Drinking Up the Club Atmosphere

Queue the revelers: Steven Hargrove, front left, and Carl Biggs plot their Wednesdays to arrive early in line for the popular happy hour at MCCXXIII.
Queue the revelers: Steven Hargrove, front left, and Carl Biggs plot their Wednesdays to arrive early in line for the popular happy hour at MCCXXIII. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 29, 2006

You can't be late to the happiest of happy hours.

So Stephanie Young clocked out of her receptionist's job in Falls Church at 4:45 p.m., went to the ladies' room to change into her tight-fitting Seven jeans and was in line by 5:40 p.m.

Already waiting was her pal Steve Hargrove. He's got a 9-to-5 gig in Alexandria, but on Wednesdays, only Wednesdays, he starts at 8 so he can get off at 4. He was in line by 5:30.

Their friend Carl Biggs usually is the first to get there. He works two blocks away from the only place to be on Wednesday nights: MCCXXIII (or 1223, as everyone calls the club on Connecticut Avenue NW near M Street).

At 5:25 p.m. yesterday, the line to get into 1223's happy hour -- or two hours, from 6 to 8 p.m. -- was already half a block long. This is what happens when a club offers top-shelf drinks (Belvedere, Smirnoff, Patron), a hearty buffet (barbecue chicken, corn on the cob, buffalo wings) and a hip-hop, R&B, reggae dance vibe. And they're free.

"Hey, where there is free premium vodka, there go I," said Hargrove, 24. "We're talking good, free vodka here."

It's a renaissance of sorts for the club-hopping twenty-something in Washington. There are the usual Georgetown bars, the Adams Morgan hot spots and the Southwest waterfront staples, but the U Street and Connecticut Avenue scenes are bustling. Just as you can't turn a corner in the city and not see a crane, it seems you can't spend a week and not get a flier for a new club. A few weeks ago, across from 1223, an upscale, aviation-themed lounge called Fly opened its doors. These days you've got choices: Do you want something low-key, loungy and chill, or high-energy and Red Bulled out?

And the choice for many is the happy hour called Flirt Wednesdays at 1223. You work on Monday and Tuesday, and by the end of Wednesday, hump day, you need a break, so you can get through Thursday and Friday.

"Isn't this line ridiculous?" asked Alicia Bell, 24, waiting in the middle of it at 6 p.m. Her friend, 26-year-old Khara Norris, looking irritable, nodded.

"Think of the rewards, ladies!" snapped their gal-pal Michele Johnson, 33.

The Flirt Wednesday event is promoted by MadPowerUnit.com and WeRunDC.com, the go-to sites for urban revelers. Dominique Moxey, one of the promoters at MadPowerUnit.com, says Flirt Wednesdays have attracted a steady stream of young urban professionals, mostly black, since the promotion began in 2001. But as word-of-mouth spread -- especially the word about premium drinks -- the line outside the club has "gotten much crazier."

By 7 p.m. last night, 132 patrons had showed up; by 8 p.m., 250. By the time the night is over at 2 a.m., more than 600 people will have partied in the club. Moxey says the club recoups its spending on happy hour through clubgoers who keep on drinking.

To get in free -- if you're a woman -- all you need to do is print out a pass on MadPowerUnit.com early Wednesday morning. If you're a guy, you need the pass to pay a reduced cover charge of $10. But if you've figured it out, like Hargrove and Biggs, before you leave that night's happy hour you'll ask for a special pass to get in free the following week. That's been their plan.

"The key here, being a young adult, is all about free -- or at least the least amount of money possible," said Young, a 24-year-old law student at American University. "A $5 cover is very reasonable, but, you know, if you have to pay $10, you're a little bitter."

After she, Hargrove and Biggs, all childhood friends, got inside 1223 at 6:35 p.m. yesterday, Young worked her way to the bar. She ordered three drinks: a glass of champagne for Biggs, a Belvedere and cranberry for Hargrove ("That's Belvedere and cranberry, not vodka and cranberry," said Hargrove) and a Hyptoniq Long Island iced tea for herself. A few minutes later, after her second Long Island iced tea and first glass of champagne, she headed to the buffet line.

By 7:50 p.m., as the new Janet Jackson tune "Call on Me" bounced off the walls, Young, Hargrove and Biggs were on the dance floor, grooving. Ten more minutes before the end of the happiest happy hour in the city, and they've gotten a free buzz. No more drinks. You have to pay for your champagne, Belvedere and cranberry, and Hyptoniq Long Island iced tea after 8 p.m.

"If you have to pay for drinks after 8," said Young, "then you didn't do happy hour right."

Outside the club, at the end of the queue of about 30 people, Joi Stanley, 25, looked cranky. "Traffic was horrible up and down Connecticut Avenue," she said. She just got there. It was 7:55 p.m. Happy hour was almost over.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company