Students pack local bars

Junior Adam Levine throw a party at The Exchange Saloon, they know what attracts students to the 17th and G streets bar – location, location, location.

“(The Exchange) is an ideal bar for GW students. It’s very close to campus so when people go out they don’t have to walk very far,” Levine said.

With two Foggy Bottom bars recently opening their doors to the under-21 crowd, students are taking advantage of a vibrant social scene within a few blocks of campus.

The Exchange, along with Karma, cater to GW’s underage population, allowing patrons who haven’t hit the legal drinking age of 21 to party with an older crowd. By welcoming students 18 and older, these venues stand to earn more revenue from the steady stream of nearby college bar hoppers.

The Exchange, which opened in 1973 and began admitting underage patrons in September 2004, has become a staple of GW’s nightlife. Bar owner Jim Nicopoulos said he frequently rents out The Exchange to Greek-letter groups and student organizations throwing private parties.

With lines of people waiting to get inside the bar on most weekends, Nicopoulos said he doesn’t mind the large crowds that The Exchange attracts. He describes his slightly younger clientele as a “good wave of kids.”

“They just want a place to socialize,” he said.

Sophomore Jimmy Simmons said he goes to The Exchange because “it’s that sleazy bar that everyone likes.”

Nicopoulos said that his team of bouncers ensures no underage drinking takes place, though students under 21 find ways to drink at the G Street bar, just as they do at most other nightspots. The Exchange bouncers check identifications at the door, giving wristbands to patrons over 21.

Only those with the tags are able to purchase alcohol once inside the club, but underage students often use fake IDs to get one of the coveted bracelets. In January, a freshman claimed he was abducted at gunpoint after a night of drinking at The Exchange.

“Everyone uses the crappiest fake IDs there,” said a 20-year-old sophomore who requested anonymity.

Like The Exchange, Karma, located at 19th and I streets, is also attracting more students. A coffee shop and restaurant by day, Karma turns into a bar at night, hosting a popular happy hour for nearby World Bank employees and private parties for students.

Karma owner Elmira Djavadkhani said she has encouraged student patronage by hosting an open house for the social chairs of GW’s fraternities and sororities at the beginning of the semester.

“(Karma) is a cool place that’s close to campus,” sophomore Dave Hoss said.

While bars can open their doors to customers under 21, the establishment must take necessary precautions to ensure there is no underage drinking taking place, said Jeff Coudriet, director of operations for the city’s Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration.

“Anywhere in D.C. where a liquor license is being used, our inspectors are allowed in to investigate, no matter if it’s a public or private event,” he said.

Coudriet added that the bars near GW’s campus don’t have a higher incidence of underage drinking than other establishments around the city. In the last two years, neither The Exchange nor Karma have been shut down for underage drinking, city records show.

“Some places are really religious about (preventing underage drinking) and some places just don’t do a good job,” Coudriet said.

Some Foggy Bottom bars do not always cater to the younger set of college students. Marshall’s Bar and Grille owner Tarek Moukalled said that while he sometimes allows students to rent out his space for a private party, he shies away from welcoming anyone younger than 21.

Moukalled said the few times this semester he allowed a fraternity or birthday party to bring underage students to his establishment, the younger customers became a headache for his staff. He said bouncers have to watch the bathrooms to make sure bracelets are not traded and drinks are not shared.

“I push not to have an underage crowd,” said the proprietor of the bar, located at 25th and L streets. “The risks (of underage drinking) outweigh the profit.”

-Michael Barnett and Marissa Levy contributed to this report.

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