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Posted at 3:14 PM ET, 11/13/2008

The Fundamentals of the Bar Economy Are Strong

By Fritz Hahn

Economic problems don't seem to be slowing down the nightlife scene. Last week, Muse Lounge made its debut in the old R 'n R/Coyote Ugly space. This weekend, new lounges from the teams behind Marvin and Tattoo will be fighting for your going-out dollars, while the popular vodka bar Russia House is expanding upward.

Russia House is opening a new floor for lounging and vodka shots. (Michael Temchine for The Washington Post)

The biggest buzz is on Midtown, formerly Play, on Connecticut Avenue. It's been closed for weeks as it's been remade, with new furniture and a reconfigured layout that should (hopefully) clear up some of the traffic jams that made Play so difficult to navigate. What will stay the same, says owner Michael Romeo, is the party mix of mashups, hip-hop and house -- oh, and the stripper poles, which are still front and center. "Play was always a party, and I wanted to keep that feeling," he says.

There's no cover charge to get in for Saturday's grand opening, which starts at 10. You can get on the list for free admission by e-mailing Just be aware that you need an even ratio of men to women in your group to get in, and you'll need to dress up.

In a few months, look for its upstairs lounge, Midtown Lofts, which will have an outdoor deck.

The Gibson
The Gibson, which is moving into the old Mad T's Music Box space at 2009 14th St., right next to Marvin, is just what you'd expect from any bar run by Eric Hilton of Marvin and Eighteenth Street Lounge. It doesn't have a sign, but the old-school cocktail bar -- big on dark wood, low on light -- does have plenty of atmosphere. With room for just 48 people at its barstools, in four cabinet-style booths along one wall and at eight tables in the back room, the Gibson is intimate, and staff are going out of their way to make sure it's not overcrowded.

For one thing, no standing will be allowed at the bar, echoing the policy of the nearby Saloon. If no chairs are available, the bar is full, and you're going to have to wait. And you're going to have to wait somewhere else, because there won't be a line outside the front door.

If there's no space for your party when you arrive, you can leave a phone number with the door staff, who will give you a call or a text message when space opens up. Then you'll have to head to Marvin, Saint-Ex or another bar that's not too far away, because once Gibson says your table's ready, you've got up to eight minutes to claim it.

The easiest way to beat this policy is to make a reservation: Half the seats can be reserved every night between 6 and 10. Once you've got the table, it's yours for up to two hours.

Okay, so now that we've handled getting in, you've got one of the city's most interesting cocktail lists waiting, thanks to Derek Brown, formerly of Hummingbird to Mars and Firefly. The London Special Variation, with gin and white port, is a wonderfully smooth combination of flavors, and the Salad Days Sour, essentially a pisco sour with celery-infused pisco, could become one of my favorite drinks in the city after I have a few more.

Russia House
Russia House is taking a simple route to expansion, changing the offices on the third floor of its historic building into more bar and lounge space. Expect the same combination of plush carpet and dark wood as on the floor below, but with more room and some great views down Connecticut Avenue. There's no fanfare for Friday night's opening -- just drop by for a couple shots of chilled vodka with a Baltika chaser. You may even see a Washington Capitals there, as Sergei Federov and Alexander Ovechkin, among others, have been known to drop by after games.

-- Fritz

By Fritz Hahn  | November 13, 2008; 3:14 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs  
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"because once Gibson says your table's ready, you've got up to eight minutes to claim it."

Um, has ANYONE tried to close a tab in this town? It takes at least 10-15 minutes to even get their attention if the bar's crowded! Can you send part of your party over to claim it? Prob. not, restaurants have that asinine "can't seat you unless everyone in your party's here" rule...

Posted by: sigmagrrl | November 14, 2008 10:54 AM | Report abuse

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