You might’ve heard the news that Alexandria has a night mayor. The rumors are true, but it’s not an official position like the night mayors of New York, London and Washington, D.C., who receive six figure salaries to act as go-betweens between their city’s after hours establishments and elected officials and city administrators. Instead, the port city’s night mayor is a ceremonial position created late last year by City Councilor John Taylor Chapman, who has embraced the role light heartedly as an opportunity to highlight Alexandria as a place to hang your hat after work and on weekends.
“In my estimation we don’t have a singular champion for our commercial entities in the city, especially our retail, our restaurants, our entertainment,” Chapman told The Zebra. “Regionally, we’re situated where our residents can go 10, 20 maybe 30 minutes in any direction and find other opportunities, whether they want to go to Tyson’s or whether they want to go to D.C., to Arlington and Clarendon, to Fairfax County down Richmond Highway, but with that proximity to all those locations we miss out on the opportunity to keep people here. I don’t think we’ve focused as much on that in recent years as I think we need to.”
In fact, Chapman frequently attends official city functions, like the recent George Washington Birthday Parade in Old Town, where people jokingly refer to him as the night mayor. He’s also looking to install an unofficial Alexandria Night Council. So, how did all this begin?
It started last October, when D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser advertised the open night mayor position. Chapman shared an article on the subject on his Facebook page and joked, “Make me Night Mayor of Alexandria,” and then followed up by wearing a night mayor costume for the Del Ray Halloween Parade. Then in December, Chapman conducted a mock swearing-in ceremony for members of the the night council at the opening of the Taco Bell Cantina.
“I think we’ve never taken a full accounting of what we have in the city,” said Chapman, who was recently named the Council representative to the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership. “And the first thing that I want to try to get to do is have folks understand what entertainment is in the city, what it looks like. I recently went to the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra, and that’s nightlife. It doesn’t have to be all bars and drunken people. We have some high quality arts that I don’t think a majority of people know about.”
Danielle Romanetti, the owner of fibre space, was inducted as the vice night mayor. Sipping a cocktail at the end of the day at The People’s Drug, which is a lunch spot by day and bar at night, she said that Alexandria is the victim of antiquated ABC laws that prevent businesses from operating solely as bars.
“This is a state of Virginia issue. This is why we don’t have clubs in Virginia, and until recently we couldn’t even advertise happy hours in our state, so imagine how we compete with our neighbors,” she said. “It’s very anti-business, and it’s why we lose out on a Friday night to our neighbors in the east and the north. So, if I’m in my 20s and I want to go out with girlfriends on a Friday night, I’m probably going over a bridge. So, the idea behind night council is that we do have night life here. There are little gems and we need to highlight them.”
Bill Reagan, the executive director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, said that the city doesn’t need a Mardi Gras atmosphere to maintain its liveliness, but that the nightlife scene needs a boost.
“Alexandria needs vitality, because we need to compete against neighboring jurisdictions,” Reagan said. “We don’t necessarily want to be those places, but that doesn’t mean our businesses aren’t as appealing. If you walk the streets at Old Town at night, the streets can sometimes be somber.”
So far, the Alexandria night council is in development and has no official membership cards or dues, and anyone can join. The plan is for the group to host monthly meet-ups with speakers at venues across the city for networking and to discuss business opportunities.
“I see it as an opportunity to bring people together for fun in order to talk about entertainment and promote viability and commercial vibrancy in the city,” Chapman said.
Freddy Lopez, the manager of Vola’s Dockside Grill and Hi-Tide Lounge on the waterfront, said that the city needs to take some business from the casino at MGM National Harbor.
“We’ve got to get their business from National Harbor. There’s a lot going on over on this side of the Potomac River,” Lopez said. “Here people actually get their money’s worth, versus betting it away on a dream, which is what they are doing over there.”