Home Is Where the Party Is

Buildings aren’t just places to live anymore — ­they’re places to socialize

October 5, 2012

Richard Stanfill, with girlfriend Megan Hailey, likes the happy hours by the pool table that his building, the Gramercy at Metropolitan Park in Arlington, throws to get residents mingling.

Richard Stanfill, a self-styled “military brat,” has lived in apartments all over the world. But it wasn’t until two years ago when he moved into the Gramercy at Metropolitan Park — where he gets to attend monthly happy hours in the billiards room and Fourth of July celebrations in the park out front — that he finally felt at home.

In a transient market like the D.C. area, apartment buildings such as the Gramercy are finding ways to foster a sense of community within. If the residents enjoy time with their neighbors, there’s a better shot they’ll stick around for another year when it’s time to renew that lease. Buildings are hosting everything from running clubs to cooking classes to pub crawls. It’s like living in a college dorm — but without that whole “college” part.

From January through May of this year, the Gramercy (550 14th Road South, Arlington, 703-486-4270) hosted a monthly happy hour near the lobby-level pool table and, when the weather was nice, out back in the courtyard garden. In late August, after three happy-hour-free months, Stanfill, 29, wanted to know where the beer-flowing socials had gone. He posted the question to the building’s Facebook wall.

“We’ve been trying to mix things up,” management quickly responded, “with our Breakfast on the Go earlier this month and our upcoming Poolside Ice Cream Sundae Bar.”

The plethora of events is thanks to Barbara Smith, the lead resident services coordinator at the Gramercy. She says the building hosts happenings so residents can get to know one another and “keep that home feel in the building.”

Each year, the Gramercy partners with another Kettler property located next door, the Millennium (1330 S. Fair St., Arlington, 866-333-7158), to throw a massive Fourth of July celebration. Under a huge tent in the park between the two buildings, they serve up a full picnic spread: hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, etc. They provide beer and wine inside one of the buildings for the over-21 crowd, and they bring in stilt walkers, a moon bounce and a face painter for the kids. “It’s almost like a country fair,” Smith says.

Activities such as these help residents get to know one another and have even spawned friendships. At the poolside ice-cream social this summer, a group of women came up with the idea of starting a book club in the building.

“These people had never met each other before,” Smith says. “They went to that ice-cream party and became friends. That’s when you know you’ve got a hit.”

Social clubs are a huge part of the culture at RiverHouse (1400 S. Joyce St., Arlington, 888-217-8530), an apartment building about a mile down the road.

“It can be difficult to meet new people in D.C., especially if you are not from this area,” says Assistant Resident Services Manager Jessica Fill. “Our clubs are a great platform for our residents to branch out.”

RiverHouse now has four clubs: running (the most popular group with 80 members), cycling, tennis and stitch (i.e. needlework). Each club has a Facebook page where members can find a tennis partner or schedule a jog or bike ride.

Social activities are just as popular in buildings in the District, too.

Raphaele Latillade, 41, has been renting an apartment in the Flats 130 at Constitution Square (130 M St., NE, 866-300-2916) since 2010. This year, she has attended a building-organized girls’ jewelry night with champagne and cupcakes as well as an ice-cream social (“Gigantic waffle cones with three scoops!”). She also took her puggle (half pug/half beagle) named Journey Rose to some of the building’s dog happy, er, yappy hours.

The good times are not limited to traditional renters — even someone who sublets can grab a cocktail with neighbors.

Both owners and renters in Lovejoy Lofts (440 12th St. NE, 202-543-2272) in Capitol Hill get together for events such as pub crawls on the nearby H Street corridor. “It’s really nice to give people a chance to meet other residents,” says Kathy Hardy, a social committee member.

While landlords can’t control when their residents need to move away for work or start a new family, social events such as these can help them hold on to the ones who stay in town.

Buildings like the Gramercy are clearly doing something right, because Stanfill — who has lived in Guam, England and across the U.S. — doesn’t want to move. “This is the best place I’ve ever lived,” he says.

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Kristen Page-Kirby | October 5, 2012