbach: The Huxley has one of the hardest doors in DC when it comes to dress code. Gentlemen are required to wear a collared shirt, suit jacket, leather shoes and ladies must wear upscale cocktail attire. The crowd has a nice balance of attractive and interesting people with most being between the ages of 27-39 and professionally established. Table service is highly recommended and reservations can be made via our website (www.HuxleyDC.com).
NCB: Is it possible (or in the game plan) to export the brand to Vegas?
Seelbach: I think all owner-operators hope to expand their original concept to other markets. Launching The Huxley in other cities, including Las Vegas, is definitely a possibility, but right now we are supremely focused on 1) making sure our venue is a hit in Washington and 2) providing strong returns to our investors.