No-sweat Olympics


Gholi Soltani, at the near table, braces to return a table-tennis slam from Kye Kolar at Breadsoda in Glover Park. (Michael Temchine/For The Washington Post)

It takes a hard heart not to have at least a mild case of Olympic fever right now. For the next two weeks the entire world will tune into London, where national pride, the spirit of competition and athletes who have devoted their lives to one incredibly specialized skill will be in the spotlight. It’s all very inspiring. But how are ordinary folks supposed to get in on the fun? Watching on TV is nice, but taking part in the action would be better. Of course, pole vault and shot put and canoe slalom aren’t exactly the easiest activities to jump into, and, man — they look difficult.

With that in mind, we have come up with an alternative: the No-Sweat Olympics. The concept is simple — competition is fierce, but movement is minimal. There will be no perspiration, but there will be imbibition. The following games can be played at local bars, and if a beer isn’t in hand, it’s close by. So grab some friends and start a new tradition of semi-athletic excellence.

Table tennis

First things first — it’s not Ping-Pong. It’s table tennis. And unlike all of the other activities here, this one is a legit Olympic sport. Since 1988, the world’s finest have vied for table tennis glory every four summers. The United States has, unfortunately, been resoundingly shut out of the medal ceremonies each year. (Surely we would dominate in beer pong, though.) So get to practicing on Tuesday nights at Breadsoda. The Glover Park bar is a popular spot for pool and such table games as chess, checkers, Yahtzee and backgammon. But on Tuesdays, pool tables are transformed for table tennis and the paddles come out. The regularly scheduled programming means it’s become something of a destination spot for good players. If you don’t know how to put backspin on your shots, expect a stranger to whoop you pretty quickly. Which would be too bad, because there’s often a not-short wait to get in a game on one of the two tables. The fine selection of draft beers makes the wait much more palatable. — D.M.

12233 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-333-7445, www.breadsoda.com. Free to play. Other places to play: Continental, 1911 Fort Myer Dr., Arlington. 703-465-7675. www.continentalpoollounge.com, Comet Ping Pong, 5037 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-364-0404. www.cometpingpong.com.

Mini golf

The nine holes of mini golf at H Street Country Club don’t compose the most challenging course, which is probably for the best because most of the putters will have had a few drinks by the time they tee off. (Players must be at least 21, although kids accompanied by an adult are allowed to play on Sundays and Mondays.) The D.C. landmarks featured on each hole — the course begins with Ben’s Chili Bowl and works its way to the Washington Monument; there’s even a Marion Barry-themed hole — give it a local flavor that your typical hit-the-ball-through-the-windmill courses don’t have. It’s also (obviously) indoors, which is a key element in keeping with our “no sweat” theme. The bar/restaurant has been open three years, which means the crowds are not as much of an issue as in the past. Under normal conditions, the course shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to complete, even less time for a twosome. Mini-golf purists may prefer a more standard 18-hole course, but it’s worth remembering that Putt-Putt doesn’t serve beer. — D.M.

1335 H St. NE. 202-399-4722. www.hstreetcountryclub.com. $7 per person. Other places to play: Bohrer Park, 514 S. Frederick Ave., Gaithersburg. 301-258-6420 (through Oct. 7). The National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW. 202-272-2448. www.nbm.org (through Labor Day).

Cornhole

The definition of a No-Sweat Olympic sport: challenging enough that you have to concentrate, but easy enough to play while not spilling your beer. That’s the beauty of cornhole. Like shot put, it requires skill and precise aim with your throwing arm, but one hand is free to hold your pint. Long a staple of football tailgate picnics and family reunions, cornhole — or beanbag toss, or bags — has become an attraction at outdoor bars in recent years, including the Fairgrounds and the New York Avenue Beach Bar. You can play in any weather at the new Penn Social downtown, though, because the 13,000-square-foot entertainment zone offers four cornhole sets on Tuesday nights. There’s an organized league from 6 to 9 p.m., but once those games are over, anyone can jump in and play for free. (If there’s a line, you can play Skee-ball, giant Jenga, pool, darts, board games or, in a few weeks, cruise-ship-style shuffleboard.) — F.H.

Penn Social, 801 E St. NW. 202-697-4900. www.pennsocialdc.com. Other places to play: Fairgrounds, 1290 Half St. SE. www.fairgroundsdc.com/www/about.html. New York Avenue Beach Bar, 645 New York Ave. NW. 202-656-9229. www.nyavebeachbar.com.

Billiards

Yes, you can play foosball, shuffleboard, darts and Golden Tee. And there are more flat-screen TVs than on the display floor at a Best Buy. But the main draw at Buffalo Billiards is indicated in the name itself. The 15 pool tables are among the nicest in the District, with smooth felts and cues that won’t give you splinters. (Those who have encountered decaying cues at places where pool tables are an afterthought know how important this is.) The enormous underground spot covers more than 14,000 square feet and can be a maze to navigate. You don’t make plans to simply meet at Buffalo Billiards; you make plans to meet in a specific area unless you want to send “where r u?” texts to buddies for five minutes. The size works to its advantage, though. For as many people as the place can hold, it never feels cramped. This is especially important when you are trying to knock the nine ball into the far corner pocket and don’t want to jab an innocent intern enjoying a Miller Lite. Each weekday features different food and drink ­specials, and combined with reasonable table rental rates, a night of playing shouldn’t put too big a dent in your wallet. — D.M.

