(Updated 2:40 p.m.) The Clarendon Ballroom is back — but it never really left.
The local nightlife staple at 3185 Wilson Blvd opened its doors again earlier this month with a new interior, a renovated rooftop, and a pizza take-out window.
There’s a new 30-foot video wall, elevated VIP tables, and a renovated rooftop with redone floors and cabanas. The pizza take-out window, dubbed “Disco Pizza,” sells by the slice.
In a bit of a change of initial plans, new owner Michael Darby — of real estate development and Real Housewives fame — has decided to once more hand over management and operations of the space to Mike and Christal Bramson of B Social Hospitality, the couple behind B Live, the Lot, and other Clarendon area establishments.
For the better part of the last two years, the Bramsons have run themed “pop-up” bars in the space as part of a short-term lease. While that particular lease has ended, the three have come to a new agreement for the couple to run the iconic venue for Darby.
“Michael Darby decided to reopen as Clarendon Ballroom and assumed the lease himself. In conversations between Darby and the Bramsons, it was determined that Mike and Christal Bramson of B Social Hospitality (also, behind B Live, Coco B’s, the Lot, Rebel Taco, Alias, and Pamplona) would be the best fit to handle the management and operations… based on their success and experience in the industry,” a spokesperson for B Social Hospitality told ARLnow via email.
This means no more rotating themes, but a commitment to a “Studio 54 all year vibe” says a press release.
On Jan. 1, 2020, Clarendon Ballroom closed — permanently, it was assumed — with the Washington Post dubbing it an “end of an era.” But a year later, Darby purchased the building at 3185 Wilson Blvd that housed the large, long-time venue. Then, he and the Bramsons signed a 21-month lease that was intended to be a temporary solution while Darby figured out what to do next.
“It’s a great way of holding the real estate until the pandemic issues are over,” Darby said at the time to the Washington Business Journal. “We’ll, during that time, take it to market and find the right user for it.”
As it turns out, the right arrangement was right there all along.
Darby applied for a building permit in March 2022 with the intent of renovating the space and running it himself, as ARLnow first reported. It was revealed to ARLnow a few months later that Darby was essentially bringing back Clarendon Ballroom after a two-and-a-half-year hiatus.
“Clarendon has really come of age. You’ve got all the great restaurants and bars,” Darby said to ARLnow. “And now with what we are doing with the Ballroom, that tops it off.”
He said the reason he was taking over the space himself was that he never got another offer that he liked. But that has changed somewhat, with Darby agreeing to a similar arrangement he had with the Bramsons initially back in December 2020.
Darby’s star turn on Bravo’s reality TV series with wife Ashley has seen a series of ups and downs, from the launch and then closure of their Clarendon restaurant Oz to his separation from Ashley earlier this year. It’s unclear whether Michael Darby or “CB” will make an appearance on the show in its upcoming season.
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.
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.
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.
It’s unclear whether Michael Darby or the Ballroom will make an appearance on the show in the upcoming season.
When B Live in Clarendon opened to the public earlier this month, it was a big moment for local restaurateurs Christal and Mike Bramson.
The live music venue and restaurant is not the only venture that the married team has in Arlington. They also own several other well-known Clarendon concepts, including The Lot, Clarendon Pop-Up Bar, and Pamplona on Clarendon Blvd, plus they are planning to open a new tropical-themed bar on the roof above B Live, at 2854 Wilson Blvd, later this summer.
ARLnow spoke with the couple about B Live’s debut, “tropical glam,” and the future of their other popular pop-ups. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
ARLnow: B Live has been open to the public for about two weeks now. How has been it going? What has surprised you? What challenges have you all encountered so far?
Christal Bramson (CB): I think the initial thing that has struck us is that with very limited amounts of press and media, the community was clearly ready for us to open. There’s been an outpouring of support, which we embrace and love, but not necessarily ready yet for lines wrapped around the block.
Is there any pressure opening in the former home of such an iconic Arlington spot?
Mike Bramson (MB): We definitely felt the pressure going in… we have big shoes to fill. We spent a lot of time on the design and really put a lot of our heart and soul into it.
CB: Obviously, Whitlow’s is an iconic place in Arlington and just want to do credit to the historic corner we are occupying.
MB: I knew the space really well, so we kind of had an idea of what we wanted to do with it. We completely changed the look of the inside, but still kept what people knew most about [Whitlow’s], which was the music and the brunch. We did add a few elements that really made it our own. So far, people’s reactions have been amazing.
What was the thought behind opening another live music venue in Clarendon?
MB: Clarendon, historically, has had several live music venues and we saw a few of them fall away, either right before the pandemic and, then, right afterwards. The only remaining live music venue was the Renegade. They do a fantastic job and that’s a great venue, but we felt that historically there was always more than just one live music venue… there should be more than one option for live music as most towns and cities have.
