The first time you walk by Woodrow Wilson Plaza and hear Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” cut into the chorus of Nelly’s “Hot in Herre,” the experience can be a bit alarming. Not that it’s unusual to see a line of 20-somethings stretch across half a vital city block, but in D.C., they’re usually not so easily characterized as trendy, not to mention scantily clad.
Introduce yourself to Air – perhaps the city’s most unique weekly summer clubbing event. Every Friday and Saturday night, the club replaces what was once a high-traffic downtown courtyard belonging to the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. After getting off to a late start, the club has had a busy second year. It will continue as long as weather permits (which, last year was through the first week of October).
Conspicuous landmarks include temporary bar carts, brightly illuminated tents and a large projection of the club name onto the largest government building in D.C. Due to homeland security precautions, guests must pass through some uncommon security before entering the club, which can get your night off to a somewhat awkward start. But despite the authorities, makeshift construction and sparse contribution to aesthetics (namely, a few colored lights), once you’re inside, the club feels remarkably posh and refreshing.
That is, barring any unpleasant weather. While the outdoor venue has attracted patrons with its simplest components, “music, moonlight and mingling,” the obvious tradeoff is that for every night of starlight and cool breezes, you run the risk of excessive heat and humidity. On a sticky 90-degree night, standing in the outrageous 30-minute bar lines can dampen your entire experience, making you look and feel like you’ve already spent all night out on the dance floor. For Air patrons, air-conditioned refuges are severely limited, making the event largely climate-controlled.
Now, the funny thing about bathrooms is that in general it’s rare to encounter a facility that really makes your night, but all too often a facility or facility-related incident can soil your entire experience. For those with bladder issues, I can definitely see how the latter could be the case at Air. Unlike last year, you no longer have to cross a metal detector to reach the promised land. But before you can think about doing any sort of business, you do have to walk through a series of excessively crowded and cumbersome hallways and staircases, filled with harsh lighting and projectile beverages. By the end of the night, you will definitely know you’re in the largest building in D.C., so watch when you break the seal.
While we’re on the subject of introductions, say hello to some key players at Air: DJs who suffer from incredibly short attention spans. Trailing away from its signature Friday hip-hop night (and patron base) the club has recruited local and New York turntablists whose desire to spin seems suspiciously tourette-induced, with cuts often lasting no longer than the time it takes to identify each song. And while the music is disturbingly hiccupy toward the beginning of the night, the club’s pledge to play a bizarre hybrid of Eurodance, world, house and 80s amounts to no more than a slurring sing-a-long by the end.
As your visit draws to a close, it may be satisfying to lounge and reflect on the magnificent spectacle of fashion and dance that was once downtown D.C. However I would recommend you try not to outlast the exodus of the dance floor. Taking the obvious stampede-element aside, Air patrons are not intimidated by the club’s high-priced drinks. And I’ll let you do the math, but it has been my experience that when a drinker’s body settles after excessive motion, the number of drinks they’ve had begins to settle as well. Add this with the reality that we are more likely to puke outside than in someone else’s house, and well, let’s just say it’s not always a pretty picture.