Whether one arrives to Dupont Circle by way of the infamous Metro Rail, the ubiquitous taxi cabs and cars, the convenient bike, or by foot, the passerby is certain to see a bunch of narrow shops, bars, and eateries that inhabit structures which resemble three- story rowhomes. If a person dares to look closer, they may see the common nail salon or spa, but with an even closer look, the misfit companies will appear. At that third glance, the visitor will discover The Dupont Circle Club, a non-profit organization that offers a variety of recovery groups, located at 1623 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC. As a visitor, it was not until my third glance that I found the club. I had passed it twice because it was hidden between Lou Lou Boutique and Comfort One Shoes. The name advertised in lights above the door read “Psychic Readings,” and taped to the center of the door was a regular sized piece of paper that read “Dupont Circle Club.” I entered, but was faced with another obstacle: a locked door with a keypad that connected to the club and the psychic which I had to use to be buzzed in. I entered, and as I walked up the house-like stairs, my mind immediately began to question why this place was so difficult to find and enter. Before I describe the interior of the Dupont Circle Club, I will provide historical information that answers my speculations about the location of the club.
Background Information on the Dupont Circle Club
According to Dupont Circle Club’s website where the organization advertises its non-profit organization, the recovery center was even more hidden in 1989 when they first opened the club in a building located in the alley behind their current location. Due to the lack of lighting and the high population of rats, the alley won the name “Flat Rat Alley”, and the owner of the 1623 Connecticut Ave location offered the club his spot. Therefore, the Dupont Circle Club ended up in this hidden location by coincidence. This location was never actually meant to be hidden, for in the 1960s the location was inhabited by a ritzy store called French Poodle which sold fur coats and constantly advertised itself in the local Washington Evening Star Newspaper (Washington Evening Star 1964). The same place was previously a funeral home named W.R Speare Co. in the mid 1920s (Washington Evening Star 1926).
After climbing the stairs, I finally entered the club and was greeted by the yellow paint of the walls and the lobby. The lobby consist of a $1 coffee/tea station, numerous ads for upcoming events at the club, pictures of people who went through one of the recovery clubs, and pamphlets for every recovery program offered. To the left and right of the greeting area were two identical rooms. Both were rectangular rooms with at least two windows, one bathroom, many rows of cushioned blue chairs, indoor plants, a fireplace, and multiple inspirational pictures and sayings. The room to the right hosted the alcoholics anonymous meetings, and the room to the left held the narcotics anonymous meetings. The layout was simple and easy to navigate. Although the chairs occupied much of the room, the area incorporated walking space which prohibited the empty room from feeling congested. However, as more people started to flood in at the start of the meeting, the space began to feel smaller and less comfortable. Concurrently, the lighting, windows, and inspirational messages created a welcoming feeling; I felt like I was at church, not a recovery center. Perhaps it was the alcoholics anonymous book that resembled the Bible and laid across each chair, the small piece of stained glass hanging from the window, or the blinding sun that projected this feeling of home and love often evident in churches.
The feeling of welcomeness continued as the recovering alcoholics began to arrive to their 4pm meeting. The people were very nice; they awaited newcomers with open arms, and offered me to stay to listen to their stories. The meeting was filled with about 35 people and the session began with a group recitation of “The Twelve Steps” recoverers must follow. Individuals then read from the Alcoholics Anonymous book, and introduced themselves as the typical movie depicts: “Hello. My name is ___ and I am an alcoholic.” After, people told stories about their personal fight against alcoholism. As people spoke, I heard claps, snaps, and “amens,” and saw the nodding of heads in agreement. The class then ended with a group prayer which was also recited by all 35 members.
Overall, the interior space is one of great contrast. It is assumed that the alcoholics that have faced tragedies would carry a cloud of depression and feel reluctant to attend these meetings, but these people embody immense happiness and express their appreciation for The Dupont Circle Club. One man shared how he his addiction had caused him to hurt his family many times, but he felt grateful to be in the place he was today. The second contrast involves the location of the club. If one follows the stairs to the third story, he or she will find themselves at the psychic reading which opposes the religious practices of the recovery center. Lastly, Dupont Circle Club lies amongst so many bars and fancy restaurants that sell wine, for there are about 20 bars that appear on google maps in Dupont. Addicts are constantly faced with temptation verses self betterment. However, these opposites fit perfectly for a neighborhood that is both high class and urban with a high number of homeless people outside of top businesses and high end stores.
“Deaths.” Washington Evening Star. March 9, 1926.
History, Dupont Circle Club. 2016 http://www.dupontcircleclub.com/about/history/
“Why You Can Buy A Luxurious Prestige.” Washington Evening Star. March 26, 1964.
Interior Description: Digital Record 1
Here is the outside view of Dupont Circle Club. The most advertised parts of the door is the address number and the “Psychic Readings” sign. The Dupont Circle Club sign is on the center of the door and on a laminated piece of paper. At the bottom of the door is another sign advertising Sherpa Prep. The door focuses on the psychic readings, causing people to overlook the help center.
Interior Description: Digital Record 2
These blue chairs take up the majority of the space in both rooms. The chairs are set up in rows, and face the center of the room. Therefore, everyone can see each other and the main leader of the sessions who sits in the center of the room. On each chair is the blue Alcoholics Anonymous books which the members read before their session, then discuss in class.
Interior Description: Digital Record 3
This is one of the many encouraging pieces that hang upon the walls. This picture incorporates the aspects of Christianity that Dupont Circle Club practices. The quote also inspires hope to these people who have been through hard times and inspires them to keep going by saying, “grant me the serenity to accept the things Icannot change.” The pretty flowers and decoration of the picture also adds to the light and positive feeling the club tries to create.
Interior Description: Digital Record 4
The room is filled with long white posters which each have different rules, traditions and steps of the recovery process. Here, is the Twelve Steps that recoverers have to follow in the recovery process. These steps are read at the beginning of each session as a reminder of how members should behave and what action they will take in the future.
Interior Description: Digital Record 5
Here is a screenshot of a google map of all the bars in Dupont Circle. In such a small area, there are around 20 bars within The Dupont Circle Club where most members struggle with alcohol addiction. An attendee of the meeting recalled how she used to bar hop daily in Dupont Circle, so all the bars knew her name.