Without leaving the familiar environs of a strip mall, suburbanites in Northern Virginia will soon be able to fancy themselves dancing all night in one of Europe's most famous entertainment districts.
At Ned Devine's Irish Village, scheduled to open this fall, an old movie theater in Sterling is being transformed into the image of the trendy Temple Bar neighborhood in Dublin. The club features faux cobblestone streets, painted reproductions of popular Irish bar fronts and "intelligent lighting" designed to make people feel as if they really are standing in a courtyard under streetlamps and leafy trees.
The $2 million club will be the latest -- and by far the most ambitious -- in a string of bars that have opened in the past few years to cater to the young professionals who live, work and can, at last, party in the outer suburbs.
In places including Centreville and Gaithersburg, bar owners are tapping into a growing market of young or single people who are looking for nightlife in a landscape dominated by subdivisions and soccer fields.
"High disposable income, nowhere to spend it" -- that's the simple fact that led owner Graham Davies, 55, to the booming suburbs. It worked for his first Ned Devine's, a restaurant and pub in Herndon that opened in 2001 and now has lines out the door for live music on the weekends.
His new club, with its five bars, laser light show and lineup of techno deejays, could bring a heavy dose of entertainment to a part of Virginia where not too long ago many young or single people were grateful for any place other than a chain restaurant to go for a beer without having to drive for an hour.
When LaTanya Melvin, 31, moved to eastern Loudoun County with her girlfriend in 1996, she said there was just not very much to do. They went to the bowling alley, to friends' houses, "anywhere with loud music," she said.
Three years ago, Kirkpatrick's, a neighborhood pub, opened in Ashburn Village Center, finally giving her somewhere to go where she could find other "young cats" around. She said it was "something to feel a part of."
In Loudoun, most of the growth in the young population has been among the underage, because single-family homebuyers with young children have dominated the real estate market. But the number of 20-to-34-year-olds doubled from 24,000 in 1990 to nearly 50,000 in 2004, according to the U.S. Census.
Along the Dulles Corridor into Fairfax County, densely built townhouses and condominiums as well as jobs at such places as MCI Inc. and America Online Inc., have lured thousands of young professionals beyond the Capital Beltway.
"There are a lot of us out here," said Andy McLeod, 24, of Leesburg, who came here from Kansas City to work for an Internet start-up company a few years ago. "We're young, we're successful. We're in our early twenties."
McLeod stopped by the happy hour at Sweetwater Tavern in Sterling on a recent muggy Friday evening, where an outside bar overlooking a man-made lake draws a young crowd of high-tech professionals during the summer.
An overpass away, on the other side of Route 7, 10-cent wings at Bungalow, Billiards and Brew Co. were a popular selling point for 20-somethings who grew up nearby and still live close to home. Fifteen minutes east, Reston Town Center has become a popular nightlife destination with several restaurant-bars. Other watering holes have also sprung up in subdivisions including South Riding and Cascades.
But restless customers at these and other places said they are still hungry for more options.
Ashburn resident Andrew Wallace, 24, an air-traffic controller in Leesburg, said he recently drove to Frederick three times in one week to check out the nightlife there because he was tired of the two bars near his subdivision.
"Gotta do what you gotta do," he said.
Samantha Meyer, 22, also of Ashburn, said she thinks the area needs a lounge, and she complained that there are no nearby places that cater to the under-30 crowd.
"When guys hit on us, they're, like, 40," she said.
Specialized bars and clubs take a long time to find their way to new suburbs because they require a critical mass of customers to support them, said Ed Risse, a Warrenton-based planner who has consulted on planned communities in Northern Virginia, including Fair Lakes and Burke Centre in Fairfax County.
In start-from-scratch residential communities, the national chains are the first to open because they can appeal to a broad clientele. "Almost anybody can wander into a T.G.I. Friday's," Risse said.
Breweries with restaurants and sports bars tend to come next, he said. Once the population has grown large enough, ethnic restaurants and nightclubs begin to appear.
Davies said he gets "tons of e-mails" through his Web site from people who say there are not enough nearby places to go dancing, and he thinks the area is ripe for a nightclub.
The entrepreneur has also invested $1.5 million in a third 8,000-square-foot bar in Centreville, which will open this fall, and he's already talking about potential locations for the next place to expand his business.
He said he's thinking about Leesburg but still considering locations throughout the region. Everywhere except the District.