The Clarendon Pop-Up Bar‘s rooftop has reopened, as uncertainty remains about what’s coming next.
The bar with themes that change seasonally, located inside of the former Clarendon Ballroom at 3185 Wilson Blvd, has opened its rooftop for the warm weather months. The biggest changes from last year are a new schedule, with happy hour starting at 5 p.m., and a “fully replaced new wooden deck,” a spokesperson tells ARLnow.
The bar’s rooftop is “one of Clarendon’s largest outdoor spaces,” according to the website. It is open Wednesday through Saturday.
Clarendon Pop-Up Bar is run by the owners of the nearby beer garden The Lot, located just a three minute walk way. While the pop-up bar is noted for themes like a winter wonderland or 1980s Miami, there’s no theme this time around.
There will, however, be lawn games like corn hole, ring toss, and Jenga as well as a rotating schedule of DJs. This weekend launches the bar’s “spring fling” concert series, with Philadelphia-based band Steal the Sky performing on Saturday night.
The future of Clarendon Pop-Up Bar on Wilson Blvd after this rooftop season remains unclear.
In December 2020 — a year after the original Ballroom closed — Monument Realty purchased the building for $6.7 million. The real estate development company is principally owned by Michael Darby, the (now soon-to-be-former) husband of local reality star Ashley. The couple owned the Australian restaurant Oz in Clarendon together, which was a key storyline in a season of the reality show “Real Housewives of Potomac,” before the restaurant closed in 2019.
Shortly after purchasing 3185 Wilson Blvd, Monument Realty signed a nearly two-year-long lease with the owners of The Lot to operate a pop-up entertainment venue in the 18,000-square-foot Clarendon building. That lease expires later this year.
As ARLnow reported last month, county records now show a building permit in Darby’s name for the construction of a restaurant at 3185 Wilson Blvd. There’s also a pending Virginia ABC application for the space, under the name “The Ball Room,” associated with an LLC that appears to be affiliated with Monument Realty.
A PR rep for Clarendon Pop-Up Bar tells ARLnow that “there are no updates at the moment” in regards to the lease or what’s coming next for the space. Last month, a Monument Realty spokesperson told ARLnow that they “will be in touch when we have additional information to share.”
County records show that Darby applied for a building permit earlier this month for the construction of a restaurant at 3185 Wilson Blvd, the one-time home of the expansive, long-time local nightlife and event venue.
In December 2020, Darby’s company Monument Realty purchased the building where Clarendon Ballroom was located for close to $7 million, the Washington Business Journal reported. The company then signed a 21-month lease with the owners of the Lot, the outdoor beer garden down the street, to operate a series of themed pop-up bars out of the space as longer term plans were figured out.
But that lease expires later this year and now it appears Darby could be moving into the Wilson Blvd location himself.
When reached for comment about the possibility of a new Darby-owned restaurant, a Monument Realty representative told ARLnow that they would be “in touch when we have additional information to share.”
Darby and wife Ashley star on the Bravo reality show “The Real Housewives of Potomac.” Ashley Darby recently confirmed that she will be returning to the show’s seventh season. Production on the new season is expected to start soon and Ashley said that locals can expect to “see some cameras around the summer.”
The couple opened Oz, featuring cuisine from Michael’s native Australia, in 2015. Its trials and tribulations ended up being a storyline on season two of the show, before the eatery closed in 2019. It’s unclear whether the new restaurant will feature into RHOP’s upcoming season.
The Oz space on Clarendon Blvd — a four minute walk from from the Ballroom space — has sat dormant ever since, but will soon become the first D.C. area location for Asian restaurant chain Wagamama.
The ownership group behind the Lot, the nearby and popular outdoor beer garden, is putting together the seasonal pop-up. It will open on Friday at 8 p.m. and continue through January, a company spokesperson writes ARLnow in response to an inquiry.
“Guests can expect new holiday drinks, a totally winterized change in decor, and an awesome lineup of events in the space!,” writes the spokesperson.
Cocktails will include ones with festive names like the “Polar Express” (Grey goose, blueberry vodka, blueberry Red Bull with a “white shimmer”) and the christmas cookie-flavored “Ornament Shooters.”
“They’re also bringing back the popular “Jingle Juice Punch,” which is made with a secret recipe but includes White Claw seltzers,” notes the spokesperson.
This version will be pretty similar to last year’s winter wonderland, though it will actually be opened for the holiday season.
The 2020 version was reportedly delayed from opening due to “typical internal delays,” like equipment arriving on time. The County Board also didn’t approve the bar’s request for a live entertainment and dancing permit until mid-December. The food permit wasn’t approved until December 29.
