Monday, July 13, 2015

Washington Social Diary: Summer Fun

The BEACH has something for everyone, plus no sunburn and no (real) sharks.
by Carol Joynt

Face it — in the summer social life takes a holiday, as it should. We need a break from it, and it needs a break from us. Nothing of any consequence happens in the city until, say, at some point in October, because September feels like summer and, well, we all skid on our heels, begrudgingly, back into the rituals of black tie and ballgowns, wanting flip-flops, shorts and summer dresses to last till the spring.

I’m here today to happily serve up some summer fun of the completely different variety, as we arrive at the mid-point of the kick-back season. How about getting lost in a sea of plastic balls or hanging out with cats in their own café? Both are at hand in Washington.
The  BEACH is a 10,000 square foot installation inside the National Building Museum, where in summer's past they've had a maze and a kind of high tech/pop culture miniature golf.
City’s, the good ones, take pride in offering ways for residents and visitors to find summer fun without having to trek to the beach or mountains, or in addition to those pursuits. There are public swimming pools and parks, of course, and golf courses, and screens that look like moon bounces where films are run on summer evenings, usually gems and classics — including on a city street in Bethesda, MD, where this week they’re showing a gem, “Sixteen Candles.”

The National Building Museum, apparently never at a loss for a good idea, has outdone itself this summer by creating an especially clever, goofy and fun “beach” experience right inside its mammoth space.
According to the NBM, "The BEACH is contained within an enclosure and built out of construction materials such as scaffolding, wooden panels, and perforated mesh."
Created in partnership with the innovative Brooklyn-based Snarkitecture (if only it could have been “Sharkitecture” for this one project) the “BEACH” is a 10,000 square foot installation of recyclable translucent plastic balls. It’s all white, on white, on white, including the walls that contain the balls, the beach chairs and umbrellas that border the “shoreline” and the white artificial turf that serves as sand, and a long pier, and “off shore” swim platform.

The most important part: it is a memorable good time.

This past Wednesday was the first day of evening hours, called BEACH Late Nights, which will continue each Wednesday until the balls go home after Labor Day. Typically the NBM closes at 5, but on Wednesdays it will remain open until 9, with food and cocktails for sale at a “beach concession” run by food incubator Union Kitchen. This past Wednesday they also had a beach band, “Shark Week.”
Of course, beach rules.
Beach attire is very welcomed at the BEACH.
Leave your shoes on "shore."
I coerced a neighbor, Judy Leon, to go with me, not giving too much information about what was in store, since I didn’t really know myself. But from the moment we entered the Museum our ears were tuned in to the sounds of frolic, just as with arriving on the beach, though with perfect weather, no wind blowing sand in our faces and no hot sand to have to dance over to get to cool stretches.

Almost immediately we came upon the man who helped to make the exhibition possible, Chase Rynd, the National Building Museum’s executive director. Just like any other beach goer, he was lined up for snacks before being joined by friends Kate Markert and Nancy Palmer. We said hello and then headed to the “water” to plunge in.
Chase Rynd, in the suit, the National Building Museum's executive director, lines up for drinks and food just like the rest of us. 
If you come with stuff — hand bags, messenger bags, that sort of thing — you’ll have to leave them by a chair or in a cubby on the “shore.” It’s best to be unencumbered. What to wear? Though there were women in dresses in the “water,” I would recommend shorts, comfortable pants or — what the hell — even a bathing suit. However, a man in a business suit arrived, put down his valise, took off his shoes, and jumped in as is, smiling broadly.

The key while in the balls is to be able to move around because they replicate the same buoyancy and resistance of water, which is part of the brilliance here. You can “swim” in them, you can “float” on them, and you can also sink to the bottom, as I did. (When that happens, raise a hand and hope someone will pull you back to your feet).
Rynd joins up with friends Kate Market and Nancy Palmer.
Children, when not tossing around beach rings and blow-up plastic sharks, gleefully fling themselves into the balls, legs akimbo, head first, somersaults. Couples entwine, drinks in hand, and “float.” Just as in the real ocean, groups of friends stand in circles to talk. Others sit on the “pier,” dangling their feet ... in the balls, kicking them into the air.

