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D.C.-area nightlife, events and dining

Washington area bars where you can be a kid again

Bars are taking games from childhood -- slot car racing, skeeball, Ping-Pong, mini-golf and spelling bees -- and using them to attract nostalgic audiences.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 23, 2010

The shrill whir of the motors, the clacking of the cars whizzing around curves, the smell of heated metal filling the living room, the momentary panic that we might set the sofa on fire -- ah, the sweet joy of slot-car racing!

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I was 11 when I began my racing career, hanging out with a friend who had inherited a basic set from his older brother. We had pushed a coffee table across the close-cropped carpet to make space for the Tyco track, an oblong full of S-turns and straightaways that took an eternity to assemble. The TV played cartoons in the background, but it wasn't "The Transformers" that had us transfixed.

Whatever your childhood indulgence -- playing skeeball at the beach, swatting Ping-Pong balls at the rec center, playing putt-putt with your parents or even winning the school spelling bee -- you're likely to find a version of it at a local nightspot. Many bars have discovered they can capitalize on the sweet nostalgia of youth, using juvenile amusements to lure in adult customers.

I hadn't thought about racing in decades until I wandered into the Reef one Monday night and found the staff excitedly setting up an enormous slot-car track on tables in the main barroom.

It wasn't long before I was picking out my car (a white Porsche) and gripping the trigger with the same sense of excitement I had as a kid. The big difference? This time, I had a pint of Allagash in hand. And I didn't have to put the track away at the end of the night -- a victory on two fronts.

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