THERE'S JUST something about a good old-fashioned house party: mingling in the kitchen, catching up with folks you haven't seen for a while; strangers on the couch getting to know each other over drinks; people dancing elbow to elbow to records that a friend spins on your stereo.
And it's even better when you don't have to clean up the next day.
Take it from Daryl "Quartermaine" Francis of the local hip-hop group Critically Acclaimed, who hosts Uncle Q's Living Room every Thursday night at the Blue Room (2321 18th St. NW; 202-332-0800).
"This is my house party," he explains, surveying the crowded second-story bar and dance floor. "I got my man [DJ Dredd] on the turntables. I got a fully stocked bar," he says, sweeping his hand toward the glowing shelves of bottles in the back of the room. "I got a place where you can sit down and talk" on couches and blocky chairs. Last week, "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" was projected onto a screen on the wall. "It's like the living room -- you get together with your friends and watch a movie," Francis says.
When you see the room full of people grooving and laughing, it's clear he's on to something.
A successful party needs an outgoing host, so it helps that Francis is one of the most gregarious in town. He's often found perched at the top of the stairs, greeting friends with hugs and backslaps, and welcoming everyone to the club.
If you wander in alone, glancing around and nodding your head to the beat, don't be surprised if a stocky guy wearing a cap and a beard comes over and starts chatting, and even offers to introduce you to a few of his friends. Francis says he just wants everyone to have a good time.
Working as a bartender at Tryst, the Adams Morgan coffeehouse that often seems more like a community center, Francis has become acquainted with a lot of people -- including Dominic Redd, known on the club scene as DJ Dredd, the musical director of the monthly Prince-centric dance party Lovesexy DC at Modern, and an old-school DJ of some renown.
"I went to Aroma [in Cleveland Park] on a date and heard him, and I was like, 'Man . . . ,' " Francis says, shaking his head. They were eventually introduced at Tryst, and discussed the idea of starting an event with a house-party vibe, mixing hip-hop and R&B classics (think Run-DMC, A Tribe Called Quest, Michael Jackson) with newer tunes to keep everybody dancing.
Uncle Q's Living Room -- the Q is short for "Quartermaine," Francis's stage name -- started at the Adams Morgan lounge Bossa last year, and Francis's overlapping social circles meant that lots of folks were soon hanging out: musicians; breakdancers who'd spontaneously take over the floor; neighborhood crowds who heard about the event over lattes and wanted to experience it for themselves. The rules are simple: no cover, no dress code, no pretense -- just great music and friendly people.
Francis and Redd moved their party to the Blue Room's sleeker surroundings in November, where it has stayed packed with a multicultural fusion of men and women who looked like they were having more fun than anyone else in the city, whether dancing or just taking in the action from seats in the mezzanine-style loft.
"I'm from New York," Francis says. "In D.C., you definitely have your black parties and you have your white parties. But the best part for me is when everybody gets together. . . . I know a lot of people from different walks of life. They'll come party with me, and before you know it, it's a really mixed crowd."
While Francis keeps the upstairs jumping, a new night is hoping to become a fixture in the Blue Room's renovated first-floor lounge. Called Push Off, it features five new DJs every Thursday, ranging from experienced professionals to amateurs who have never spun records outside their bedrooms.
Push Off is the brainchild of bartender Jill Tyler and her friend and fellow American University student Allison "Ale" Purmort. The women had been looking to start their own event, although neither had any experience promoting. "We literally jumped in," Tyler says. "Guys from colleges were promoting [events] here, and we were like, 'We can do that.' " In recent months, Tyler says, she fielded several calls about the status of Hi-Fi, the Blue Room's weekly "open turntables" night that lets anyone bring their own records and spend 30 minutes DJing. It had faded from the club's schedule, but Tyler and Purmort saw an opportunity to revive the concept -- with a twist.
The duo jettisoned the first-come, first-served approach for something more structured: Prospective DJs send a demo CD or a link to an online mix, and the promoters offer 45-minute sets to their favorites.
(Anyone interested in participating can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; a Web site is in the works.) Hi-Fi was egalitarian, allowing anyone to show off their turntable skills or lack thereof. Sometimes you caught moonlighting DJs from well-known clubs, while other nights "featured" DJs who clearly needed to spend more time practicing basic skills like mixing and flow. In theory, it was an interesting idea. In practice, though, it could be frustrating.
At Push Off, "It's not like we'll say no to [DJs with less experience], but they'll probably go earlier in the night," Purmort says, which sounds fair. The DJs I've heard so far have been a melange of styles, from '70s soul to funky house beats to chilled-out electronica. Some wear the fixed look of concentration common in new DJs or seem unable to read the crowd. But Purmort says the weekly lineups have included "people who have Baltimore radio shows" and a "drum 'n' bass DJ who spins at Nation. They're doing something different [here]. They don't have to play what their bosses want them to play."
The women hope that a juried selection of DJs will mean more people coming by to hear good music, not just to see friends who have signed up to spin. "You want people to hang out and stay -- we want people to be dancing," Purmort says. (Bartender Tyler has cooked up some all-night drink specials as a further incentive.) Weather and the presidential inauguration have slowed Push Off's attendance, but by handing out fliers and posting on Internet message boards such as Craigslist, several weeks of DJ slots have been filled in advance.
If you haven't stopped by the Blue Room in a while, this is a good chance to check out the revamped first floor. "We wanted to upgrade," explains co-owner Bill Thomas, with a touch of understatement: The lounge was closed for renovations for a few months, reopening just before Halloween. Remodeling got rid of the cramped tables and added high-backed red leather booths, a new DJ booth, a concrete bar and tabletops, and a slate floor, which looks sharp with the exposed brick walls, and the recessed lights make the whole space more inviting. A larger beer list offers 22 bottles, and an expanded Winekeeper system allows for more wines by the glass. The kitchen should reopen in the next few weeks, serving a short menu of small plates.
Thomas says he and co-owner Frank Jolley have another big project in mind: adding another "lounge room" to each level of the club by enclosing the Blue Room's back patio, but there's no timetable for completion.