At a table of techies in ties and--yes--suspenders, in a bar that wants to be a cybergeek's grooviest fantasy, everyone has his phone out in preparation for The Call. Never know when it might come--maybe at 2 in the morning, when you're partying in Bethesda and have had a few too many to drive all the way back to Reston, except it's your job and you have to, because that's what the client needs.
But here, even when you pan away from this flock of the young and serious-minded, and take in the breadth of the red-and-gold nightspot, it seems like no one stops working long enough to party. The big cheeses, always on the recruit, are pumping fists. TV crews are illuminating the place like newly discovered booty on an ocean floor, rather than an upstart bar in downtown Herndon, where the streets are, as usual, deathly quiet.
To its credit or detriment, Revolution Coffee Lounge, inaugurated Wednesday night and officially opening next Monday, feels about five years ahead of its time. It has a screen for PowerPoint presentations and phone jacks for online junkies--no big deal. But it also has a production room with complicated-looking equipment, in preparation for when the bar becomes a backdrop for Web television. The owners promise that many of the shows--political round tables, for example, or dating games--will be streamed live to their Web sites.
Revolution is posturing as the new cool--a marriage of the real world and the virtual one on the progressive fringe of the technology world. If it survives--and that's a big if, considering its pioneering location and unusual approach--it could serve as a hangout for all the young technology people who live and work in this Northern Virginia corridor.
Could it be? Is the future now? Amid the sea of suits and the thumping trip-hop, you can discern the outline of a world so clever, so laden with gadgetry and conveniences, you don't know whether to feel hopeful or overwhelmed.
This place caters to a culture where life and work intersect, and work takes over. This is a people accustomed to multitasking, 70-hour workweeks and frequent day trading. You want leisure? Forget leisure! You come to this bar to hold a business meeting, to plug in your laptop modem and answer the 50-something e-mails that have piled up in the hour since you left the office. You come to network. Don't get too comfortable in those deep leather chairs because, remember--no matter what it says over the entrance--Revolution Coffee Lounge is not a lounge.
"Lounge" says relaxation, it says getting away from work. It's a word that seems out of place in this corner of the world.
One day last spring, two men decided to plumb a gold mine. Both had recently abdicated ownership of bars in the District. They heard about a consultant report recommending that Northern Virginia get some new nightspots for its young workers. The men, Steve Zarpas and Ed Andrews, drove around Herndon, saw the wealth and youth and "the sea of cranes," and they thought, as Zarpas puts it, "We gotta hitch our wagon up to that Internet."
The idea of the cybercafe has always seemed counterintuitive. Rather than fulfilling the traditional social function of a cafe, it allows people to retreat into their private worlds. When Zarpas and Andrews designed their cyber-savvy bar, they drew the line at placing PCs in the place. People could bring their laptops, but they would be the exceptions rather than the antisocial rule.
Instead, the two decided, Revolution would help people meet. It would open at 7 a.m., serve sandwiches and salads, and have a bar. They would start a Web-based dating service for people with busy lives, and, once matched, the dates would meet for the first time at the bar. There would be a conference table and screen where small start-up firms could conduct business meetings. And Zarpas, a freelance cameraman who works at NBC, thought: Why not integrate Web TV with the whole shebang? The owners partnered with a television production company and plan to start producing shows in the spring.
"You wanna see the virtual Internet?" boasts Andrews. "Walk in through the front door."
Wednesday evening's opening, at 724 Pine St., in a quaint downtown, offers a strange juxtaposition of the Herndon that was and the Herndon that is becoming. Outside Revolution, an older crowd dines on white tablecloths across the street; nearby, a bakery and cafe are open but empty of customers.
Inside the large room that is Revolution, throngs of well-dressed twenty-somethings (wearing the up-and-comers' chosen color, French blue) sit at copper-covered tables, or in several lounge areas defined by plush leather couches and chairs. They drink Pete's Wicked Ale and eat sandwiches with mozzarella and red peppers. The wall behind the bar is made of squares of brushed stainless steel, and rounded, modern sconces emit a soft light that glows golden off the walls.
The floor near the entrance, smooth and perfect for dancing, is dominated by a rough slab of wood that serves as a conference table, which faces a screen along one wall. In the men's room, the walls are decorated with a digital code of 1s and 0s to give you that ultramodern feeling while attending to business.
On opening night the business cards flow fast and freely. Talk is of backbones, cold fusion, hacker meetings. Net entrepreneurs mingle with industry employees. A 27-year-old man named Leon muses about his brand-new $35,000 Integra--no more used cars for him. Another guy, David, complains that he can't watch television for more than 15 minutes without getting bored and going on the Net.
