The collection of shot glasses in front of LaKiesha Arrington and Antoinette Ware is growing.
The friends have been throwing back a couple with Alap Butala, who started out a few stools over at the bar at Ted’s Bulletin on 14th Street NW, but soon scooted closer for company.
They have something in common, this physician-turned-restaurant-investor and these two glamazons in tank tops, with nails painted in neon hues and half-sleeve tattoos blazing.
It’s 2 p.m. on a Tuesday, and “this,” explains Arrington, “is brunch.”
And what are they drinking? “Lemon dro —,” she starts, but Butala jumps in: “Too much.”
For decades, the District has been a 9-to-5, 40-hour-week town. Scheduled around the government workday, dressed by Ann Taylor.
But scan the street from your seat on the Circulator on a weekday morning lately, and a new vision whizzes past: At 11 a.m., 14th Street is crawling with men walking their English bulldogs and women in sports bras and printed leggings on long, sweaty runs. At 2 p.m. Friday, a crowd spills out of the oyster bar Pearl Dive and onto the patio. It’s the restaurant’s Friday brunch crowd.
In Bloomingdale and Shaw, legions now plug in their laptops at new coffee shops, which are ideal places to take frequent breaks for Americanos or a little conversation. In Chinatown, part of the city’s designated tech corridor, they dip out of their co-working spaces for a little midday Momofuku. Because why not?
And at Ted’s, there are these three, living out the lyrics to that club hit by rapper ILoveMakonnen, and, as Ware describes it, “going up, on a Tuesday.”
Everywhere you look, there’s something San Franciscan playing out, all these people living the leisurely life of the flexibly scheduled.
Envy clouds our perspective. It makes us want to explain away the cafes packed at noon with Warby Parker-wearing millennials and the slim, tanned people lingering on the street after a 4:30 p.m. spin class.
But the city is suddenly swimming with residents who go swimming in the middle of the day, and it’s because of this truth: We’re no longer just a government town.
According to data from the District’s office of planning and economic development, private-sector jobs, with their flexible schedules and telecommuting benefits, are growing rapidly, up 11 percent between 2011 and 2015.
The District is also home to more than 1,000 start-ups; creative-class guru Richard Florida has ranked Washington a top-10 tech city, a magnet for venture capital. The number of co-working spaces, where making your own hours is the norm, is now 55 (and growing). Even the government has finally embraced the AWS — that’s Fed-speak for “alternative work schedule” — allowing its poor, vitamin-D-deficient workers to finally venture outdoors from time to time.
The life we’re adopting is one that restaurant servers, bartenders and managers have long enjoyed; many don’t clock in until 4 p.m. As the local restaurant scene explodes — the District had more than 2,100 food-service and drinking establishments as of 2014, up 29 percent from a decade earlier — there are more of these folks, too.
We remain perennially Fed, of course. But the city’s transformations over the past decade have spawned a spate of curious new career paths, too.
Now, Washingtonians are also brewers. Urban farmers. Professional kombucha producers. Medical aestheticians, earning a living smoothing out the furrows in the brows of all those spin-class-goers. Owners of various businesses, from blow-dry bars to twee shops filled with sundries. And, like Butala, the restaurant investor hanging out at Ted’s, they are seekers.
“Some people are happy with their lives, and how they’re respected [at work] and what they’ve achieved. That’s enough for them,” Butala says. “If you just want money and stuff like that, that’s fine. But sometimes, you get to a point where you’re like, ‘What am I going to do for me?’ ”
Ware, a recent law-school graduate who’s waiting tables while she plots her next move, has been wondering the same.
“I’ve worked in a courthouse — the D.C. Superior Court courthouse,” she says. “I did that for five years, and I was like, I am going to die here.”
If there’s one place that distills all the change, it’s Union Market, the hip industrial space hawking Korean tacos, shade-grown coffees, ice-cream from Amish country, and meats in Northeast. It opened in 2012 and was initially open just a few days a week, says Jennifer Maguire Isham, director of brand and strategy for Edens, which operates the market. As interest grew, it began opening on Tuesdays, and now, a few minutes after 11 a.m., it’s humming with activity. “It used to be that 89 percent of our traffic happened on the weekends. Now, that’s fallen to 70 percent,” Isham said.
Among the visitors on a weekday morning is Simone Herbert, who’s toting along her bright-eyed, 3-year-old son, Rich. “There are more places to sit outside, more places to eat, more places for entertainment,” she says. More places like the arepa stand where she’s picking up lunch, and more people like her, a commercial baker who works from her Petworth home.
Nearby is Thomas Wheet, who has somehow lucked into a job he describes as “sales evangelist for an aquaponic vertical farm.” It’s a career that allows the 23-year-old to prop open his laptop at any patio or coffee shop and makeshift an office.
He has worked day jobs, desk jobs, job-jobs. “Yeah. Terrible,” he deadpanned, unconcerned that the lack of air-conditioning means that his distressed gray V-neck T-shirt is growing damp in the midday heat. “I knew I wanted a job like this, where I can chill out and do my own thing. My whole generation is moving toward things like this.”
It’s men of his generation who will roll at all hours into Wise Owl Club, a slick, neo-retro barbershop in Adams Morgan where a half-dozen stylists account for what seems like 300 tattoos. Although it’s 3 p.m. on a weekday, every available chair is filled with some sleek young man having his undercut shaped up, the buzz of clippers rising above the rhythmic whomp of Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean. The wait is 45 minutes.
“Make sure you leave like two hours,” a friend warned Owen Bitas before his first visit to Wise Owl. This is totally doable for Bitas, who’s a salesman for a Northern Virginia craft brewer, a career track that didn’t exist 10 years ago because we didn’t have local brewers. And when he’s not there, he’s a coach at a CrossFit gym, where, he says, “a ton of people” now drop by at midday to get in their spider lunges.
About three dozen people are also spinning it out to Beyoncé in the 4:30 p.m. Wednesday class at Flywheel in Dupont Circle.
“How are you not at work?” a reporter attempts to politely inquire as a young woman packs up after class, which has ended at an hour when most Washingtonians are just beginning to consider leaving their offices.
She assures the reporter that she and her friend do indeed toil, like the rest of us. “We work for a virtual organization,” she says with a smile, shutting the locker and heading out the door, into the sunshine.