We knew Penn Quarter’s Riot Act Comedy Theatre was getting set for a makeover. In our chat yesterday, we mentioned that the owners of the Eighth Street space were planning to revamp the first-floor bar, do more live music and try to pump up midweek schedules. But they’re going much further than that: The 10-month-old venue will close after this weekend and transform into Penn Social, a “social club” packed with games, TV screens and bars in a format that seems closer to ESPN Zone than the Improv. A July 9 reopening is expected.
First things first: The downstairs comedy club will remain, though offerings will be diversified to include live music, game shows and karaoke competitions when there’s no comedian scheduled. But it sounds like live entertainment will get serious competition from televisions — six 10-foot projection screens and one 20-foot HD screen — and games. Chairs can be removed to make room for full-sized “cruise ship shuffleboard” courts, bocce courts and corn hole games, with room for pool tables, skee-ball machines, table shuffleboard and darts.
The street level bar, which I found about as interesting as the lobby bar at a Ramada, will get a fresh new look and host open mike comedy, trivia and a weekly karaoke league. A sidewalk patio is also in the works.
This shouldn’t have too much of an effect on the D.C. comedy scene: The Improv, the Arlington Cinema ‘N’ Drafthouse and a number of other small clubs still offer headliner-quality acts as well as weekly open mikes. But it’s telling that Riot Act, with big-name comics and a location in a neighborhood that gets plenty of foot traffic, couldn’t make it work for a full year before deciding to try a different format.