There are ways to juice this city, and tonight it's my orange.
It's 6 o'clock on a Wednesday night, and College Park is a ghost town. The few bars along Route 1 aren't crowded, and with only summer-session students around, the collegiate feel is almost imperceptible. But I'm not in search of the cheap beer or high-fiving of a Saturday night, I'm searching for something much cooler, much more refined -- bowling!
That's right -- bowling. I've passed the AMF College Park Lanes many times, but never ventured inside. I go in, 20 bucks in hand, to knock some pins. Games are $4.25 per person, but there's a problem: Shoe rental will run me an additional $4.65, more than a quarter of my entertainment budget. Unbeknownst to us, Wednesday is duckpin league night, so my buddy and I are lucky to get the last lane in the house. I figure the lane farthest from the cashier is perfect since I have a plan. We walk over and set down our bags.
"I'm not renting shoes," I say. "We can bowl in our socks."
We make it three frames before the stares and whispers become too much. The last thing I want is to be the guy who was thrown out of the bowling alley. I reluctantly fork over the cash, and even though the duckpin balls and pins are smaller, I bowl a respectable 69. In all, one game -- with shoes -- cost about $9.
We leave the bowling alley headed to Ikea, one of the best-kept secrets in College Park. Secret in terms of being a dining destination, that is. Sure, the store is known for its great deals on furniture, but Ikea also has the best frozen yogurt this side of the Mason-Dixon line. (Disclaimer: I do not know this to be literally true, but it is really good.) A little taste of sunshine in a cake cone for only $1.
It has long been rumored among my friends that U Street's Love Cafe gives out free chocolate on Wednesdays from 5 to 9. So much for rumors. We get there and discover that the club's "Chocolate Happy Hour" denotes a cupcake special, $2.50 a pop!
We leave sulking and head to Atomic Billiards in Cleveland Park to play -- get this -- Uno. And then we play checkers and darts, all for free (they also have Yahtzee, backgammon, Connect Four, chess, Battleship, Sorry! and playing cards). The vibe was refreshingly unpretentious. Let's face it, most bars scoff when you ask for water. I played three songs for $1 on the jukebox, and left when someone started a continuous heavy metal mix.
Outside, the nighttime cityscape is a broken Etch-A-Sketch, kind of spotty in places but easy to see. We drive through Dupont Circle, and the bars look like fireflies in a glass jar through the windshield of my Camry. And I've still got $9 to get me through the rest of my night.
We shoot down to Cafe Saint-Ex near Logan Circle to nod our heads to the beat. (Its atmosphere is a tad too rarefied for actual dancing.) The cafe's music -- Britpop, hip-hop, eclectic -- is usually enjoyable, but tonight the DJ is spinning tunes that are way too cool for us. More to the point, I'm hungry.
Apart from that cone of sunshine, I haven't eaten anything all day, and my stomach is scratching my back. We decide that Georgetown's Quick Pita -- with that rare combination of late hours and good food -- is the only place that can solve this problem. I get a chicken gyro and fries and gobble them both. It cost $7.
On the ride home with a couple of dollars worth of change in my pocket, I figure I'll stop at the 24-hour Laundromat in College Park and get in a few games of Tekken Tag Tournament before I call it a night. I had a blast. . . . And I can't stop thinking about that ad campaign, the one that goes:
Bowling -- with shoes: $9.
Soft frozen yogurt: $1.
Three songs on the jukebox: $1.
Chicken gyro and fries: $7.
Four arcade games: $2.
A night out with a friend for less than $20: priceless.
AMF COLLEGE PARK LANES -- 9021 Baltimore Blvd., College Park. 301-474-8282. collegeparklanes.amfcenters.com/default.cfm.
IKEA -- 10100 Baltimore Ave., College Park. 301-345-6552. www.ikea.com.
LOVE CAFE -- 1501 U St. NW. 202-265-9800. www.cakelove.com.
ATOMIC BILLIARDS -- 3427 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-363-7665. www.atomicbilliards.com.
CAFE SAINT-EX -- 1847 14th St. NW. 202-265-7839. www.saint-ex.com.
QUICK PITA -- 1210 Potomac St. NW. 202-338-7482.
Stephen A. Crockett Jr. is a world-class spender; in his spare time, he window shops on the Internet.