Hager and his friends, a half-dozen 20-somethings at a table crowned with beer bottles in a darkened corner, are here for a holiday observance of their own. Since graduating from high school in 2007, the former classmates have scattered across the region and beyond — but they always come together for this.
“It’s been a tradition ever since we were old enough to be allowed into bars,” says Rachel Finkelstein, seated beside Hager in the booth.
Some holiday rituals are timeless and inclusive — a favorite family recipe, say, or a neighborhood football game. The practice of gathering for a boozy night before Thanksgiving, however, belongs to the recent post-grads, young adults not yet responsible for families of their own.
Members of this club understand: Thanksgiving is for celebrating with family; the night before, for partying with friends.
So while the holiday weekend is a prime time for formal high school reunions, the informal gatherings have their own appeal. There’s no official space, no set protocol. It suits those of in-
between life stages: not quite a kid, not quite grown up. It’s an opportunity to present a revised version of oneself, to overwrite high school and college archetypes.
The phenomenon is sufficiently established that, only hours before Washington Post reporters were dispatched to bars, the satirical newspaper the Onion beat them to the punch with a story about a 26-year-old destined to encounter his less-than-favorite classmates the night before Thanksgiving. (The ribald Onion’s precise phrasing is not quotable in a family newspaper.)
After 11 years as owner of Tommy Joe’s, Alan Pohoryles has seen this many times.
“Tommy Joe’s has been jammed on the Wednesday and Friday of Thanksgiving every year for the last 10 years,” he says, adding that it’s easily one of the bar’s busiest nights.
“It will get crazy. I’ve always said if you don’t have a line [outside] on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, you should reconsider being in the bar business.”
Alain Bernadotte is standing in the outdoor bar area with a dozen 20-something graduates of Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney. He guesses that there could be 100 former classmates here tonight.
“Everyone understands that the night before Thanksgiving is a big night,” he says.
Bernadotte is still close with some of his high school friends, he says, most of whom still live in the area. But tonight offers a chance to reconnect with a larger group.
“Some I haven’t seen since last year at the same event,” he says.
Across the Potomac, young adults file into bars in Fairfax and fill dance floors at clubs in Arlington County late into the night. At the Auld Shebeen, an Irish pub in Fairfax, a few dozen 20- and 30-somethings gather in groups around the bar, sipping pints and catching up. It’s low-key, but Drew Prout, 32, says he and his friends — former classmates from Woodson High School in Fairfax — are still out to make the most of the night before a day spent with relatives.