"An alternative to the typical night out." That's what the website for PlayDate Memphis promised to provide last Saturday night.
With drinks, dancing, and a plethora of board games, the national PlayDate series for singles and couples combines the best parts of a lively night out and a comfy night in. PlayDate Memphis was founded several months ago, but the national organization has been around since 2005.
I'd perused some video footage from PlayDates around the country, but I wasn't sure what to expect at Memphis' third event. As I enter the mostly empty lobby at the Holiday Inn Select East, I quickly latch onto a group of cocktail-carrying women who are headed up the stairs. With images of gawky nerds battling one another at chess lingering in the back of my mind, I follow these women. I'm hoping to be proven wrong.
I round the top of the stairs to see a hallway full of well-dressed people. From the looks of things, this isn't going to be a casual night of gaming.
The line in the hallway is moving slowly, which I presume is due to the two crowded bars ahead of us. Moving forward, however, I see the group is packed around a large table full of comical nametags. "Miss All Night Long" and "Ladykiller" are among them.
After choosing my own nametag (a mild-mannered "He's Mine"), I proceed into the main room, where my expectations are immediately thrown out the window. Perhaps 150 people are gathered around 20 or so tables, each with a different game at the center: dominos, Monopoly, Uno, Connect Four, even a large Jenga-style stack of blocks bearing PlayDate's logo.
A stack of hula hoops sits in the middle of the empty dance floor, where a DJ plays music that's barely audible over the high level of chatter and laughter coming from the tables.
As I survey the room, I notice each table is bursting with people. There are few places to sit down. I find out later that 626 people attended the packed event.
Suddenly, the music shifts and a loud squeal fills the room. A gaggle of partygoers hits the dance floor, some grabbing hula hoops along the way.
Half an hour later, the party is going strong. Some people are still standing in line to play certain games. There are no negative vibes — just a room full of adults who seem excited to meet one another.
The scene is a far cry from a typical night out on the town, exactly as PlayDate Memphis promised.