Gulping his third Bass Ale in smoky Madam's Organ, the blues bar in Adams-Morgan, Kenneth Sullivan felt strangely like Cinderella. The bartender casually mentioned it was 11:50 p.m., and suddenly, Sullivan was chugging beer, slapping cash on the bar and charging up 18th Street toward the Woodley Park Metro station.
As midnight approached, Sullivan joined hundreds across the city who had abandoned their bar stools, left parties early and missed closing credits in movie theaters -- men and women scurrying to catch the last subway home.
"I have to ride the trains. I have no motorcar," said Sullivan, 46, who moved to Washington two weeks ago from New Zealand. "For a civilized place like Washington, it seems too early to terminate your evening at midnight."
As Washington sees a resurgence of life after dark, the night owls -- and restaurants, clubs and theaters -- want later trains. Metro officials will vote tomorrow on whether to extend the weekend closing hour from midnight to 1 a.m. for an eight-month trial period starting Nov. 1.
But some passengers who use the system at the other end of the schedule, the workday commuters, are less certain about the idea. Extending the operating hours will decrease the amount of time available for maintenance of the tracks, and some worry that will strain the entire system.
"I don't think they should do anything that will hurt the daytime service," said Bruce Hunter, 52, a lobbyist from Alexandria who hugged a pole in a crowded Orange Line train to Capitol Hill yesterday morning. A loyal Metro rider since 1982, Hunter said he couldn't remember the last time he found himself on the subway at night.
Talk about the proposal to extend Metro past midnight buzzed through the hot spots Saturday night, from the sleek bar at Cities in Adams-Morgan to the bustling tables of the Cheesecake Factory in Friendship Heights.
"We were just discussing this. We were saying it would be so cool if they extended the hours," said Palak Doshi, 22, one of dozens who rode the last Red Line train Saturday night. Doshi boarded in Friendship Heights and headed for Foggy Bottom, where he is a graduate student at George Washington University. "We always have to leave everywhere by 11:45 p.m. We're cheap college students. We can't afford a cab."
As they strolled from Adams-Morgan to the Dupont Circle Metro station at 11:15 p.m. Saturday, Deron Lovaas, 30, and Beth Charbonneau, 24, argued about whether Lovaas had enough time to pop into a favorite bookstore. "She's saying we can't stop 'cause we'll miss the last train," said Lovaas, who works for the Sierra Club. The Silver Spring couple doesn't own a car. "She's going to win this argument. We can't get stuck. A cab is too expensive."
Ken Zavala, 30, had to bail out of a going-away party for a friend on Capitol Hill so he could catch the last train home to Cleveland Park. "I was the first person to leave the party. Metro is my daily life -- I don't have a car," said Zavala, who was sitting alone in the back of a Red Line car. "If they ran until 1 a.m., it would be really helpful."
Extending service on weekends from midnight to 1 a.m. would cost an additional $2.2 million a year. Because fare-box revenue doesn't cover the cost of service, the three jurisdictions that help subsidize Metro -- Maryland, Virginia and the District -- would have to pay a combined $1.5 million a year to cover the expense. They would also have to pay a one-time capital cost of $1.1 million.
The biggest concern among some Metro officials is whether fewer maintenance hours will hamper everyday service.
"Our highest priority has to be to riders who use our system every day," said John Davey, a Prince George's County representative to the Metro board of directors. "Is this reaching out to new riders at the expense of daily patrons?"
Barry Hennessey, 56, a federal worker from Fairfax who was riding on the Orange Line train, said he doubted there is a need for trains past midnight. "Other than people coming from games, I don't think it would be very crowded," said Hennessey, who takes Metro after Capitals hockey games. "And those games let out 9:30 or 10 p.m. I can't see that there would be a lot of people riding after midnight. I don't think it would be worth the cost."
Metro estimates the extra hour of service would attract 4,600 new riders each weekend night.
Tarek Rizk says he would be among those new riders. Rizk, 25, an Arlington resident, nursed a vodka tonic as he sat with five friends Saturday night in Felix, a restaurant and bar on 18th Street in Adams-Morgan.
Rizk drove to the neighborhood because taking Metro would mean he would have to abandon his Saturday night before the scene hit its stride. "There shouldn't be a last train," said Rizk, who is so passionate about the issue that he called Arlington's representative on the Metro board of directors. "You need to keep it open at least until the bars close."