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Michael McCarthy | Photo: Ben Tankersley | May 29, 2013
Vinoda Basnayake is the kingpin of nightlife with a day job just as powerful.
When it’s past midnight and you’re having a DC club experience bordering on nirvana, chances are Vinoda Basnayake is the man behind your bliss. Basnayake and his NLA Group have created scene-changing hubs of hipness, like Eden, the first Miami-style rooftop oasis in DC, and the soon-to-open Kabin, a French Alps-meets-modern concept that promises to stay chill throughout the summer. He also opened Karma by Erwin Gomez, a beauty lounge that could double as Jay-Z’s living room.
You’d think Basnayake, 32, would spend most of his time earnestly mining the riches of a growing nightlife empire and devising his next big splash. To some extent, he is. But he also has a day job. “I’m such a policy wonk,” says Basnayake, who, before sundown, is a lobbyist at power broker Patton Boggs.
Born and raised in the District, Basnayake attended Georgetown University, where he first learned how much of a tastemaker he could be. “Since I was from DC, classmates would ask me where to hang out, so I led groups of 30 or 40 kids to clubs—over and over,” he laughs. “From there, club owners would pay me to bring the crowds, and I figured I should launch clubs myself.” So, while still working on an undergrad degree, Basnayake created spaces such as Club Air, an outdoor pop-up bash at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center downtown.
Today, Basnayake has the Midas touch with the cocktail crowd, and Kabin—brimming with custom bronze, wood, marble and granite—is expected to flourish. His formula is simple. “Greet guests with a drink. Understand their needs throughout the night, and make them comfortable,” he says. “People go home happy, become vested in your success and always return.”
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