Washington at Play The Happy Hour Capital

At Workday's End, Interns Turn On the Schmooze

By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 14, 2006

Ryan Holte, his starchy shirt still stiff after a day at the office, milled about Tortilla Coast early one summer evening. The beer was flowing, and the aroma of salsa filled the air. But Holte wasn't at the Capitol Hill happy hour hot spot for the $2.50 pints of Miller Lite or the 10-cent wings. He was there to shake hands.

"You know where you need to start?" asked Holte, 22, whipping out his Treo Smartphone. "Right here."

He scrolled down to a spreadsheet that listed what seemed like every happy hour in the Washington area. Organized by day and neighborhood, it reported the specials at about 75 bars and restaurants each weeknight.

This spreadsheet is the Washington intern's summer road map to cheap booze and greasy grub. For years, this list has been passed down through e-mail by friends and friends of friends, and now by universities to group e-mail lists of students in the city. Its accuracy is questionable. Still, to many interns, the listing is gospel.

And for the career-conscious types, it's a guide to that Washington specialty: networking.

Every summer, 20,000 collegiates flock to the capital to make connections with the nation's officialdom and gain a leg up in life. The networking doesn't stop at the office door.

Ground zero for schmoozers-in-training is the weekday happy hour. If it's the right bar on the right day, they can chat up a congressman and jump-start their careers. Ultimately, it's all about making as many lasting, positive impressions on as many important people as possible, right?

"They're just blown away by the fact that they grew up watching 'West Wing' and now are a part of it," said James Hoppes, 34, who interned at the World Bank and still throws back Coronas at the Front Page in Dupont Circle when he finishes work at the Aspen Institute, a think tank.

Known as the nation's intern capital, Washington could add another title: the happy hour capital. Interns say the D.C. scene reigns supreme. If you asked them, here's what they'd tell you:

New York? Nope, too many investment bankers crunching numbers through the wee hours.

Los Angeles? Nope, not enough of a walking city to pub hop.

In Washington, though, happy hours are part of the culture. On Capitol Hill alone, 4,000 interns head down the columned steps of their office buildings by 5:30 or 6 at night, many of them heading for bars. You can spot interns by their security badges, which some wear even after punching the clock.

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