- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Walk into Wonderland, a corner bar at 11th and Kenyon streets Northwest, around 5 on a Wednesday, and you might find bike couriers nursing a cold one, dreadlocked hipsters taking time in stride, or musicians juicing up for their evening gig.

There’s an old New York Dolls poster on the wall (next to a sticker that says “What is Dada?”), a booth made of minivan seats and a handmade placard that reads “Save Detroit. Protect Your Neighborhood.”

Inside, it’s dark. Outside, a bright sunny day.

Inside, adults drink and smoke. Outside, children play.

Yet, walk through that stale beer smell to the back of Wonderland, toward the stairs, and you notice an abandoned baby stroller.

Then, mount the stairs, to the sound of shrieking toddlers, and watch the polar opposites — “Romper Room” and local dive bar — collide.

Call it escape from cabin fever, or time out from goo-goo and ga-ga. At Wonderland, they just call it Baby Happy Hour. Every Wednesday from 5 to 8 p.m. they gather, 15 to 20 urbanites with toddlers in tow, as if to resist the suburban mantra that bars and parenting don’t mix, that life ends when the baby is born.

The room is baby-proofed and smoke-free. Toys are scattered across the floor, and day care dynamics prevail. Little Jackson has allergies so he’s feeling a bit clingy on this day, Tanya has taken to calling herself Peter (after Peter and the Wolf), and Bruno manages to knock down the stair gate.

But with all that going on, Wonderland co-owner Rose Donna casually serves drinks from behind the bar. The parents sip beer and socialize, while keeping an eye on their charges.

Old school funk fills the room. On the stage where Wonderland normally hosts live acts, a mother dances with her baby girl in front of a mirror. “I have to say,” deadpans Miss Donna, “George Clinton’s ‘Parliament CD’ is very popular with the babies.”

Parliament must be a welcome respite from “Eensy, Weensy Spider” and “The Muffin Man” and all those other toddler tunes sung by happy kids who seem to have ingested too much artificial icing.

Elias Stern, father of 17-month old Caleb, certainly welcomes the weekly sanctuary. He’s had, by his own reckoning, only two boys nights out since the baby was born, downright saintly abstinence compared to most urban dads. And yet, though bothered by the broken glass in the nearby park — “It’d be nice to just set him (Caleb) free,” he says — he has no intention of abandoning the area.

Maggie Biscarr, a social services planner who launched the happy hour event back in October, concurs. Although the questions of schooling loom on the horizon for many of the parents here, the regular opportunity to mix with ones own, and within walking distance or a short drive away, trumps all.

“D.C. will never be Stepford,” she admits. “But [new parents] hightail it to the suburbs just because they think they have to.” The city has plenty of baby-friendly venues from coffee-shops to restaurants, but Wonderland provides the adult alternative. Less saccharine, less aseptic — no banana muffins, just beer and drinks — reminding parents that they did indeed once have an identity beyond mamma or dada.

In fact, if they only would only change that sticker on the front door from “What is Dada?” to “Who your dada?” Wonderland’s Baby Happy Hour could be an even bigger neighborhood draw.

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