Keep your shoes ashore. Wear socks or bare feet. I went in wearing slip-ons and almost lost them a few times in the deep end. The beach is cleaned every day and there is a lost and found, but really, who needs the hassle? Use the same caution regarding a cell phone, but that risk doesn’t seem to stop anyone from entering the “water” with phones and selfie sticks. On the evening I was there almost every “bather” had a phone in hand.
The way to go at the BEACH: bare feet, though dresses aren't necessarily the best attire for plunging into the balls.
Keep an eye on little ones. I watched one exuberant pint sized boy repeatedly disappear into the balls, only to have his nearby father regularly pluck him back up to the surface. The child laughed and then went back under. There are security staff around but no “lifeguard.”

It is without a doubt a destination attraction. We arrived at the same time as a family who drove from Rhode Island, soley for the experience.  For young children, go during the day. For adults, go on a Wednesday night. But do it. Go to the BEACH. Also consider this: the whole BEACH is available for private party rentals. It would be a perfect venue for an end-of-summer party, with food and cocktails and dancing — and “swimming” — and no sunburn. And there’s still time to plan it.
Making the most of it.
Sure, wear your suit to the BEACH.
Note the balls in his bucket. Who needs sand?
Oh, yeah. Floating away.
You can do this.
Finding each other.
Selfie time.
Coming up from the deep.
This is what you do if you are young, or young at heart.
CJ's view as she went down, down, down.
There are cocktails on Wednesday evenings.
As with any beach, there's always one person who just isn't in to it.
If you are allergic to cats, don’t read on. But otherwise, welcome to a café that is as clever as the BEACH and also entirely different.

Crumbs & Whiskers on O Street in Georgetown, where there's always a cat in the window.
Crumbs & Whiskers just opened in Georgetown. It is Washington’s first sampling of a trend that began in Asia. It’s exactly what it says — a café where humans can hang out with cats. The cats are courtesy of the Washington Humane Society and available for adoption, but adoption is not a requirement for making a reservation and relaxing there for an hour. The “cover” charge is $12 and food — smoothies and shakes, coffee and tea, cookies — are extra.

Walk by in the mornings before it opens and it’s a delight to look in at the cats, lolling about, sleeping, licking, preening, playing with each other, waiting for “showtime.” This past weekend the owner, Kanchan Singh, welcomed me in just as the business was opening for the day. It was such a cat house! Half the featured players were slowly waking while others slinked around or nibbled some kibble.

The paying customers began to stream in, greeted by some of the cats right at the check in gate. In minutes the humans were enjoying relaxation and pleasure, interacting with the cats on the floor, on futons, on chairs, receiving rubs, licks and purrs; tossing cat nip toys and teasing them with feathers on a stick. There’s a choice of a downstairs or upstairs room.

In an amusing twist the scene conjured a Vegas lap-dancery, with cats instead of strippers. Both have strict rules about where and how and when you can touch the “merchandise.” However, who needs a Champagne Room when you have a cat café? It is an instant de-stresser, just like the BEACH. If only we could have the beach year round and how about a puppy café, too?
The cate cafe as the first human patrons arrive. Cats begin to muster.
"Wake up you sleepy heads. We're about to be invaded by humans."
Owner Kanchan Singh, standing, welcomes some cat lovers to her Crumbs & Whiskers cat cafe.
Cats doing what cats do: watching and eating.
... and kneading
... and watching the world outside. 
CJ says hello to a little guy. There are rules of engagement, but petting is welcomed.
"I'm not sure I'm feeling like people today, and so if I just stay here ..."
As the cafe begins to fill up at 10 AM on a Saturday.
The upstairs at Crumbs & Whiskers.
There's a limited menu, but patrons are there for the cats, not the cuisine.
And some cat merch, too.
Photographs by Carol Joynt

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt