D.C. may never be Las Vegas. But with the late-night charms of H Street, U Street and Logan Circle, the District could at least compete for visitors looking to have a good time.
That’s the idea behind a series of racy ads that Destination D.C. launched this week. The private, nonprofit tourism organization hopes the provocative month-long campaign, appropriately titled “Get a Room,” will spice up the District’s stodgy image and convince mid-Atlantic travelers that — oh, yeah — the city has developed quite a bit of nightlife in the past 10 years.
“People think of D.C. as a more conservative destination,” said Elliot Ferguson, chief executive of Destination D.C., which has a membership of 850 businesses and organizations. “But if you live here, you know that’s not true.”
The District has seen something of a nightlife renaissance in the past decade. Twice as many people live downtown now as in 1990. Between 2007 and 2011, the city gained 68 restaurants and 74 taverns. And areas like H Street, Petworth and Bloomingdale have overcome reputations for being places to avoid at night, adding thousands of apartments and plenty of lauded evening hangouts, like Toki Underground and Biergarten Haus, just in the past two years.
This year, Washington’s “vibrant, independent food scene” even earned the city a spot on the New York Times’s “Places to Go” list.
“It’s a really dynamic scene right now,” said Kyle Rees, a spokesman for the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. “There’s a strong energy here.”
Rees, who grew up in McLean, recalls his parents’ muted horror when he went into the city for shows at the 9:30 Club 10 years ago. Since then, the area within a block of the club has added Satellite Room, an upscale diner, and Brixton, a candle-lit bar serving $12 cocktails.
In fact, so many restaurants and bars have grown up in the U Street Corridor that two neighborhood groups recently filed petitions with the city, asking it to freeze further liquor licenses there.
Ferguson thinks tourists will flock to the District for those things, even though cities like Baltimore and Philadelphia are within competition range. The ads will run in major roadtrip-distance markets along the East Coast, including Richmond, Boston and New York.
A Web site of date-night deals — most developed with the daily deal site LivingSocial, and some being rather salacious — accompanies the campaign. (LivingSocial Chief Executive Officer Tim O’Shaughnessy is the son-in-law of Washington Post Co. Chairman Donald Graham, and some of the ads will run in the Washington Post magazine.)
“If you asked someone from another area whether D.C. was a hip destination, they’d probably answer no,” Ferguson said.
“But I think we can compete with larger cities.”