The owner of Eighteenth Street Lounge, the iconic Dupont Circle club that closed last summer after 25 years of business, is threatening legal action against a new, unaffiliated operator for allegedly profiting off the storied venue’s reputation.
A company called Babylon Group plans to open “The Lounge” inside the former Eighteenth Street Lounge space this summer, using a logo that highlights both “Lounge” and the fact that it is on 18th Street NW. D.C.’s liquor board approved an alcohol license for the Lounge in February. Several social media posts from the incoming club reference Eighteenth Street Lounge and its past as a destination for up-and-coming DJs, celebrity partiers, and regulars.
Farid Nouri, who owns the name “Eighteenth Street Lounge” and its abbreviated “ESL,” sent Babylon Group a cease-and-desist letter in April that claims the new name infringes on his trademark and confuses the general public. In the letter, which Eater has reviewed, Nouri’s legal counsel argues that the similar name and social media posts lead people to believe Eighteenth Street Lounge is reopening under the name “The Lounge.”
“I don’t even know who these people are,” Nouri tells Eater. Given his lack of familiarity with the group, he says he feels its efforts to preserve ESL’s legacy are “ironic.”
When Eater requested a comment on the dispute from Babylon Group, founder Beau Biabani sent the following statement: “It’s been quite a year for the hospitality industry. And like many, we saw some of our favorite venues permanently close due to the pandemic. We are honored that we can create new experiences in spaces that mean so much to so many people in DC. We are happy to work with previous ownership to ensure there’s no confusion as we usher in a fresh experience that we are excited to share with the public soon.”
A legal representative for Babylon Group sent Nouri a written response last week, a month after acknowledging they’d received the cease-and-desist. Without delving into specifics, Nouri says Babylon Group has proposed making compromises to settle the dispute, but “it’s still not enough, not even close.” Nouri says Babylon Group’s proposal does not entail changing the name. “If they don’t comply and work with us according to legal standards, we have to go to the next step,” Nouri says.
“The Lounge” can’t be trademarked because it’s a generic term. In D.C.’s club scene, people commonly referred to the bar that way. In addition to demanding the Lounge choose a different name, ESL’s cease-and-desist letter called on Babylon Group to post a disclaimer throughout its online presence stating the new club is not affiliated with or endorsed by the old one.
Nouri opted to close Eighteenth Street Lounge last June permanently because public safety restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic had kept it closed, and he could not come to terms with the landlord, Douglas Development, on a 5-year lease renewal. Nouri has actively been looking to reopen Eighteenth Street Lounge elsewhere in D.C. under the same LLC, which explains his desire to protect the name. He tells Eater he’s close to signing a lease and announcing its new location.
“It’s not like we transferred the lease or liquor license,” Nouri says. “I haven’t assigned anything to the landlord or the new tenant.”
Outfitted with five bars and outdoor patio with a retractable roof, the Lounge aims to keep “the spirit of this special D.C. location alive,” Babylon’s website says. When ESL vacated the space, Nouri left the club as a shell, tearing down all its bars, removing the furniture, fixtures, and painting the walls white. The new operating group bought up many of ESL’s worn-in velvet sofas, chairs, bar stools, and other decor at auction after closing. But the Lounge argues it won’t look similar. After the original publication of this story, a representative for the Lounge told Eater Babylon Group is not using any of ESL’s furnishings.
Nouri says he was surprised “by the whole cryptic nature” of posts that insinuated the new club was connected to the original. “The whole idea of carrying [on] the legacy of ESL sounds absurd,” he says. Nouri sent Eater a screenshot of an Instagram story inviting onlookers to “meet the new #ESL The Lounge” while tagging a photo post published by the Lounge’s account. Nouri told Eater it came from the Lounge’s account, and he requested last week that they take it down. After the original publication of this story, a representative for the Lounge produced a screenshot identifying the author of the Instagram story under the handle @falafelfever. According to the representative, the Lounge is not affiliated with @falafelfever and did not share the story that tagged the club’s handle to its own stories.
Martín Miguel Fernández, one of the former resident DJs at ESL, is upset with the way a Babylon music director is using the club’s history to recruit musicians who have performed at the space in the past. “He’s approaching ESL resident bands and DJs and asking them about coming back to play,” Fernández says. “We have no issue [that] a club is going into the new space, and not even that they’re [trying to] book the same DJs. The issue is this is a cheap attempt to capitalize on someone’s legacy.”
An Instagram post from the Lounge published in April says “we are bringing back resident DJs and musicians who have been unable to display their craft for over a year.” Commenters have called out the new ownership for allegedly ripping off ESL’s brand and riding on its coattails. DJ Samantha Francesca (Sticky Fingers Collective) writes: “Pretty disgusted at this tactless attempt to bite off @18thstlounge’s legacy.”
Babylon Group is a relatively new D.C. hospitality conglomerate that has been buying shuttered clubs and restaurants all over the city. The group is affiliated with Decades, an ESL competitor club that sits nearby on Connecticut Avenue NW. Per its Instagram handle, Babylon Group is gearing up to flip Chinatown’s original Matchbox (713 H Street NW) into a new brand called Bulldog Pizza and open a “luxury sushi lounge and nightclub” downtown called Koi (1413 K Street NW) this summer. Downtown’s L8 (727 15th Street NW) will also turn into Poppy Lounge.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced on Monday, May 10, that nightclubs can operate at full capacity on June 11. Part of Nouri’s decision to close the club in June 2020 stemmed from the fact the reopening plan for the city felt farther away at the time.
The 10,000-square-foot space has sat dark since the dawn of the pandemic. Babylon is hoping to increase the total occupancy of the club from 499 to 600 patrons, per an ABRA notice posted on its door.
Update Tuesday, June 1, 3 p.m. This story has been updated to include a response from Babylon Group saying it does not plan to use Eighteenth Street Lounge furnishings acquired at auction.
Correction Tuesday, June 1, 3:35 p.m. This story has been corrected to reflect that an Instagram story calling the Lounge “the new #ESL” came from an Instagram handle that’s not affiliated with the Lounge.