MOST PEOPLE are familiar with the idea of a bar crawl -- popping into a couple of bars to check out the lay of the land and grab a drink. When you're tired of one, you move on to the next. In neighborhoods like Adams Morgan or Dupont Circle, where many nightspots are clustered, it's part of the fabric of a night out.
That's all very well for people who like bars, but fans of dance clubs usually just pick a target ahead of time and stay there all night, thanks to the threats of long lines, cover charges and dress codes.
There's another option, though, in the form of the Club Hop, which started last year in the dance clubs and martini lounges around 18th and M Streets NW. The concept is simple: On Saturday night, you pay a single cover charge to check out seven or eight nightclubs you may not have visited before. (Starting March 4, Club Hop will also be available on Friday nights.) If the music or the crowd isn't to your liking, you can head out the door to sample a different place. Club owners may find some new regulars, or at the very least, sell a few extra drinks.
Founder Swaptak Das says that he and his partners took over promotions at the swank MCCXXIII (1223 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-822-1800) almost two years ago. When the club began to bring in larger and larger weekend crowds, neighboring club owners asked them to "cross-promote, or even take over promotions" to get more people through their doors. Since there are so many nightspots nearby, Das says, the idea for the Club Hop was born.
Participants register through Das's Web site, AbsoluteAddiction.com, for free admission to MCCXXIII. Once there, they can pick up a wristband allowing access to the other participating venues, including Ozio, a martini lounge favored by professional athletes, and the popular dance club Five. Between 10 and midnight, the all-inclusive cover charge is $5; there's no additional charge to start the Club Hop before 10. According to Das's site, most venues honor the wristbands until last call.
Given that most of the participating venues charge at least $10 on their own, the Club Hop sounds like a great deal. Some friends and I decided to check it out -- anonymously, of course -- last Saturday night.
This is what happened:
10:59 p.m.: We're inside MCCXXIII after a very short wait in line. We didn't have any problems getting in -- I'd put my name on the list the day before, along with that of a guest. At the door, one of the promoters holds a stack of paper covered with tiny type. He checks our names off his list, and we're handed a little ticket and waved inside. At a concierge desk labeled "Club Hop," our IDs are checked against yet another sheaf of paper. Satisfied, they give us blue paper wristbands -- after I hand over a $5 cover.
The guy behind the desk is careful to tell us twice that "Ozio is not participating tonight." Shame, as that was one of the places we were looking forward to visiting. But according to the Club Hop Web site six other clubs will let us in free if we arrive before 3 a.m.
11:17 p.m.: The crowd here is building slowly, but far more attention is being paid to television sets showing the Bernard Hopkins-Howard Eastman middleweight title fight than to the barren dance floor. At the bar, $4 martinis and $3 beer specials are going fast.
The photos on the promoters' Web site suggest that everyone at MCCXXIII is a well-dressed, perfectly coiffed twenty-something splayed on a leather couch, or in a group that instantly drapes arms at the sight of a camera. Not so -- there are older men with white hair and sweaters, and younger guys sporting backward baseball caps and leather Dale Earnhardt Jr. jackets. The women, however, are dressed in their flashiest club finest.
11:40 p.m.: As our now-complete group watches the final round of boxing, more and more people are making their way into the club. The DJ puts on a revved-up remix of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," and some young women standing next to us at the bar begin grabbing their friends' hands and pulling them through the crowd toward the dance floor. We decide to head out, making our way down Connecticut Avenue to Panache (1725 Desales St. NW; 202-293-7760).
11:48 p.m.: As we turn the corner onto Desales Street, we notice a line snaking down the block. My friend Kathryn goes up to the bouncer to ask if our wristbands will let us skip to the front. Sorry, the doorman tells her, but the club is at capacity and they can't let anyone else in yet. He doesn't know how long the wait will be, and it's getting cold. We decide to go straight to Five (1214-B 18th St. NW; 202-331-7123) to check out the house music trio Tortured Soul.
11:58 p.m.: Thankfully, there is no wait to get into Five, though we notice the line outside MCCXXIII is now halfway down the block. Flashing our wristbands to the cashier gets us in quickly and easily. Tortured Soul hasn't started yet, but lots of people are on the spacious dance floor, moving to DJ Taha's deep, funky grooves. I haven't been to Five in a couple of months, but I like how they've remodeled the second floor: moving and expanding the bar, adding more tables and preserving the mezzanine view of the DJ booth and the action below. It's really humid, so we make our way up to the tropically themed rooftop -- tented and heated for the season, of course -- and grab a seat.