Authored by: Eden Carswell
Anyone local to the DC area has seen the black socializing landscape change drastically over the years. Once a treasure trove of events and spaces in which any and all of us could find something that we see ourselves in, the DC area black event scene has slowly become predictable–dance parties and brunches in the same locations, endless trap playlists, overpriced hookah, themes that glamorize the superficial, and catering to a very specific audience. While some enjoy those kinds of vibes, there’s an entire market that’s only tapped for one-offs and pop-up events that blow through town once a month. For the part of the black community that seeks value in their outings–more intimate settings, unique locations, activities that are grounding and healing, and more musical variety, there are very few spaces in DC that consistently meet these needs.
Enter: Shanklin Hall.
What started out as musings over the vibes at the first “Something In The Water” festival in Virginia has become a DC household name for carefully crafted, holistic experiences that cater to eclectic, depth-seeking black patrons. Shanklin Hall is the brainchild of five DC and DMV natives: Maia Shanklin Roberts (Attorney), Nicholas Hall (Marketing professional and Entrepreneur), Imani Shanklin Roberts (Artist and Educator), Tau Shanklin Roberts (Finance and Operations), and Camille Hall (Ecommerce Manager and DJ business owner). A close-knit group of friends and family that saw a need for change in how we fellowship, they created this social club to bring thoughtful, quality events to DC that serve the black community beyond the superficial. No matter what kind of experience Shanklin Hall creates, they do so mindfully and meticulously; their pillars—community, creativity, and wellness—are reflected in all their efforts, and those that frequent these spaces see this firsthand.
In speaking with Nicholas, Maia, and Imani, we found that while the pillars that guide Shanklin Hall’s initiatives came easily to its creators, they did experience some challenges in the process of building their business. “Space is the biggest obstacle”, Maia admitted. “Finding a brick-and-mortar that feels like Shanklin Hall, and wants black owners has been difficult.” Nicholas added that, though there are venues available to use, “How many of these spaces respect our culture and see us as the ideal customer?”. Additionally, the pandemic presented setbacks. Per Imani, “When you work in nightlife and events, things like COVID make it hard to bring people together safely. And during the pandemic, we saw a lot of centerpieces that our community faithfully socialized at—places like Marvin, for example—closing down. It left questions about what black fellowship and community building would look like once things opened back up.” However, from Nicholas’ perspective, being on lockdown was “the impetus of Shanklin Hall coming together and brainstorming the events that our followers are seeing today.”
And these events have indeed brought the quality and mindfulness. Shanklin Hall’s offerings are wide-ranging: their 2019 first event, Camp Gully, was an adult summer camp geared towards embracing one’s inner child and unplug from technology. Their 2021 event, the Soup & Stew at the Lockhouse 21, featured a retreat-style dinner with a pre-fixe menu, allowing attendees to connect with nature and fellowship by bon fire. The Turn Down Service at Wild Days in Eaton Hotel, Not For Sale at Songbyrd, and Turn Down At Sunset at Hotel Zena, parties are spaces for unwinding, taking in beautiful décor, and dancing to music curated by DJs with eclectic musical palettes. ‘Brunch at Lyle’ at the Lyle Hotel celebrated black women and included an art therapy session led by Imani. The locations for these events are picked out with aesthetics and purpose in mind; Shanklin Hall is invested in not only selecting venues that fit the occasion, but also reclaiming DC area spaces that were once ours prior to gentrification. “Hotel Zena used to be the Donovan House”, Maia mentioned. “Black people in DC used to frequent that space before it closed down, so it means a lot to have that full circle moment and come back.”
So what’s next for Shanklin Hall? Though they couldn’t spill all the beans on some of their new projects, Nicholas did share that visual arts, culinary, and hotel collab events are in the works. The Turn Down At Sunset series is still set to recur at Hotel Zena, and Camp Gully will also be returning, with Maia at the helm.
To keep up with all of Shanklin Hall’s upcoming events, make sure to check them out on the innanets at https://www.shanklinhall.com/, and follow them on IG @shanklinhall. If you’re melanated and want to patronize spaces that you see yourself in, support Shanklin Hall. They value the city, the culture, and the diversity in our community–things we truly have to preserve.