Planning a great block party isn't as daunting as it seems.
The first step -- figuring out a date -- may be the hardest part. Most neighborhoods choose a weekend day in June, before kids ship off to camp and families leave for vacation, or in late August or early September, when they've returned.
Once that's set, contact your county department of transportation (in the District, it's the Emergency Management Agency) for a permit to temporarily close the street. You can expect to pay a small fee -- around $15. In most counties you'll also need to provide proof of your neighbors' agreement. The District requires signatures from 90 percent of block residents; Arlington and Alexandria want 100 percent.
Fliers are the easiest way to publicize the party and detail what to bring. Most include a suggested donation to help cover the cost of cups, plates, burgers and buns.
Next, you'll need to make arrangement for barricades. These are often provided by the department of public works or, if not, can be rented from a construction company.
On your application, you'll be asked if there will be amplified music (which, if loud, may violate local noise regulations) and if you're planning to serve alcohol. Here's the rub: Although alcohol is ubiquitous at block parties, drinking in public spaces is prohibited in Virginia, Maryland and the District. Technically, if you want to serve it, you're required to have a special permit that can cost upwards of $400. Some counties also stipulate that no tables or grills may be set up in the street -- a safety provision in case emergency vehicles need to get through.
But, says Arlington police spokesman Matt Martin, though he doesn't condone it, "my gut tells me that if everyone on the block agrees and a couple of people pull a table out in the street and a couple of adults cross over into the street with a beer and there's nothing else being done wrong, I don't think anyone's going to worry about it too much."
In fact, many block parties invite local police and firefighters to join the festivities.
"They just schedule it and say, 'Come on by' and we let the kids crawl all over the fire truck and ask questions," said Paul Frank, an Arlington fireman seen noshing on an Italian sausage at the block party on North Illinois Street in Arlington two weekends ago. In return, he said, "they're nice enough to feed us."
Among block party veterans, bring-your-own is the recommended way to go. Then, the onus for providing food and drink doesn't fall to one person. Wholesale shoppers clubs are a good bet for paper plates and cups.
And if something's missing?
Said Georgetown's Maureen Murphy, whose Hillendale block has thrown a party for 14 years: "Everybody lives on the street -- if they need something, they can walk over to their house."