Editors' pick


Games night

Editorial Review

Recess: Not Just For Kids Anymore
By Fritz Hahn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 21, 2009

Looking for something different on the D.C. night-life scene? You might want to start by acting like a kid again.

Recess has just about everything you need for a memorable night out with friends: dancing, drinks and Hungry Hungry Hippos.

Also, it's a wonderland for singles who are trying to meet new people. Asking someone "Do you want to play Uno?" is one of the biggest gimmies in the history of opening lines.

The event is the brainchild of four friends from across the area who got their start on the nightclub scene. Jayson Ford knew some acquaintances were hosting game nights with classic board games and Nintendo Wiis at their homes and figured that the idea might work on a larger scale. The first Recess party was held at Rosslyn's Continental Modern Pool Lounge.

In June, Recess moved to the lobby bar and lounge at Aloft, a boutique hotel at National Harbor, and it has been drawing hundreds to the monthly events.

"We'd been hosting events and happy hours at places like Posh, Cabanas and Lounge 201, and we noticed not all of our crowd was into going clubs and the D.C. night-life scene," Ford explains. "It could be because we're a little older [in their 30s] and our crowd's a little older. They were looking for something different."

Dave Crockett, a hip-hop musician from Southwest Washington loves the idea. "It's ideal for adults, especially after a long week of work. It's fun and brings us all together; it brings back youth and keeps the spirit young. And it's cheaper than a club."

"It's a lot of fun because it's so different," said Jennifer Rogers, a 30-year-old teacher from Norfolk. "It's very social" -- perhaps, she said, because "everybody's had a little bit to drink."

The biggest drawback about Recess is that no tickets are sold at the door. The hotel "doesn't want to turn into a nightclub" with long lines outside, Ford explains, so it's limited to 275 advance passes, sold through the event's Web site, http://host-dc.com, which Ford acknowledges is "a drawback to some people." (And yes, the last two events have sold out.)

The hotel itself, full of bright colors, blocky modern furniture and high-tech lights, feels (and sounds) like an oversize game room.

A section of large banquettes and tables in the middle of the room was commandeered by eight women for a round of the word game Taboo, and judging by the laughter and high-fives after every round, you'd assume they were all old friends. You'd be wrong.

Ajeenah Haynes, 31, and Kichelle Green, 32, planned to make a big night of Recess: They booked a room at the hotel so they wouldn't have to drive home. "We're just hanging out, enjoying friends and each other's company," says Haynes, a sociologist.

This was their first visit to Recess, and their first impressions were overwhelmingly positive. "Everyone is really friendly and outgoing," Haynes said. "We met new people right away. We just came over here and asked if they wanted to play Taboo."

"And a whole other group of people joined in," Green added.

It's different from bars, because "you have something to do together. You see how they play games; you can talk to them," said Kimberly Stubbs, a 26-year-old from Suitland who works at the National Institutes of Health and joined the Taboo game.

Unlike a club, Recess isn't a spot for people who want to look good and engage in a bout of people-watching. Everyone in the room is engaged: The kitchen-counter-size tables across from the bar are full of a group playing Monopoly. Five people on a group of couches are chatting before restarting a game of Uno. Out on the patio, where some people have snuck out to make a phone call or smoke, there's a trio playing Trouble.

And even though the DJ's mix of new-school R&B and old-school hip-hop is loud enough to set the atmosphere and get some folks up and dancing, it's never so loud that you feel like you have to raise your voice to the other players across the table or shout at the person next to you at the bar.

"It's definitely an indoor recess day for sure," laughed Tanaira Carrington, 27, a beauty professional from Temple Hills, who was taking a break from playing Pictionary on a large white easel. She had already played Uno and pool, and after Pictionary, she hoped to get in some cards. "I want to play Spades, but I have to wait -- everyone's in the middle of a game."

That's one of the few drawbacks to Recess: There are a couple of boxes of each game floating around, but it isn't easy to jump into Monopoly or Clue once it's underway. Thankfully, there are all kinds of other distractions, such as fruity cocktails and rip-roaring games of Twister, which takes up most of the floor space outside the elevators.

The festive atmosphere, with laughter and shouts punctuating victories from various corners of the room, feels more like a reunion than like a night out, and for some people, that's especially true. "I'm running into people I knew at Bowie High School," said Dee-Dee Shipman, a 26-year-old nurse, after wiping the floor with the competition at Twister. Her favorite part of the night? "Learning how to play Spades."