This month, Blue Ridge Restaurant started a new happy hour that's bringing in the BabyBjrn set. Held every Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. on the restaurant's back patio, the event gives parents a chance to hang out at one of the new restaurants in town and sample its food -- they and their kids can tuck into specially priced items from chef Barton Seaver's menu. Last week, when I went to see who was wheeling on in, about 20 to 30 moms and dads were there, despite the evening rain. They sipped wine and cocktails while chatting about their neighborhoods, their backgrounds and, of course, the munchkins strapped to their chests.
Blue Ridge offers a kids menu for the event, but, as you might expect with Seaver at the helm, there's not a chicken tender in sight. Kids' options include meatloaf with mashed potatoes and green beans ($6), grilled cheese ($6), root beer ($3) and lemonade ($2). Parents can order from the regular menu or the usual happy hour deals ($1 oysters!).
The idea for Stroller Happy Hour grew organically, thanks mainly to a partnership between Lauren Shweder Biel, founder of the Glover Park-Burleith Farmers Market, and Eli Hengst, one of the owners of Blue Ridge. The pair developed a friendship while Biel was working to get the new market off the ground. Hengst came up with the concept because he wanted to bring the neighborhood's young families into Blue Ridge; Biel, a listserv maven and the mother of an 8-month-old, helped him put the event into action and spread the word.
"We wanted to give parents a place they could come with kids without being given the evil eye, [a place] where their kids are welcome," said Hengst. Even at the happy hour's tail end last week, it was clear that was the case. Picture a backyard-barbecue vibe -- festive, but not rowdy. The evening was filled with the sounds of laughter and friendly conversation. Some patrons knew each other beforehand; others just met at the event. Most of the children in attendance last week were younger than 1, but older ones are welcome, too. As the weather grows colder, Hengst says they'll relocate the event inside the restaurant.
The three-week-old event has evolved a little bit every time as parents provide Blue Ridge with feedback about their and their children's needs. "We got a shopping list after week one," says Hengst. Staffers picked up sippy cups and gates and developed a stroller parking area. To make stroller maneuvering easier and avoid stairs, parents can enter the patio through the back entrance on 37th Street. Not all the feedback's been about the kiddies, though. The restaurant also got a request for more vodka drinks. Ole!
Hengst says the end generally syncs up with the time some kids are ready to begin the bedtime routine. (Even still, at least a dozen people stayed past 7 p.m. last week.)
Biel, who's been seeing some people return week after week, says the reaction from parents has been great so far: "You meet new people, and our kids are the same age, and you get this sense that we'll be seeing each other for a long time, so we might as well kick it off right."
-- Julia Beizer (GOG Blog, July 30, 2009)