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International Spy Museum

Friday, July 17, 2009

There is a place in Washington where you can let your inner James Bond loose. No, we aren't talking about driving expensive sports cars at excessive speeds or attending swanky parties with beautiful women on each arm. We're talking about experiencing the thrill of narrowly escaping death while running through exotic locales on a mission to save hundreds. After the mission is complete, there will be drinks, of course.

Spy at Night, which the International Spy Museum launched in January, aims to offer a James Bond experience to the 18-and-older set Friday and Saturday nights after the museum closes. The evening includes an hour-long "mission," a drink, spy games and other activities that you don't get with a typical museum visit.

The core of Spy at Night is a trip through "Operation Spy," a highly structured, interactive adventure at the museum that takes about a dozen would-be spies through the streets of the fictional city of Khandar. The 3,500-square-foot space is impressive. Even the most minute details, such as a cinnamon scent in the marketplace, are included. Expect to listen for clues in a bus station, infiltrate a high-security compound via a tunnel and rummage through a suspect's desk.

The goal of "Operation Spy" is to find a missing dirty bomb trigger and save a fellow spy's life. Challenges include trying to disconnect surveillance cameras, administering a lie detector test and cracking a safe. Endings are based on how well your group completes the tasks. It's a bit hokey, but if you allow yourself to have some fun, it is enjoyable.

Groups run through "Operation Spy" every 15 minutes, so the crowd going through the Spy City Cafe is constantly in flux. Before or after the mission, most grab a cocktail and settle into a booth.

Sure, it isn't death-defying work, but even an hour of living life like a spy is enough to make someone want a drink and good company.

The crowd: About 100 people attend nightly ranging from 20-something professionals to older tourists. The crowd for Spy at Night tends to be local and younger than the typical museum visitor.

Attire: You'll be at home in jeans and tennis shoes or business wear. The tennis shoes are a good idea because you're on the move a lot.

Museum time: Limited. Since the rest of the museum is closed, you get to explore only "Operation Spy."

Drinks: A drink is included in the ticket price, so make the most of your money and grab the event's signature cocktail, the White Knight (vodka, Cointreau, white cranberries and crushed lime served on ice). The bar also has a slim selection of beers and sodas.

Food: The Spy City Cafe features neighboring Zola's bar menu during Spy at Night, so it is worth forgoing a heavy dinner and buying snacks when you get there.

Don't miss: Cracking the safe! Of all the challenges, this one -- which is timed -- makes your heart race a little. Go on a Friday night when the evening features a spy expert who shares tricks of the trade. At a recent Spy at Night event, a handwriting analyst was a hit.

Spy at Night is every Friday and Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m. Tonight's event features a ninja demonstration. It will be in the lobby, not the cafe, to avoid White Knights sailing through the air! Tickets are $20, a good deal considering "Operation Spy" is regularly $14 and a White Knight is $9.50. International Spy Museum, 800 F St. NW (Metro: Gallery Place). 202-393-7789 or http://www.spymuseum.org.

-- Amy Orndorff

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