The 22-year-old graduate student with a clever idea for a bar crawl is now 44, four years married and “pretty far removed” from the college days that inspired all this.
In April, Dave Lindenauer celebrated 20 years of his Bethesda-based Lindy Promotions company, which has grown in to a well known purveyor of Washington parties large and small, from the weekly happy hour to last year’s 5,700-person strong Downtown Countdown.
He doesn’t get out to as many events as he used to, but said he’s experienced enough to know what works in a rapidly gentrifying market where competition for the entertainment dollar of 21- to 35-year-olds is heated as ever.
“People want to let off steam,” Lindenauer said. “People are still going out. This business, knock on fake wood, is recession proof.”
Lindenauer was in graduate school for Public Communications at American University when he got fired from his waiting job at the old Rio Grande Cafe on Fairmont Avenue.
He had created the “Cap-City Bar Crawl,” for a class project. Participants paid a small fee and got a discount if they brought canned food to be donated to a local nonprofit.
The event drew 1,300 people. Lindenauer got an A.
“So what are you gonna do, plan bar crawls for the rest of your life,” Lindenauer remembered one of his roommates asking.
“I was like, ‘If I’m ever going to try this thing full-time, this is the time to do it,” Lindenauer said. “I never really believed that it would result in this, that this was going to be the case. I feel always to this day that getting fired from Rio was one of the best things that ever happened to me.”
Lindenauer set up a small office on Wisconsin Avenue before moving to the current Lindy’s space on Montgomery Avenue in 1996. He has four full-time staffers and a busy schedule, particularly in September as the group plans one of the company’s signature events, the New Year’s Eve Downtown Countdown, which it also puts on in Baltimore and Atlanta.
“The planning of that stuff, the making of the high-level deals with the hotels, the sponsors, the beer companies, signing the contract with the radio station — there needs to be a certain level of experience and knowledge to be able to deal with that,” Lindenauer said.
One of the other signature events, the Nightmare on M Street, draws about 8,000 for a Saturday bar crawl.
“D.C. is big on happy hours and people love to go out and drink in the day on Saturday afternoons,” Lindenauer said. “I think the root of the entertainment scene here is kind of the same as when we started.”
But many aspects of the business are changing.
Now, there are simply more places to go. Gentrification in D.C.’s H Street, U Street and Capitol Hill neighborhoods, to name a few, has brought more bars and more young urban professionals with the disposable income entertainment providers long for.
That means plenty of competition helped by social media that Lindenauer said makes reaching the right audience easier than ever, but also allows “companies that do a crappy job” to enter the market.
“I’m adapting to all the changes. It’s a personal challenge. I’m still, ‘We’ve gotta get these [promotional] posters up,'” Lindenauer said. “To me, when you’re at the urinal, taking a whiz and you see a poster, you’ve got that person’s attention for 30 seconds. It’s the best possible way. They’re in a bar that’s participating in this event. They’re an immediate candidate for this. I’m a big proponent of still doing it the old-fashioned way.”
Of course, promotion for this year’s D.C. Downtown Countdown, headlined by indie rock band Grouplove, will include a variety of tactics.
“If we get Grouplove to post it on their Facebook and tweet about it and possibly send emails to their fans, that’s a way to do it too,” Lindenauer said. “You have to think about it smartly and be efficient because there’s just so many ways to do it these days.”
Lindenauer lives about a third of a mile from his office with his wife and one-and-a-half-year-old silver labrador retriever “Spike,” who comes with him to work every day.
He fondly remembers his graduate school days living in a house just inside the Beltway with three fraternity brothers. He went to Dewey Beach, Del., to DJ in the summer. He said he stays in touch with Gabe Coulon, a fellow University of Maryland alum and another who got his start at Rio Grande before starting Caddie’s on Cordell, the well known Bethesda hangout celebrating its 10th anniversary this weekend.
Lindy’s puts on events in a host of major U.S. cities, but is planning on a 6th Annual Bethesda Bar Tour in December.
It’s a smaller operation. Lindenauer says while people from Maryland, D.C. and Northern Virginia will flock to his major events in D.C., the Bethesda entertainment scene tends to remain more limited in scope.
But after 20 years of putting on events (the company has improved its financial take every year, Lindenauer said) he doesn’t plan on stopping the party, large or small, any time soon.
“It’s a testament to the quality of our events,” he said. “We’re still good at this.”