Why Heist nightclub pulled plug on Kennedy Center rooftop experience

WTOP's Jason Fraley reports on Heist at Kennedy Center (Part 1)

D.C. nightlife was supposed to return this past weekend with a pop-up lounge on the Kennedy Center rooftop, featuring 60 tables with bottle service and music playlists.

Instead, the nightclub Heist canceled its rooftop club experience at the Kennedy Center due to a scheduling mix-up that has left many people scratching their heads.

“Our grand opening [planned for Oct. 3] sold out in minutes,” Heist owner Vinoda Basnayake said. “Unfortunately for us, we announced our reopening days after the city released a new pilot program for live entertainment, which included the Kennedy Center. This understandably caused a great deal of confusion.”

The pilot program included live performances at the Kennedy Center, City Winery, GALA Hispanic Theatre, Pearl Street Warehouse, The Hamilton and Union Stage.

Basnayake was unaware of this program and forged ahead with his rooftop plans, not knowing it would conflict with Kennedy Center performances. The pilot program caps attendance at 50 people per performance, while the rooftop planned for 360 guests.

“Due to this confusion, and the overlapping announcements, we agreed with the Kennedy Center that, in an overabundance of caution, we would delay our opening,” Basnayake said.

The initial idea came after the city rejected outdoor dining at Heist in Dupont Circle.

“The city has encouraged all operators to reimagine outdoor spaces,” Basnayake said. “We were able to register and open outdoor cafés with our [sister] venues Morris American Bar and Casta’s Rum Bar. … We applied for an outdoor streatery permit [for Heist] but were informed that our sidewalk was not wide enough to support this.”

He insisted he followed all the proper protocols and paperwork.

“We applied for and received all the necessary permits, even hired a third-party COVID-19 compliance officer, and got underway to open an outdoor venue pop-up at the Kennedy Center,” Basnayake said. “We were able to rehire nearly all of our pre-COVID team, and the response was humbling and overwhelming.”

He also addressed his role on the Commission on Nightlife and Culture.

“[Some] have questioned whether Heist was able to secure this venue due to my personal connections,” Basnayake said. “That could not be further from the truth. … I want to make it very clear that any individual or business had the same opportunity to reach out to the Kennedy Center and propose such a concept.”

He hopes the Heist rooftop concept will arrive in the future. “We strongly believe in this concept and will be announcing our reopening date soon,” Basnayake said.

WTOP's Jason Fraley reports on Heist at Kennedy Center (Part 2)

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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