Ask people who live in Montgomery County about nightlife options in the area and you might get a lot of blank stares.
“I don’t think there is much around here,” said Elizabeth Miller, 29, of Bethesda. She said that sometimes she will go to Ri Ra Irish Pub in downtown Bethesda, but otherwise she would rather go elsewhere for nightlife.
Garegin Vardanyan, 34, lived in Bethesda before his recent move to Silver Spring. He summed up what appears to be the main way Montgomery County residents get their nightlife fix.
“Everyone I know always goes to D.C.,” he said.
Getting the county’s nightlife scene up to par with the district’s is a daunting mission, but one the Montgomery County Nighttime Economy Task Force is trying to tackle.
The task force plans to propose ideas on how to streamline the permitting promise for businesses, make local liquor laws more flexible, loosen noise regulations, emphasize local safety and improve public transportation, among other things.
The task force is part of the New Montgomery Initiative, a plan launched in January 2013 by County Executive Isiah Leggett to create hipper hangout spots for young people in the county.
“Montgomery County could do better on capturing that segment of the population,” said Heather Dlhopolsky, a private attorney and task force chair.
While localities like Bethesda and Silver Spring have no shortage of restaurants, there's not much to do after dinner except swing by a local movie theater. But, according to the task force’s work plan, “A thriving nighttime economy is an opportunity to enhance Montgomery County’s attractiveness to all generations, businesses and visitors.”
That might be easier said than done when it comes to enticing new businesses to settle in Montgomery County.
“I think one overarching thing is that businesses who engage in nightlife find it difficult to locate in Montgomery County,” Dlhopolsky said. “Some businesses feel like they aren’t even wanted here. I’d like to make it easier for businesses and entertainers to locate here.”
Montgomery County has a long way to go if it wants to compete with the sheer number of businesses in the district. Yelp.com -- granted, not an exhaustive compilation -- lists 26 bars in Montgomery County and 578 in D.C. You do the math.
And nightlife doesn't just involve bars and alcohol. Miller, who doesn’t drink, thinks Montgomery County should keep people like her in mind when drawing up their proposal.
“[I would love] a place that has nice drinks with desserts and pastries for those that want to go out and have options,” she said.
Dlhopolsky agrees: “Nightlife is not just the 20s and 30s bar drinking crowd. We want things that appeal to everyone, from teens to seniors.”
The task force has been meeting on the third Monday of every month since May, always in different locations within the county. Members expects to complete their policy recommendations in October.
“We have a great vibrancy here,” Dlhopolsky saod. “We have some special stuff here and we just need to build on what we already have.”