Taking a Field Trip Aboard the Party Bus

Onboard: Haley Stoltenburg, 24, of the District, left; Heidi Combs, 25, of Arlington; Zac Auger, 23, of Crystal City; and Laura Pirog, 26, of Arlington.
Onboard: Haley Stoltenburg, 24, of the District, left; Heidi Combs, 25, of Arlington; Zac Auger, 23, of Crystal City; and Laura Pirog, 26, of Arlington. (By Michael Temchine For The Washington Post)
By Fritz Hahn
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, November 10, 2006

I love to travel, but I've never been much for group tours. Being herded from place to place with a pack of strangers? What if they're boring? What if they're the kind of people who'd rather have dinner at the well-known tourist haunt than the back-street spot where locals go?

I feel the same way about pub crawls -- I'd rather explore on my own and have the freedom to move on in case (or when) I get bored. Then I heard about a new service called the Boomerang Nightlife Party Bus.

For $25, riders get free admission, front-of-the-line privileges and drink specials at four or five nightspots and transportation between bars. At the end of the night, they are dropped off back at the Metro station where they started. It sounds like a bar-crawl limo service, and I'm curious about the other benefits. After all, getting a cab from Virginia to the District and back is frequently more than $25 round trip.

Boomerang runs bar crawls Thursday through Saturday. Thursday and Saturday start with happy hour at the Dupont branch of the Front Page before heading to Capitol Hill, Adams Morgan, Georgetown, Midtown (the area between Farragut North and Farragut West stations), Dupont Circle, H Street NE or the Southwest Waterfront, while Fridays begin at the Front Page in Ballston before hitting a trio of nightspots in the District, then back to Arlington. The Boomerang's promoters tell me they work with about 15 bars, so the lineup changes often.

Last Friday, my friend Kathryn and I made reservations for the Boomerang. All we knew was that we needed to be at the Front Page before 9 and that there would be happy hour specials for all participants.

The Front Page: We make it to the Front Page about 15 minutes before scheduled departure and wander around the bar before finding the Boomerang crew in the back room, where some of our fellow passengers are taking advantage of discounted beers and engaging in celebratory shots. There's an interesting mix of riders waiting to board: military guys, women in short skirts, even a few older men. Everyone is huddling with their groups, eyeing new arrivals curiously. For the next four hours or so, these are the people we're hanging out with.

We spot "party coordinator" Nikki DuBois, thanks to her Boomerang T-shirt and the large Boomerang flag next to her. She checks us in and hands us our wristbands.

There are about three dozen passengers tonight, so after a last check of the reservations clipboard, Nikki and partner/husband Dave lead us to the bus. Kathryn leans over to me and says, in a singsong tone, "I see novelty hats!"

On the bus: If the Boomerang Nightlife Party Bus is in your neighborhood, you won't miss it, because the large, painted school bus is almost as conspicuous as the Partridge Family's. Inside, the high, vinyl-covered-seats and hard-to-lower windows make it much like the buses we rode as kids -- though this one looks like it was hijacked and redecorated by high school students on spring break in Acapulco. Colorful streamers and "Zona Caliente" signs hang from the ceiling, and walls are painted with corny sayings, such as "Beauty is in the eye of the beerholder" and "24 hours in a day. 24 beers in a case. Coincidence?"

As we take our seats, Nikki and Dave climb on and begin passing out plastic leis, enormous sombreros and zebra-striped cowboy hats. Strewn around are plastic maracas, as brightly colored as macaws. It's going to be that kind of evening.

The music is relentlessly upbeat -- "Hot Hot Hot" and "Hips Don't Lie" -- and as we make our way into the District, some of the passengers are already in the festive spirit, shaking their maracas and grooving along to Jimmy Buffett.

Nikki gets on the PA system and runs down the basics for the night: We're hitting bars in Dupont Circle, Midtown and Chinatown, spending exactly an hour at each before moving on. There will be a 10-minute warning to finish drinks and pay tabs before leaving. The bus will return to the Front Page in time for last call and will drop passengers off at every Metro station between Rosslyn and Ballston. As we head up Connecticut Avenue toward Dupont Circle, Nikki perkily announces that the first stop is Steve's Bar Room, "and Steve wants to buy everyone a drink!" The assembled party cheers. "It's 9:27. Let's synchronize watches!"

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