Camera people tape interviews with technology insiders for the bar's Web site. A local television station interviews the proud owners. And a bevy of people wax thoughtful on the meaning of this place.
"It's the Klondike during the Gold Rush," Chris Matthews of CNBC's "Hardball" says later, alluding to the electricity that pervades the opening, the same charged atmosphere that spawns fledgling start-ups and a generation of rich kids. "It only takes one strike."
The bar is such new territory--like the industry itself--it's still testing its limbs. The liquor boxes are sitting on the bar at the beginning of the night; a laptop modem hooked up for demonstrations can't get a dial tone for a while; and a woman serving drinks from the newly minted bar warns, "Taste it before I leave."
But, as Zarpas said weeks earlier, "somebody has to be the first one."
If Revolution strikes a chord with people, it may sound a death knell for those who treasure their time off. It may be yet more proof that the distinctions we draw between work and life are going the way of the woolly mammoth.
It has already begun to happen. People walk down the street talking business on their cell phones, as if time spent merely walking is wasted. Employees have dinner with their families, then return to work. In Reston and Tysons Corner, go-go entrepreneurs schedule back-to-back meals with clients, the better to maximize "social" opportunities.
"If you're good, you can do two breakfast meetings and two lunch meetings," says Robert Poulin, CEO of Magnet Interactive, an Internet consulting firm. "You can do an 11:30 lunch and a 1:30 lunch."
Evan Burfield, 23, a founder of four-year-old NetDecide, which makes financial-decision support software, says his chief technologist sleeps five nights of the week on a cot at their offices in Fairfax City. On weekends, he goes home to his wife in Valley Lee, in Southern Maryland.
Absolute devotion is a necessary ingredient for success in this field, but it's also a product of the field itself. It's a paradox of the modern age that technology makes it easier for people to work more of the time.
"They're not buying a service," says PSINet sales representative Jim Tran of his clients. "They're buying you as a person."
Revolution is not the only place to attempt this hybrid of entertainment and occupational media. Chamdo, a billiards bar and restaurant, opened last week in a strip mall in Herndon. Chamdo doesn't take the techno approach as far as Revolution--no Web streaming or Web dating. But it, too, is making concessions to this new world.
The owners plan on stocking the bar with wireless modems so those who carry their laptops with them can be online while they enjoy a brew. Chamdo will be open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and after to lure workers whose schedules are bulging and hectic. Its advertising has featured postings to an AOL newsgroup and e-mails.
Whether this approach will work remains to be seen. One night last week, co-owner Tom Turley comes out to talk to some of his new customers, many of whom trouble-shoot glitches for their hardware companies and are on call 24 hours a day.
Turley asks the guys what they think of his bar's plan to offer wireless modems. Wouldn't that help them to feel, so to speak, plugged in?
Not really, says Paul Johnson, who, at 29, makes $90,000 doing Internet security at Broadwing Communications in Reston. "I come to get away from work."
Others echo that thought. When Netheads go out, they just want to party, says Lak Vohra, founder of partydigest.com, an online guide to social events. "They really don't want to go out to a place that reminds them of work."
Another entrepreneur points out that downtown Herndon is hardly a destination. The lack of nightlife in the area could mean the bar will crumble for lack of sister businesses.
But regardless of the fate of these futuristic nightspots, the fact remains that change has sucker-punched Herndon. As tech and tech-related companies have settled around the area like wolves circling their prey, a housing boom has taken off, and the town's population has nearly doubled to 20,000 in 20 years.
The contrast between old and new can be seen most clearly from Jimmy's Old Town Tavern, a good-time sports bar just a few blocks from Revolution that is packed with people who grew up in the area. In Jimmy's, there's a sense of rivalry toward the new crop of people alternately described as "weird" and "pretentious."
"They're opening, like, a yuppie bar," says regular Ray Hull, 37, with a touch of a sneer, when asked about Revolution.
But there may also be a tinge of regret.
Hull, a drywall contractor, studied computers back in 1979. Sometimes now, with the cyclone of technology whirling all around him, he wonders where he would be if he'd stayed in the business.
"I had no idea where computers were going," he says. "I mean, I wish I had."
CAPTION: Co-owner Ed Andrews boots up at the Revolution Coffee Lounge in Herndon while Rebecca Shaw, below, enjoys a glass of wine with her laptop. "You wanna see the virtual Internet?" Andrews says. "Walk in through the front door."
CAPTION: PSINet's Ryan Hall, Tom Bachand, Margaret Schneck at Revolution "lounge."