These Bars Have Figured Out How to Become More Popular. Your Startup Should Learn From Them

They’re appealing to your sense of community in unexpected ways. This story originally appeared on

Shaw's Tavern Washington DC

Shaw’s Tavern in Washington, D.C. Credit: Flickr/Ted Eytan

Two days before the 60 Minutes interview with Stormy Daniels, Mykl Wu received an intriguing late-night text: His boss, the owner of the Washington, D.C., bar Satellite Room, wanted to throw a short-notice viewing party.

Wu, the bar’s social media manager, got busy. He created a Facebook event and announced the party via a Saturday night tweet:

Word spread quickly. When the 60 Minutes episode began, just 21 hours after Wu sent the tweet, the bar was filled to its 200-person occupancy limit. Denizens of all political affiliations watched together, drinking $2 “Dark and Stormy Daniels” cocktails and $3 “deferments” on beers. It was, Wu says, much livelier than the average mellow Sunday night.

Satellite Room’s event is one of the latest in a string of offbeat promotions being used by bars around the country to boost sales. Some stunts are unique and spur-of-the-moment. Others are extensively planned modern twists on classic strategies.

They all share a lesson for entrepreneurs everywhere: If you want to increase your popularity, you shouldn’t be afraid to have some fun.

Leverage your community’s interests.

D.C. bars are becoming particularly skilled at capitalizing on current events–which makes sense for a town filled with political news hounds. Before the Stormy Daniels viewing party, Satellite Room hosted a packed house for a State of the Union bingo night back in January. Patrons received specialized bingo cards, and bartenders offered cheap shots every time President Trump took a, well, cheap shot at a political opponent.

The puns might have helped attract people. More likely, it was the inexpensive alcohol. Wu didn’t expect the event to give the bar a reputation–but it left an impression on customers. When Stormy Daniels’s 60 Minutes interview was announced, Satellite Room started fielding Facebook messages from non-regulars asking, “‘Hey, are you guys doing anything for Stormy’s 60 Minutes thing?”

Rob Heim, general manager of the D.C. bar Shaw’s Tavern, experienced a similar phenomenon last summer after his viewing party for James Comey’s congressional testimony went viral. During Comey’s three-hour testimony, hundreds of viewers circulated through Shaw’s Tavern–including an estimated 300 people who lined up outside the tavern at 8:30 a.m., an hour before doors opened. Those who couldn’t get in formed three-person deep rows on the sidewalk to watch the television on the bar’s outdoor patio.

“I think, in one day, we were able to rebrand Shaw’s Tavern, which is kind of amazing,” Heim told Inc. shortly after the event. “We went from a normal neighborhood bar to more of a community place where people can come together for whatever’s going on in the world.”

Put updated spins on old classics.

Not a current events junkie? Don’t worry. There are plenty of other ways to attract positive attention. Take, for example, the Grayton Road Tavern in Cleveland.

Last month, the bar finished the first round of a Queen of Hearts raffle that’s captivated fans internationally. That’s because of the bar’s use of technology and social media–the weekly raffle drawings were live-streamed on Facebook, so viewers across the world could participate remotely. It’s also because of the round’s eye-popping final jackpot: $5.5 million.


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