When Solly’s Tavern comes out of hibernation in March, the reliable U Street NW watering hole will split up its space to make room for a clubby venue called DNA Lounge. Even though the new business isn’t open yet, it’s already in a dispute with a well-known San Francisco club of the same name over its use of the moniker.
This week, the original DNA Lounge — a once-popular nightlife fixture in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood that’s been open since 1985 — took legal action against its alleged East Coast copycat. A lawyer sent a cease-and-desist letter to Solly’s owner John Solomon and his landlord on Wednesday, January 27.
Solomon decided to cut costs by reducing the size of Solly’s to its original 2006 layout, which includes its first-floor bar, upstairs area, and a popular patio that hugs the corner of 11th and U Street NW. In 2012, Solly’s expanded across the first floor into the old Madjet restaurant, which will now be filled out by the new lounge.
Although D.C.’s incoming DNA Lounge is registered to a different address than Solly’s, Solomon still got stuck with the cease-and-desist letter.
“The thing that pissed me off about it is … their first response in the middle of a pandemic is to lawyer up, and they’re lawyering up against the wrong person,” Solomon says. “The landlord and myself are the only two on it. [DNA] has nothing to do with [our] business.”
DNA Lounge comes from first-time restaurateur Yetnayet Enyew, who’s building a 30-person space with its own entrance, upstairs dance floor, DJ, and a menu of a light “American finger foods” at 1102 U Street NW.
When reached by phone last month, Enyew told Eater he was aware of the DNA Lounge located 3,000 miles away, but said registering for a duplicate business name is fair game in another state.
“A lot of [businesses in] different states have the same names,” says Enyew, citing a Cloud Lounge that exists in both D.C. and Virginia. He says he simply landed on the name “DNA Lounge” because it’s “short and nice and catchy.”
But when DNA Lounge’s ABRA application went live in December, its San Francisco counterpart wasted no time voicing its frustration. “There is only one DNA Lounge, and it has been in San Francisco since 1985. Whoever these ankle-biters trying to trade on our name are, they can fuck all the way off,” read a tweet from a verified account for DNA Lounge.
There is only one DNA Lounge, and it has been in San Francisco since 1985.— DNA Lounge (@dnalounge) December 17, 2020
Whoever these ankle-biters trying to trade on our name are, they can fuck all the way off.
DNA Lounge is arguably the birthplace of San Francisco’s early house and trance music scenes, counting Prince as a regular partier there. In the 1990s, the club briefly changed hands to SNL comedian Rob Schneider, and then again during the dot-com boom to Jamie Zawinski, an early programmer for Netscape who helped develop the Mozilla Firefox browser. DNA doubles as a New York-style pizza shop that has maintained takeout and delivery during the pandemic.
Following its Twitter rant, Eater reached Devon Dossett, a manager for DNA Lounge in San Francisco who confirmed the business was in the early stages of taking legal action against the alleged “infringement” on its name.
“We own the trademark to the name,” Dossett told Eater, adding, “We are on 11th Street, and so are they.”
In D.C., Solly’s identifies with an 11th Street address, and DNA Lounge is registered on U Street NW. Solomon says he was unable to reach DNA’s lawyer to clarify that he’s not involved.
Enyew, who hails from the retail world, said the pandemic helped him secure his dream address.
“I’ve always wanted to do it but it was very hard to find a location, especially this kind of location on U Street,” he says. “Right now because of COVID-19 there are a lot of open spaces.”
Enyew’s first Instagram post for his incoming club shows off a sign design that integrates a hookah logo in the name:
Solly’s, which has had a BYO-food policy in the past, took a stab at service earlier in the pandemic with hot dogs and special menus from next-door wine garden Lulu’s. Solomon decided to temporarily close because operating in the winter was too costly.