Service, at the Touch of a Screen

By Fritz Hahn
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, November 21, 2008

T he Buzz: It's like clubbing with the Jetsons.

Want to order a drink, request tunes from the DJ, pay a bill or ask a valet to retrieve your car? If you're at the Shadow Room, all you have to do is touch a screen at your table.

Swaptak Das and his partners, who run Shadow Room in Foggy Bottom, knew high-end clubbers were tired of paying $1,000 or more for the prestige of having a table at hot lounges while watching the hoi polloi get their drinks quickly at the bar as they waited at the table for a waitress.

The answer was an innovative new system designed by Das's techie team, featuring people who've worked at such places as Accenture and Andersen Consulting. The expedited service comes at a price, of course: Each touch-screen-equipped booth requires a minimum tab of $750 to $1,000, which includes admission for as many as 10 people.

The screen is easy to figure out: Touch a picture of a bottle to get a menu of spirits. Press the type of liquor to get a menu of brands, then pick the quantity. (You can also order specific cocktails.) A server then brings the order from a back-room bar used just to fill orders for private tables.

You can split the bill onto multiple credit cards, punch in your valet ticket number to have a driver bring your car or have someone bring your jackets from coat check. You can message the DJ to ask him to give a friend a birthday shout-out or to request a song, though the DJ can send a message back saying he doesn't have the track or doesn't think it will fit into his set. In the event of party crashers or a spill, you can summon security or a cleaning crew.

Richard Strauss has been to Shadow Room 10 times, and he has had a table with a touch screen on more than half of those occasions.

"I think it's cool and impressive, but it also makes the experience better," says the 39-year-old president of Strauss Radio Strategies, a D.C.-based public relations firm. "When it's crowded, there's no need to wait for the server or to go through the crowd. If you're running low on ice, you just click on 'More Ice' and they have a runner bring it to you in a few minutes. Compared to some other clubs, it's much faster."

Other perks include a plasma TV outfitted with an Xbox and a Playstation 3, wireless controllers and games. (Though I still have a hard time imagining why, if you're at a club, you'd want to do the same thing you could be doing sitting on your couch for a lot less money.)

A house phone allows you to call other tables (a card with phone numbers is provided), or if friends are waiting in line outside, you can ring the concierge to have them brought inside.

Even the cheaper, touch-screen-free tables have a techie gimmick: Every hostess has an iTouch, so she can send your drink order to the bar without having to fight through the crowd to enter it into the system.

Table-less customers can also get in on the act by downloading an iPhone application that works like the table touch screen. Figure out what you want, place an order and, when it's ready, you'll get a text message telling you to pick it up at the end of the bar. It's a completely cashless transaction, as the tab, including gratuity, is placed on a credit card registered to your account. (Honestly, it's a cool trick, but it didn't seem to get drinks any faster than it did to hit the less-busy bar in the back room.)

The Scene: Aside from the technology, Shadow Room is an attractive, if fairly standard D.C. lounge, with soft colors and sleek leather furniture throughout the two rooms. An extra-long bar lines one wall, facing banks of tables. The DJ mashes up everything from Michael Jackson and the Sugar Hill Gang to Kelly Clarkson and Rihanna as crowds groove wherever they can find room, which can make getting around the club difficult when it's at capacity.

Getting in: The usual no athletic wear/boots/sneakers/caps/hoodies rule applies, though I did spot a few guys wearing ultra-hip Puma and Adidas shoes that matched the rest of their outfits.

On Friday nights, anyone can get on the guest list through, which allows free entry for women until midnight and men until 11. Saturday is a little tougher, as only those who have reserved tables can just drop their names at the door. But on a recent Saturday night, I watched the place fill up between 11 and midnight with only four or five tables occupied. The vast majority of people in the club were dancing and chatting seemingly without any sort of reservations. The only caveat is that by 1 a.m., there was a growing line outside, and I was told it was down to a one-in, one-out policy unless a group agreed to buy a table.

Price Points: Expect to pay $10 to $12 for a (strong) mixed drink with name-brand liquor, $12 for large shots of Patron or Grand Marnier or $6 for bottled beer. Tables with touch screens have a $750 minimum, while those without have a $500 minimum.

Need to know: Shadow Room is open only on Fridays and Saturdays, though there are plans to throw Thursday and Sunday night parties.

What people are saying: "The music's really good," said Carla Eunice, a 28-year-old engineer for the Marine Corps. "The DJ doesn't just stick to the Top 40. He jumps around. It doesn't matter what era."

Eunice and fellow Marine Ryan Kresse, 35, were sharing a non-touch-screen table with a group of friends, and though they noticed their server sending the drink orders to the bar with her iTouch, they said it was hard to get her attention when they needed a drink. "You want to just go to the bar" because it would be faster, Eunice said.

Jurell Brown, a 33-year-old stockbroker hanging out by the dance floor, offered, "I come up here on Saturdays a lot" because of the music and the "urbane environment."

Shadow Room 2131 K St. NW (Metro: Foggy Bottom-GWU) Contact: 202-887-1200 or Hours: Fridays and Saturdays 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.

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