Dating in the District

Street noise fills the background as Sam Yagan speaks quickly into his cellphone. He has a knack for efficiency. He is a dating catalyst, a self-proclaimed “geeky math guy.” And last February, his dating website — OKCupid — logged 1.3 million unique visitors.

So when it came time to find out how to meet people, his name topped the list of people to call.


Most Washingtonians tend to be workaholics, transplants or some combination of the two. With a general population such as that, single people are put at a disadvantage when it comes to meeting a potential mate.

“D.C. is — by far — the most active [on OKCupid] on a per capita basis,” Yagan says. “Other cities don’t even come close.”

More than 10 percent of D.C.’s population are active users on the site, according to Yagan’s data, and 75 percent of those users are younger than 35.

Whether you want to take the tech route, or a more traditional avenue, there is one basic tenet to remember: “You can’t take it too seriously,” Yagan asserts. “People get so wound up about it.”

Rather than fearing rejection, accept that volume is key: The odds that the first person you meet is going to be the one for you is low, says Yagan, who earned a degree in mathematics and economics from Harvard, and later went on to receive an MBA from Stanford business school. “Half the battle is forcing yourself to go out and meet people.”

So, where are the best places to find other love-seekers in the District?

Whether it’s grabbing a post-work libation at Off the Record bar in the Hay Adams hotel, or plugging in your laptop at Tryst in Adams Morgan, places where solo people-watching is common lifts the burden of vulnerability and makes meeting people feel less forced.

At Tryst, a hodgepodge of couches, chairs and tables are scattered for maximum comfort. Free Wi-Fi lets you work (or surf on Facebook) while you enjoy a coffee, tea, snack or alcoholic beverage. Located on the often-hectic 18th Street in Adams Morgan, Tryst is an oasis.

Tia Scagliarnini, the front-of-the-house manager, wants the bar and café to be a relaxing place for people that is neither home, nor work, she said.

“We aim to foster a community, and make it a place where people are approachable.”

The clientele is diverse, she added: Students writing PhDs or master’s theses, book clubs, journalists, artists and businesspeople of all stripes. Tryst also has a happy hour seven days a week and live jazz on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.

“[Tryst] can be whatever you want it to be, really,” she said. “We’re always full of people, so you never have to feel alone or shady.”

But if you crave something a little more presidential, head down the rabbit hole to the basement of the Hay Adams hotel.

Within throwing distance of the White House, caricatures of Washington’s political culture can be seen in the din. A throwback to a D.C. of yesteryear, this classic bar is a place to be “seen and not heard,” said Andrew Welch, the food and beverage director of the Hay Adams hotel.

What does that mean, exactly?

“The name of the bar speaks for itself,” Welch said. Essentially, what happens at Off the Record stays off the record.

The downtown proximity to political, business and law offices brings in some big names, and Welch aims to maintain the quality experience for which the bar is known. The environment fosters relaxing conversation — the room is equipped with a fireplace — and a great specialty cocktail list is the cherry on top.

What happens once you set your sights on a hangout?

“You have to expand your search criteria,” explains OKCupid’s Yagan, whose site uses mathematical equations to determine matches, rather than psychology — which is the basis of other dating sites.

“We changed the way dating works,” he adds. Most people, he says, limit themselves to only seeking out individuals who fit in their predetermined notion of a perfect mate: one political affiliation, age range or other trait.

“People say things like, ‘Oh, I would never date someone four years younger than me.’ Really? Probably you would.”

At places that have an ambiance and culture all their own, striking up a conversation and asking for someone’s Twitter handle is easy. And you never know what might come of it.

Scagliarnini, the manager at Tryst, said she recently set up a reservation for a man on a Saturday night — which is always a no-no, because of how busy the cafe can be. But this was a special occasion: He had met his current girlfriend at random on a particular couch — and he wanted to propose on that same piece of thrift furniture on the same night two years later.

She said yes.