We all know the knocks against the Washington Wizards: They may be the most watchable pro sports team in the area, thanks to John Wall, Bradley Beal and Paul Pierce, but you never see anyone wearing their gear around town and no one goes the games.
But tell that to the dozens of fans who gathered at Lou’s City Bar in Columbia Heights earlier this month, proudly wearing Bullets hats and Wizards jerseys. Every television showed the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder and District native Kevin Durant, with full sound coming from the speakers. Each table held a mix of red, white and blue Mardi Gras beads and Kevin Durant masks. (The party celebrated the #KD2DC movement, which wants to bring Durant “home” to Washington when he becomes a free agent in 2016.) Someone carried a “J-Wall MVP” sign; others waved giant cutouts of the point guard’s head.
That atmosphere is what season-ticket holder Chris Ford was hoping for when he created the Wizards Fan Happy Hour group on Meetup last November, in an effort to gather season-ticket holders together before heading to games at Verizon Center.
“Season-ticket holders are the people who are going to be at every game,” says Ford, who has had tickets for eight years. “I thought it would be cool if all the season-ticket holders became friends. If you go out with friends who aren’t Wizards fans, it can be hard to talk about the team. This leads to better conversations.”
Ford is a die-hard fan — one who sat through the Gilbert Arenas years, and the seasons when the Wizards finished dead last in the Southeast Division. But recently, the 32-year-old marketing director hadn’t been going to games as often. To motivate himself to make it to Verizon Center from his home in Northern Virginia, he began to plan pregame happy hours and postgame drinks at Clyde’s. The agenda quickly expanded to also include viewing parties for key games when the Wizards are out of town — usually on weekends, when more fans can attend.
Happy hour crowds before Wizards home games can be hit-or-miss, Ford says, since some people head to the game straight from work and others don’t go to every game. There is a core group of eight to 10 people, with others floating in and out depending on the night. The biggest attendance actually comes when the Wizards are out of town; this could be because Ford tries to mix up locations for viewing parties, holding them in Fairfax, Arlington and Columbia Heights.
Saturday night, when the Wizards visit the Brooklyn Nets, the Wizards Fan Happy Hour will become a “Bar-Sketball Crawl” through Penn Quarter, switching locations after every quarter. The party starts at Penn Social at 7 p.m. with a Pop-A-Shot basketball tournament before the game tips off at 8. The action will move to Iron Horse for the second quarter, Rocket Bar at halftime, and finally Jackpot for the fourth quarter. Each stop will feature contests and games, including a “Nerf basketball 3-point shootout” and prizes for the “best hipstery jersey.” There’s no charge to participate, and all beers can be purchased a la carte.
Bar-hopping is an important part of the happy hour ethos: “Part of the group idea was to hit every bar in the area” around Verizon Center, Ford says. “I know people get stuck in the box.” So far they’ve sampled drinks at Flight Wine Bar, hit Hill Country for barbecue, and consumed craft beers at Iron Horse during a “Boo LeBron” happy hour before the Cavaliers visited in November.
For 23-year-old Nick Palastro, the chance to hang out with fellow fans is the biggest draw. “It’s fun to take over a bar where most of the people there are there for one reason, to watch the Wizards,” he says. Palastro doesn’t have season tickets, but the graphic designer from Springfield goes to six to eight games a year. Although he enjoys meeting new people and talking about the team before heading to Verizon Center: “I’d definitely say it’s more fun to go to a small happy hour event or viewing parties while the team is on the road. Everyone who goes is pretty knowledgeable about the NBA and the Wizards, versus it just being something people ‘do,’ like a lot of big events in D.C. sometimes are.”
Ford tries to offer more than just drinks at his happy hours, running raffles for T-shirts or signed pictures of Beal or Kris Humphries and giving out dozens of cut-out cardboard masks that make for amusing photos.
“I think my favorite part of the happy hours is just seeing other young fans,” says 31-year-old Gary Shivers of Sterling, a Wizards season-ticket holder. The extended happy hours, such as a recent one with $5 craft beer at Penn Commons and “Shut Up, [Joakim] Noah” masks, are also a draw, Shivers says. “It was crowded, but enjoyable.”
If you go:
On Friday at 6 p.m., the Wizards Fan Happy Hour is at City Tap House, 901 Ninth St. NW. The group will walk to Verizon Center to watch the Wizards play the Brooklyn Nets.
Saturday’s bar crawl begins at 7 p.m. at Penn Social, 801 E St. NW. 202-697-4900. www.pennsocialdc.com.
Wednesday, before the Wizards play the Oklahoma City Thunder, fans can gather at Penn Commons, 700 Sixth St. NW., for another #KD2DC party featuring Kevin Durant masks, decorations and a video confession booth. Find the Wizards Fan Happy Hour group and pick up a wristband good for happy hour specials until 8 p.m.