How People Party in DC (and Why You Can’t Hang)
I was walking from my office, about two blocks from the White House, to a nearby bar for a happy hour, when I heard a tourist say to her husband, “Want to stop in for a drink?”
“It’s five o’clock somewhere!” he said.
I thought, It’s five o’clock here, you fucking chode. I knew instantly, of course, that he did not live in DC. Residents of the Capital of the Most Powerful Nation on Earth — as Americans call it when they’re trying to flex nuts — do not feel any hesitation towards drinking at any specific time of the day. Certainly not at five o’clock on a Monday. Christ, can you imagine trying to run this country sober? It boggles the mind.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the gears of democracy in Washington, DC, are lubricated with alcohol. We are the ninth drunkest city in the country, with our residents drinking 15.6 alcoholic beverages per month on average, and with 20.1% of our adult population being classified as binge drinkers. Who the other 79.9% are, I don’t know, because I’ve never met a single one of them. In terms of alcohol abuse, we’re the worst in the country, with 8.1% of our population over the age of 26 considered alcohol dependent, and we also rank high in marijuana and cocaine abuse, though I have less experience in both of those categories. (The reasons being that brownies are delicious enough already, and, on principle, I never snort anything that’s been smuggled into the country in a condom up a drug mule’s asshole. Respectively.)
There are some rules and quirks to partying in DC, though, that you should know before you go out in the Capital of the Most Powerful Nation on Earth.
No one cares about you.
Virtually everyone you meet in DC will lament the fact that, when you meet someone new, they will ask you what you do for a living before they ask you any more intimate details about yourself, like, “Where are you from?” or “What is your opinion on the cancellation of Legends of the Hidden Temple?” Because no one is actually interested in you in DC. They are interested in what you can do for them, and they are interested in your access to power. Who do you know? Who do you work for? Can I gain professionally from knowing you, or, in a pinch, can I take you into that broom closet and fuck you? No? Okay, who do you work for?
If you don’t do anything “important” (a.k.a. work in the service industry / just got out of the Peace Corps and are looking for world-changing jobs at nonprofits), prepare for your new friend to give you two minutes of polite nods, followed by an excuse to replenish their appetizer plate over at the buffet where Harry Reid’s Communications Director is standing.
This isn’t to say you can’t have fun with these people — it’s just that, in order to have fun, you may need to lie about every element of your existence. Important people get to have a lot of fun in DC.
You can never leave your job.
Part of the reason DC partiers are so interested in “networking” is that most people are in DC for their careers. DC is an anomaly in that it has almost no working class — there’s no industry here. People either belong to the political class, or the service sector that supports it (problematically, a lot of the divide is along racial lines). In my experience, the two rarely mix, which means I’m generally not dealing with service sector people unless they’re bartenders. I’m almost entirely meeting the political class. And virtually none of them are originally from DC, and they’re all here for their careers.
This means that, if you’re in the political class, you basically are your job. It’s your reason for being in the city in the first place, and you certainly don’t plan on putting down roots here, so your social life becomes a professional function. Hence the constant networking. While, to the outsider, this sounds like a super exhausting drag, it’s actually kind of great — you can justify drinking at any given moment as an invaluable “professional development.”
This, of course, means that DC is the best place on the planet to eat the most pretentious meal of the day: brunch. And while we can’t claim that we have the best happy hours — our fellow capital city London wins that distinction — we can claim that we’ve murdered the cliche, “It’s five o’clock somewhere,” and have replaced it with our preferred, “It’s noon here, bitch.”
You won’t ever leave your neighborhood.
Because DC is made up of little pockets of totally different people — congressional staffers clustered around Capitol Hill, lobbyists hanging out up on K Street, college students and the obscenely rich on the streets of Georgetown, hipsters and do-gooders in the slowly gentrifying fringes of Columbia Heights and H Street — the neighborhoods tend to be pretty balkanized. Matters aren’t helped by the incredibly bad DC Metro system — seriously, as of my writing this, #unsuckDCmetro is trending on Twitter — which makes it an expensive chore to get from one side of the city to another.
For the visitor, though, this is awesome, because you just have to travel a few blocks to find a totally new scene. Because of this diversity, DC has everything you need. Are you, say, a Cincinnati Bengals fan who wants to watch the game at a bar, eat Cincinnati chili, and boo Steelers fans if they dare to walk in the door? There’s a bar for you — and for every other team of every other sport imaginable. Do you like science, and wish it were more frequently incorporated into your drinking? There’s a bar here that does shit like egg-dropping contests. Do you want a bar that celebrates both your Irish and Jewish heritage? There’s a bar for you. Are you a fan of insanely good music? There’s a legendary concert venue for you. Do you enjoy spending time with incredibly horrible people at clubs? (I always assume that the clubs here are packed with lobbyists. It seems like the Venn Diagram of “lobbyists,” “clubbers,” and “horrible people,” would be a pretty smooth circle.) There are far too many clubs for you.
Point is, you can go to any party you want in DC, as long as you have the cab fare. You just gotta know who you work for.
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