1330 19th St. NW. 202-331-7665. www.dc.buffalobilliards.com. Prices vary; $8-$18/hour at off-peak times; $12-$22/hour during peak. Other places to play: Bedrock Billiards, 1841 Columbia Rd. NW. 202-667-7665. www.bedrockbilliards.com. Carpool, 208 Elden St., Herndon. 571-203-7995. www.carpoolweb.com.

Bowling

Are there more glamorous local spots than Bowl America in Falls Church to roll a few frames? Yes! All of them. But that’s the overwhelming appeal of this alley. The most common social gatherings here are bowling leagues and children’s birthday parties, not interns meeting for happy hour. If you come for any reason other than to try to rack up the turkeys, strikes and spares, you’re doing it wrong. From the simple, neon BOWL AMERICA sign out front to the harsh overhead lighting to the musty smell that can be achieved only after many years of other people’s feet in the same bowling shoes, this is a bowler’s bowling alley. It also can be a drinker’s bowling alley — a large pitcher of beer will run you about $15, or the price of a pair of bottles at an upscale spot. There’s the usual array of pizza, fries and other snacks, but the quality may remind you more of high school lunch than your favorite bar. That’s not really a problem, though. The lanes are plentiful (more than 40), so you’re highly unlikely to encounter a wait, and the prices are cheap enough that you can get some practice in and school your friends the next time the competition is official. — D.M.

140 S. Maple Ave., Falls Church. 703-534-1370. www.bowl-america.com. $5.95 per game, various specials. Other places to play: Lucky Strike DC, 701 Seventh St. NW., 202-347-1021. www.bowlluckystrike.com. Bowl America, 1101 Clopper Rd., Gaithersburg. 301-330-5200.

Darts

If you’re training to be the next world champion in the javelin throw of bar sports, you may want to take aim at an unlikely target, because the pearly gates of dart heaven dwell in a sparsely populated Sterling strip mall. Mighty Mike’s won’t win any beauty contests. The divey locale is practically wallpapered with beer and ­NASCAR posters and leaves visitors smelling like cigarette smoke (although a nonsmoking section has some dart boards). But no one said training was going to be easy, so think of your postgame shower as a small price to pay to take advantage of 19 dart boards — quite possibly the most at any establishment in the area. Speaking of small prices, the dirt-cheap drink specials include $1.75 Budweiser and Bud Light bottles and drafts on Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. But Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights provide a different reason to make the trip: Washington Area Dart Association members provide bull’s-eye-piercing inspiration for newbies, with league games starting at 8 p.m. — S.M.

22330 Sterling Blvd., Sterling. 703-421-8920. www.mightymikesbarandgrill.com. Free to play. Other places to play: The Argonaut,1433 H St. NW., 202-250-3660. www.argonautdc.com. Union Jack’s, 4915 St. Elmo’s Ave., Bethesda. 301-652-2561. www.unionjacksbethesda.com.

Bocce

Summertime thunderstorms won’t keep you from channeling an Italian retiree on weekend afternoons, thanks to Black Jack, the 14th Street bar above sister estab­lishment Pearl Dive Oyster Palace. Head upstairs and to the back room — snagging an artfully poured cocktail or brew on the way — to find two indoor bocce courts beckoning players to test their precision skills. On busy nights, there’s a sign-up sheet for those attempting to place their large green or red balls as close as possible to the “jack,” a smaller white ball. But for newcomers unsure whether they prefer the rolling or aerial technique, there also are rows of spectator seating (plus a helpful wall sign with rules). Large wooden pegboards broadcast potentially pride- ­crushing scores, helpfully turning a game for European octogenarians into cutthroat competition. — S.M.

1612 14th Street NW. 202-986-5225. www.blackjackdc.com. Free to play. Other places to play: Vinoteca, 1940 11th St. NW. 202-332-9463. www.vinotecadc.com.

Skee-ball

This arcade game may be rivaled only by the claw machine for its misleading simplicity. How can something that looks so straightforward turn out to be such a four-letter-word-inducing challenge? In the basement of Iron Horse Taproom, which boasts two machines, you can remind yourself just how difficult it can be to roll a ball along an inclined plane and into variously rewarding holes. On Monday nights, the place gets inundated with United ­Social Sports leaguers, but that gives bar-goers a chance to focus on the impressive rotating list of draft beers or try their hand at Sopranos pinball, which is not exactly timely but still proves an entertaining way to spend 50 cents. Happy-hour specials, including $2 off draft beers until 8 p.m. daily, dull the pain of missing the 100-point holes. — S.M.

507 Seventh St. NW. 202-347-7665. www.ironhorsedc.com. 50 cents per game. Other places to play: The Barking Dog, 4723 Elm St., Bethesda. 301-654-0022. www.thebarkingdogonline.com. Pour House, 319 Pennsylvania Ave., SE. 202-546-0779. www.pourhousedc.
com
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Washington-area native Stephanie Merry covers movies, theater and art for Weekend and the Going Out Guide. She’s also the section’s de facto expert on yoga, gluten-free dining and bicycle commuting.
Fritz Hahn has written about bars, drinks and nightlife for the Washington Post Weekend Section since 2003, but he also writes about everything from Civil War battlefields to sailing classes. A product of Prince George's County public schools, Fritz majored in journalism at the University of Maryland and lives in the District.
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