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EXCLUSIVE: The Clarendon Ballroom is back, with a new interior, rooftop deck and a slightly different name

The Clarendon Ballroom is coming back.

The well-known Wilson Blvd nightlife spot is once again opening its doors, perhaps as early as this weekend, with a renovated interior, a new rooftop deck, and a state-of-the-art audio/visual set-up, owner Michael Darby tells ARLnow.

Darby is just waiting on the liquor license. The hope is that it comes in within the next few days, the local developer, reality star, and former owner of Oz restaurant in Clarendon says.

The space will also have a slightly modified moniker. It will be branded as “CB” with “The Ball Room” as a secondary name.

“Clarendon has really come of age. You’ve got all the great restaurants and bars,” Darby says. “And now with what we are doing with the Ballroom, that tops it off.”

It was more than two years ago when Clarendon Ballroom first closed its doors. A year after shuttering, in December 2020, Darby’s company Monument Realty purchased the building at 3185 Wilson Blvd for $6.7 million. The company then leased out the space for close to two years to the owners of nearby outdoor beer garden The Lot, who operated a series of themed pop-up bars there.

But back in March, as ARLnow reported, county records showed that Darby had applied for a building permit to start construction. The lease with those running the pop-up bars was then terminated a few weeks ago so that Monument Realty could take over the space themselves to finish off the renovations.

The initial plan, though, was different. Darby says he originally wanted another tenant, one that was “national” and “bigger, more financially secure” but that never came to pass.

“We didn’t really get the right responses and tenants that we would be happy with long term, especially with such a phenomenal location and such a great building,” Darby says. “So, what we decided to do was to take it over ourselves as an owner/operator and move forward in that manner.”

A laundry list of improvements has been made to the space since. There are all new wood floors, new paint, an “overhaul” of the upstairs, new carpet, a redone roof deck,  a replaced roof, updated furniture, better countertops, and new VIP cabana areas.

The bathrooms are also completely redone downstairs.

“If you ever went down there, you probably didn’t want to spend much time there. Now, the [bathrooms] are clean and bright,” Darby says.

What has him most excited, though, is the new audio/visual set-up saying there’s “probably nothing like it in the area.” The state-of-the-art system will connect the music to video screens, he says, with house and guest DJs spinning the whole night.

Darby declined to say exactly how much money he’s invested into the Ballroom’s renovations so far, only that the dollars were “significant” and that this is a “long-term situation.”

This isn’t the nightlife venue’s final form, either. There’s a plan to put a speakeasy-themed bar with a separate entrance on the bottom floor. It could require a password or discovering a hidden panel to get into.

“It’ll be a low ceiling area with luxurious couches and seats. There will be a light show that’ll be attached to the ceiling,” Darby says. “It’ll be very dramatic.”

The plan is to open that portion of the nightlife venue next spring.

Locals may know Darby as the co-owner of the since-shuttered Australian restaurant Oz, which is turning into a Wagamama and is located only a few blocks from the Ballroom in Clarendon.

Reality show watchers may know him from his appearances on Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Potomac” alongside then-wife Ashley Darby. The trials and tribulations of Oz, which opened in 2015 and was co-owned by the couple, became a recurring storyline in the show. The restaurant closed in 2019.

The couple announced their divorce earlier this year. Ashley Darby is returning to the show for the new season and has said that those in the D.C. area may “see some cameras around the summer.”

It’s unclear whether Michael Darby or the Ballroom will make an appearance on the show in the upcoming season.

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