“The winter wonderland theme received a lot of positive feedback last year! People loved the festive decorations, Christmas lights, and holiday spirit, and we’re excited to share this experience with our guests again,” Michael Bramson, co-owner of the pop-up bar, writes ARLnow. “The Winter Wonderland is quickly turning into one of our favorite holiday traditions.”
Since first popping up last year in the midst of the pandemic, Clarendon Pop-Up Bar has decked out the space at 3185 Wilson Blvd with a number of themes. Most recently, it traveled back time to the 1980s with hot pink and blue hues reminiscent of “Miami Vice.”
But the bar will be moving from the hot, sandy beaches of Miami to the cold, snowy landscape of the North Pole.
The long-time nightlife venue Clarendon Ballroom closed as its prior iteration nearly two years ago. In late December 2020, Monument Realty purchased the building at 3185 Wilson Blvd for nearly $7 million and signed a 21-month lease with the Lot’s owners to operate pop-up bars out of the space.
While there’s another nine months on that agreement, Monument Realty told Washington Business Journal that it was a possibility that the ownership group could take over the space permanently.
Another big difference compared from last year’s pop-up is that indoor capacity restrictions and mask requirements have been considerable loosened. There are no longer any capacity restrictions and masks are no longer required indoors, though they are encouraged.
(Updated at 12:15 p.m.) Clarendon Popup Bar, located inside the former Clarendon Ballroom space, is about to shift to its second theme.
The concept bar opened at 3185 Wilson Blvd in time to ring in the New Year with its temporary theme, “Winter Wonderland.” That theme will still be in effect this weekend, but will then be changed over the course of the following week. (An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that it would be closed this weekend.)
“Winter Wonderland was a success and more popular than anticipated,” owner Mike Bramson tells ARLnow. “The next theme is ‘Fire & Ice.’ We don’t want to give anything anyway, so you’ll have to come see it.”
Weather permitting, the rooftop will open in March, he said.
The debut of the “Fire and Ice” theme is set for Thursday, March 4, according to the calendar. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, which falls on a Wednesday, Clarendon Popup Bar will also have “ShamRock N’ Roll” event on Saturday, March 13.
“For St. Patrick’s Day weekend we are still working out the details, but you can most definitely expect a band and DJ lineup, and of course some green beer,” he said.
The pop-up will be showing games in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, better known as March Madness, from March 18 to April 4.
“We will be opening early to show the March Madness games on our huge projector wall and TVs,” Bramson said. “Every seat in the house will be able to see a screen.”
Not everybody has been enamored with Clarendon Popup. An anonymous tipster sent ARLnow Instagram videos inside the venue, showing crowded dance areas and a number of people not wearing masks.
In response, Bramson said Clarendon Popup Bar has been working with the health department to “ensure we are following all necessary regulations and precautions.”
Since opening, he and staff have rearranged the layout “a few times” to adapt to demand. The large indoor space has allowed them to properly distance and section off tables, he said.
“We feel comfortable that we have taken the proper safety measures going into our next theme,” said Bramson. “Anyone not at their table is required to wear a mask and all staff is on top of enforcing that rule.”
The County Board approved Clarendon Popup’s request for a live entertainment and dancing permit in mid-December on the condition that the owners abide by all local, state and federal COVID-19 regulations.
Photos (2-3) via Instagram
The popup, temporarily themed as a “Winter Wonderland” bar, started serving customers exactly one year after the old event and nightlife spot at 3185 Wilson Blvd closed on New Year’s Eve in 2019. Fire department personnel could be seen conducting final inspections inside the space on Wednesday, before the opening.
“The opening weekend was a huge success,” owner Mike Bramson said in an email. “The turnout was better than we expected as all tables were booked [or] sold out. Our guests really enjoyed the decorations, themed cocktails, projection wall, DJs and bands.”
This coming Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the multi-level popup bar and event venue will celebrate its official opening. A more detailed lineup of events, featuring a mix of DJs and bands, will be on the website by the end of the week, Bramson said.
“We also have a large projection wall where we can show some playoff [football] games,” he said. “We are already working on a Super Bowl event.”
High-top tables are first-come, first-served, while the bar takes reservations via email for couches, Bramson said.
The County Board approved Clarendon Popup’s request for a live entertainment and dancing permit in mid-December on the condition that the owners abide by all local, state and federal COVID-19 regulations.
“The size of the space allows us to properly social distance and keep our patrons and staff safe while enjoying a fun atmosphere,” Bramson said.
“Typical internal delays” forced owners to postpone the popup’s opening from early December until the last weekend of the year, Bramson previously told ARLnow. As a result, the “Winter Wonderland” theme will stay through at least Jan. 30.
