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D.C.-area nightlife, events and dining

Washington area bars where you can be a kid again: Slot cars

The Reef sets up a large slot car track in the dining room on Monday nights. Patrons can use it for free.
The Reef sets up a large slot car track in the dining room on Monday nights. Patrons can use it for free. (Michael Temchine For The Washington Post)

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Friday, April 23, 2010

At the Reef's weekly Slot Car Mondays, scale is everything. Not just the scale of the cars, which is your standard Matchbox-size HO, but the size of the track itself: more than 100 feet, arranged in two circuits in a custom-built enclosure, smack in the center of the main barroom.

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The configurations change every week, but there's usually one smaller track, generally a loop with an overpass, and a much-larger version that, last week, had an 11-foot straightaway (!!!), multiple overpasses and sharp curves where it's very easy to jump the track.

Four people can race at once, and there are at least a dozen vehicles to choose from, including Formula One models and classic muscle cars. The variety of options makes trash-talking all the sweeter.

And while you watch your car roar around the track -- and try to master the art of easing off the plastic trigger around the curves -- there are $3 Rolling Rock beers all night, plus an "HO-size menu" with mini-miniburgers about the size of a half-dollar, served with toothpick-esque fries.

The idea came from bartender Matt Larson. Mondays were kind of slow, he says, so he purchased a basic Mario Kart-themed set on a whim for $20 and set up the short track on the bar to let customers have some fun. But when operations manager Frank Peele -- himself a longtime slot car enthusiast -- saw the set, he and other staff members decided to go all in, buying cars and track to build up the collection. Now it's the featured attraction, even though crowds are still spotty: Some nights there's a wait to play, but other times you can have the run of the place.

Mondays from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. The Reef, 2446 18th St. NW. 202-518-3800. http://www.thereefdc.com.

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