The Interns' Guide: Where to Go if You're Under 21

By Fritz Hahn Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 31, 2005; 2:08 PM

It's Friday night, and 18th Street in Adams Morgan is hopping with folks dressed up and ready to party. This is arguably the hottest stretch of bars and clubs in the area. And there's a bouncer at every door checking driver's licenses, turning away anyone who's not 21. Even Tryst, the strip's lone coffeehouse, cards everyone after 9. No matter where you go -- Arlington, Annapolis or Georgetown -- the process repeats itself.

"We're all just gun-shy," says Brian Harrison, the owner of the Reef, one of Adams Morgan's most popular bars. "It's all too easy for someone [underage] to wipe a hand stamp off, get a different bracelet or get around [other safeguards]. And then I'm screwed." The Reef admits minors until 9, but after that, Harrison says, "It's just not worth it."

Between 18 and 20 is an awful limbo -- old enough to want to go out, but not quite old enough to get into the places you want to explore.

Music fans don't have as much to worry about. Washington's major concert venues -- including the 9:30 club, the Black Cat and the Birchmere -- are all ages, all the time. But some smaller clubs, including IOTA and Madam's Organ, are 21 and over. Others compromise -- Galaxy Hut is 21-and-over during the week, but all-ages during concerts Saturday though Monday.

If you're looking to go dancing, some of the area's most exclusive lounges and nightclubs, including Dream and MCCXXIII, offer a token "college night" once a week, which attracts mixed crowds who sip cocktails as well as sodas.

At Dream, for example, house, trance, hip-hop and international DJs come together on Thursdays for Earth, which features three levels of dance floors and bars. The Platinum Club flirted with both 18-and-over and 21-and-over nights before deciding to open its doors to everyone Thursday through Saturday for house, hip-hop and Latin music on two dance floors. (Sundays remain 21-and-over for hip-hop.) On the rock side, the Mousetrap, a long-running all-ages Britpop and indie-rock dance night, happens once a month on the main stage of the Black Cat, and there are events featuring soul, indie, electro and '80s music every weekend on the club's smaller back stage.

(See the longer list of events at the bottom of this story for more ideas.)

Most regular swing-dancing events, such as those at Glen Echo's Spanish Ballroom or the Chevy Chase Ballroom, are all-ages; the lone exception is Lulu's, which is 21-and-over. Sadly, many of the area's biggest and best salsa nights are off-limits to anyone who isn't of age.

The real problem is that there are loud clubs and concert venues for the under-21 crowd to visit, but not many places to just hang out with friends.

Many of the area's pool halls have very limited hours for minors. Buffalo Billiards and Ballston's Carpool only allocate a few hours on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Others, including Bedrock Billiards and Continental, are 21-and-over at all times. The only 18-and-over billiards hall worth mentioning is Georgetown Billiards, located near the university. A virtual off-campus rec room, the bar has a variety of video games, darts, foosball, ping pong and an air hockey table.

One option is the Black Cat's Red Room, which features an excellent jukebox stocked with rock and jazz, a pool table, large booths and video games. You can order from the Food for Thought Cafe on the other side of the club. The downside: It's loud, smoky and packed on weekends. Coffeehouses are a traditional option, and the Dupont Circle branches of Cosi, Arlington's Murky Coffee and Glover Park's Zebra Lounge are excellent and offer plenty of opportunities for people watching.

18-and-over Club Nights

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