Bramson, a co-owner of The Lot — the popular outdoor beer garden a few blocks from the Ballroom — confirmed in October that Clarendon was getting a new, temporary nightlife spot in a familiar hangout.
The popup bar plans to operate 11 a.m. to 12 a.m., Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., Friday and Saturday, including the eve of all federal holidays.
After some delays, Clarendon Popup could be hosting live entertainment and dancing in the former Clarendon Ballroom space by the end of December.
The new opening day would be almost exactly one year after the event and nightlife spot at 3185 Wilson Blvd closed after New Year’s Eve in 2019. Owners anticipated the first popup — with a “Winter Wonderland” theme — would open around this time in December, but the holidays have set them back.
“We are aiming to open by the end of the month pending no further delays,” owner Mike Bramson said in an email, adding that the popup has been set back by “typical internal delays, such as equipment arriving on time given the holidays.”
The wonderland theme was originally set to run from mid-December through New Years, with plans to extend it through the winter season “if it was a success,” Bramson said.
“Given the late start it makes sense to continue the theme and give everyone a chance to see all the decorations and experience the space,” he said. “Fortunately, our first popup, Winter Wonderland, is a theme that can be enjoyed throughout the winter.”
On Saturday, the County Board approved Clarendon Popup’s request for a live entertainment and dancing permit. The green light came after county staff voiced their support, albeit with a few conditions.
The County is requiring the owners must abide by all local, state and federal regulations related to COVID-19 and pushing the venue to change the hours of operation, based on input from the Lyon Village and Lyon Park civic associations.
“With adherence to the proposed conditions, staff does not believe that the proposed use permit will cause any undue adverse impacts to the public health, safety or welfare, nor be in conflict with the County’s master plans,” staff said in the report.
Bramson said the popup will indeed follow all federal and state guidelines and recommendations related to the coronavirus.
“One of the biggest appeals of the venue is its size, providing for ample space to social distance,” he said.
The owners requested to operate between 11 a.m. and 1:30 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday and Monday. Clarendon Ballroom operated with similar hours.
The Lyon Village Civic Association expressed concerns about the applicant’s proposed hours of live entertainment, especially during weekdays. In response, the County proposed alternative hours of live entertainment and dancing that are similar to neighboring nightlife spots, including Liberty Tavern and Don Tito’s, according to the report.
The new hours, which the owners agreed to, are 11 a.m. to 12 a.m., Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., Friday and Saturday, including the eve of all federal holidays.
“We agreed with the hours of operation as they were on par with some of the other businesses around us,” Bramson said. “I’m glad we were able to come to an agreement.”
ANC and Addison Alternatives Announced — “Metro will offer free shuttle bus service and other travel alternatives during the spring closure of Addison Road and Arlington Cemetery stations on the Blue and Silver lines, the transit agency announced today. Addison Road and Arlington Cemetery will be closed from Saturday, Feb. 13 through Sunday, May 23, 2021, to allow for construction.” [WMATA]
Business Buys Ballroom Building, Before Bar by Beer Boss Brings Big Bucks — “Monument Realty has acquired the former Clarendon Ballroom as the owners of popular beer garden The Lot plan to open a temporary event venue inside the building on Arlington County’s Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. MR 3185 Wilson Retail LLC, an affiliate of the District-based commercial real estate developer, acquired the building at 3185 Wilson Blvd. Dec. 11 for about $6.7 million, according to Arlington County land records.” [Washington Business Journal]
COVID Concerns Cause County Crew Changes — “You can now add snow removal to the long list of things that have had to change because of COVID-19. ‘This year, what makes it different than many other years, is the threat of COVID and really the concern of just keeping the employees safe, keeping them distanced enough to where they can do their work but also go home safely,’ said Jeremy Hassan, the chief operating engineer for Arlington County’s Water, Sewer, and Streets Bureau.” [Fox 5]
“[We] are converting the iconic Clarendon Ballroom into a rotating, multilevel pop-up and event venue,” The Lot co-owner Mike Bramson confirmed this afternoon, after an inquiry from ARLnow.
Bramson said the temporary venue at 3185 Wilson Blvd — which has applied for permits to serve beer, wine and cocktails — will initially be dubbed “Winter Wonderland on Wilson.” The holiday-themed pop-up is expected to open in December and run through New Years.
So far there’s no word on what concept will follow.
“More details to be announced soon,” said Bramson, who is also a co-owner of Pamplona in Clarendon.
Seasonal pop-up bars have proved popular in D.C., though that popularity has waned recently.
Clarendon Ballroom closed after last New Year’s Eve. The long-time local nightlife spot and event venue, which had both indoor and outdoor spaces, was business for 20 years.
The Lot opened in July 2019 and has attracted long lines during the pandemic, as bar-goers flock to outdoor venues as a safer alternative to indoor spaces.