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At Boundary Stone‘s open mic nights, engineer Sam Feigenbaum challenges himself. He attempts to sketch a portrait of each performer while they’re on stage. “It’s a really great format because songs tend to last about three minutes,” Feigenbaum says. “It’s really fun to draw musicians who at the moment are loving what they’re doing. They’re in their own little world and you’re in your own little world.”
Feigenbaum is one of many Washingtonians who draw in bars either for a creative release or to meet like-minded friends. Most of the time he scribbles on receipt paper. “It’s one of the better mediums for pens because it’s so smooth,” he says. Sometimes he trashes his receipt sketches and sometimes bars save the art. Both Boundary Stone and Dacha Beer Garden have Feigenbaum’s drawings posted publicly or in a back office.
He admits that he occasionally draws bar patrons on visibly bad dates. “People are just funny,” he says. “They’re flirting and doing all these things. It’s a little voyeuristic, but it’s fun.”
Feigenbaum is a frequent participant at Colony Club’s “Drinking and Nude Drawing” nights. “I go religiously,” he says. “It’s the closest thing to a religion that I have.” The Park View bar (3118 Georgia Ave. NW) hosts figure drawing gatherings twice a month led by longtime figure drawing model Courtney Sexton, who also runs the D.C.-based reading series and writing community, The Inner Loop.
“It seemed like there was a hole in terms of spaces in the Park View and Petworth neighborhoods for people to go draw figures and that’s where a lot of artists are living,” she says. The bar introduced figure drawing back in June 2016. “It’s been one of the most popular events for the past two years,” Sexton adds.
Participants meet upstairs and draw the blinds for privacy. “There are some regulars who come every time we have it,” Sexton says. All levels are welcome. Tickets are $20 in advance or at the door and cover the cost of a rotating cast of models, plus one drink. Easels are provided, but participants must bring their own materials. The next session is Oct. 30 from 8:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
She believes hosting art events at bars takes the pressure away. “It makes it a little less intimidating for someone to try something artistic,” Sexton says. “They might not feel welcome at an art class, worrying that they won’t fit in. This makes it more accessible, but I think the space really matters.”
Feigenbaum has also attended a get together with Meetup group DC Drink & Draw. He says they’re best suited for budding artists looking to socialize. “It’s heavier on the drinking,” he jokes. “There are two groups of people who [draw in bars]. The people that are heavier into drawing and the people that are heavily into doing art while meeting new people.”
Anna MacNiven and Mary Ghitelman co-run the Meetup group that began in 2013 and now has more than 1,000 members. They’ve held drawing parties at Bar Louie, Johnny Pistolas, Lost & Found, Sauf Haus, Smith Public Trust, Denizens Brewing Company, and Capitol Lounge. The next one is set for Oct. 23 at Franklin Hall at 6 p.m. It’s free to attend and you can join either on Meetup or Facebook.
“For a lot of people, drawing can be a very solitary thing,” MacNiven says. “I think it’s a really cool opportunity to get together to socialize with other artists. We try to keep it informal so it feels like friends hanging out at a bar.”
While there are some professional graphic designers and cartoonists in the group, most people are hobbyists. “Some people even bring in those adult coloring books,” MacNiven notes. About 15 to 20 people typically show up. “I’m surprised by how popular it is in D.C.,” she says. “It can be difficult to meet people here.”
DC Drink & Draw members often attend Dr. Sketchy’s Anti Art School events where participants sketch a burlesque model. The concept started in 2005 in Brooklyn and has expanded to more than 100 cities around the world. D.C. events are typically held at The Bier Baron Tavern and DC Comedy Loft (1523 22nd St. NW). Information about upcoming events can be found on Dr. Sketchy’s Facebook page.
If you prefer to doodle, sketch, or etch without a big fuss, bars don’t seem to have a problem if you pull up a stool and pull out a pencil. Josh Mitchell, a lawyer by trade, fancies drawing in two basement Logan Circle bars: Kingfisher and Player’s Club. He uses the Sktchy app to download reference works and draws using paper and pencil.
“It’s nice that there’s a little bit of background noise,” Mitchell says. “It helps drown out whatever internal censor things are happening and the other thing that’s nice is they serve you drinks.” He adds that being a little tipsy helps push him past “the stage where something looks like crap.”