Club Dubai to become Shakespeare theater in January

Natalya Kashtelyan (Left) and Erin Matsiyeustkayt at Palma in 2008. Palma closed less than a year later.
Natalya Kashtelyan (Left) and Erin Matsiyeustkayt at Palma in 2008. Palma closed less than a year later. (Julie A. Ferguson, Baltimore Sun)

Fans of Club Dubai, the upscale nightclub located downtown, have the rest of the year to enjoy its bottle service, pristine white couches and other swanky accommodations. But on Jan. 1, Dubai's lease will end and so will its run at the historic Mercantile Trust and Deposit Company building. 

Taking its place won't be another attempt at a hopping club. Instead, Howard County's Chesapeake Shakespeare Company will turn the 20,000-square foot building (located at 200 E. Redwood St.) into a new theater for "live performances of Shakespeare and other classics," according to a press release.

The managing partners of Club Dubai are "weighing their options" on whether or not to continue operations at another location, said the club's attorney, Paul Gardner.

Perhaps it's not much of a surprise the next tenants won't host a nightclub. In January, Club Dubai will join the building's growing list of club casualties. And it's another indication that bringing a D.C.-style ultra-club to Baltimore is a hell of challenge.

First came Redwood Trust in 2000, then mega-flop Palma in 2008 and then the Velvet Rope in 2009. Despite an estimated $5 million worth of renovations, each incarnation failed to turn the extremely large space (it holds more than 1,500 people) into a popular mega-club destination.

There are plenty of reasons why this building, which survived the city's Great Fire of 1904, has failed to produce a mega-club. Low attendance, the inability to sell alcohol past 2 a.m. and the fact that most Baltimore residents prefer bars to nightclubs are all contributing factors. Mismanaged bookings (for example, a Yo Gotti concert was oversold in February 2010, leading to 50 police officers and a helicopter to the scene), fights and unhappy neighboring businesses did not help.

Transforming Club Dubai into its polar opposite — a classical theater — could be risky. But with the Mercantile Trust building's track record, it begs the question, why not?

Gardner assures Dubai will continue to operate as it has until its lease ends. DMX will take Dubai's stage on Saturday night, and Atlanta rapper Gucci Mane will perform a week later. The transition, come January, could be jarring for Dubai's regulars — from rap concerts to plays by the area's third largest theater company. But for the nonprofit Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, it was a risk (estimated at $6 million for the building's purchase and renovation, paid for by the Helm Foundation) worth taking.

The theater is projected to open in 2014.


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