Where: 1353 H St., NE
When: Every Friday evening. First 40 to sign up play. Sign-ups start at 6 p.m. Game starts at 8 p.m.
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In the months since my 21st birthday, H Street corridor has emerged as my favorite scene in the District. There’s something for everyone: tasty food, great music venues, legitimate, pre-gentrified hipster cred – if you’re into that sort of thing – and some of the coolest and most innovative bars in the city. Still, it’s rare that I see another group of GW kids along H Street. It may be a little far for some of you – the closest Metro stop is Union Station, after which you may want to grab a cab or, God forbid, walk. But if you put in the effort, H Street is sure to provide some of the most fun nights you’ll have in college.
Every Friday night, H Street staple Rock N Roll Hotel hosts a “Spelling Buzz” from 8 to 10 p.m. As a lover of drinking games, and one of The Hatchet’s best spellers, I decided to try it out this weekend with a few friends. Worst case scenario: I would have a couple drinks, get knocked out early and go hit a few other bars. Best case scenario: I could win the first prize – a $60 bar tab – and bragging rights for the rest of the night.
The setup had all the familiar trappings of a classic, grade school spelling bee. Contestants sat in rows of chairs and approached a podium with a microphone when it was their turn to spell. But there’s a catch: Contestants must have a drink in hand at all times, and the emcee, or whoever is spelling at the podium, may order competitors to drink at any time. It’s sort of like what the Scripps National Spelling Bee would be if the 12-year-old Indian kids were hammered, rowdy adults.
The master of ceremonies, a man by the name of King Baby Shoes, carried himself like a less flamboyant Cee-Lo Green, exchanging good-natured barbs with the contestants. The words in the first round, he reminded us, were from the sixth-grade spelling list. Still, of the 30 or so competitors, about half were cut in the first round, flubbing words like “refrigerator,” “hyphen” and “chauffeur.” When it was my turn, he made fun of the fact that I had unbuttoned my shirt to show a little chest hair. I laughed and correctly spelled my first round word, “indictment.” Not everyone took the game so lightly, however. The first girl to be eliminated – after butchering the word “barrette” – proceeded to curse Baby Shoes out for the next half hour. He had more than enough in his arsenal to deal with her, but after a while, even her friends got tired of her antics. I came to understand that in any public drinking event, you’re going to get your share of douchebags, but, for the most part, the atmosphere during the game was more collegial than collegiate. Friends and strangers alike rooted each other on.
The next round got a little tougher, partly because we had moved up in word difficulty, and partly because we had been drinking pretty steadily. With PBR tallboys at $4 a pop, only feelings get hurt at the spelling buzz – not wallets. When my friend went out on “poinsettia” she was absolutely furious. This is a unique quality of one-and-done spelling bees. There is something maddening about the fact that no two words are the same. You correctly whisper the spellings of the five preceding words into your friend’s ear, only to screw up when you get to the podium. “Capoeira?” one may say, “But she got ‘bizarre!’ How is that fair?” Needless to say, my friend will never misspell “poinsettia” ever again. Luckily, I conjured the second “n” in “legionnaire” and skated through to the advanced round.
By the final round, I felt a real camaraderie – incidentally, a first-round word that someone missed – with my competitors. Most everyone there had already bested his or her friends who were made to wait by the bar. Everyone here was winner in spirit. Which was a good consolation, because the final round was a bloodbath. Foreign word after foreign word dispatched the spellers. My friend lost on “babiche,” a type of American Indian lacing. I went out on “alette,” incorrectly pronounced “elite” by the King, but hey, who’s keeping track? It’s an architectural term for a supporting post or arch, or the wing of a building. The second-place finisher missed “sarsaparilla,” while the winner correctly spelled “saccharin.” After the winner was announced we headed out to H Street – drunk, happy, a little smarter and hungry to come back and win that bar tab. If nothing else, I’ll know how to spell “alette” the next time I see one.