MS. REBECCA SHEIR
But first, we head to a burgeoning hotspot for Washington night life, the H Street corridor in Northeast D.C. Up and down the buzzing street, you'll find all sorts of restaurants and bars like this one which opened at the corner of 4th and H, just a few back. It's called The Big Board. And tonight, the beer and burger joint is hopping as customers chatter, watch sports on TV and sip from glasses -- what are you drinking?
I am drinking the Ranger IPA...
...of beer on tap. And what are you drinking?
I am drinking a Peroni.
You're drinking a beer, what are you drinking?
And how is it?
But here's the thing, in the time since these people bought their beers, the prices -- and how much did you pay for that Ranger IPA?
It was $5.50 at the time and now it's gone up to $6.50.
...have changed. How much did you pay for that Peroni?
Well, I paid, I believe, $5.50 originally, but the price has gone up so I'm not at $6.50.
How much did you pay for that Kilkenny?
This was actually $5.75 a little while ago. The prices fluctuated a great deal. Actually, the market has reset itself so it's back to $7.00 now.
So you got a bargain?
So all this talk of price fluctuations, markets resetting, we're at a bar, right? I mean, what exactly is going on here?
MR. ERIC FLANNERY
The algorithm changes dependent on how many people are here, what day of the week it is, what type of beers are being ordered. But the simple essence of it is, the more type of beer that somebody orders, the lower the prices goes. So it works backward from the stock market.
Eric Flannery is a D.C. resident, Navy veteran and co-owner of The Big Board.
And what we thought was, hey, that's a great way for people to come in and we don't decide the specials. Our customers actually decide what the specials are.
The Big Board is closed on Tuesdays, so that's when I swing by to meet Eric and another co-owner, his brother, Mark.
MR. MARK FLANNERY
Hey, I'm Mark.
Hi, I'm Rebecca.
Hi Rebecca, nice to meet you.
Nice to meet you -- who once was a sous chef in France and now teaches French in D.C. public schools. Behind the bar, as you can imagine, given all this talk of algorithms and whatnot, things are pretty high tech.
All the TVs are actually interconnected through an ethernet hub. And the web server here will allow us to adjust the prices for the beer based on how they're ordered.
Next to the bar, hanging on the wall, is the Big Board itself. A flat screen TV with the words Real Time Quotes atop a blue and red chart that looks kind of like a stock page. As Mark points out, the column all the way to the left lists the product, a.k.a. the draft beers.
We have Guinness, Chocolate City, Yuengling Lager, Ranger IPA, Peroni Lager, Alagash White, Kilkenny and Miller Lite.
And of course, each beer is listed with a symbol.
My Guinness, our symbol is going to be GUIN because we have envisioned that scrolling under each one of our TVs will be a ticker. So they don't necessarily have to look at the Big Board. They can look at the bottom of the TV that they're watching, whatever game their watching.
Next to the symbol column, you see the market price...
...which is whatever price the beer is being sold at, at that moment.
Then the base price.
The base price, and this is where maybe we differ from the stock market where the stock market hot commodities raise in price, our hot commodities lower in price and the base price is what we've decided that no customer will ever pay more for a beer.
So if I come in and I'm totally jonesing for like an Alagash, if I convince a bunch of other people in the bar to also order Alagash, the price will then go down?
That is pretty much exactly what will happen.
Though, as we heard before, the market regularly resets itself. So every hour the game starts all over again with the market price fluctuating from the base price, in real time...
According to customer demand.
Mark, Eric and big brother Doyle, who's currently serving in the Navy, founded The Big Board with long time friend Dave Drain. Mark says as they grew up together in Northern Virginia, they always dreamed of opening a neighborhood restaurant and pub. As for the specific idea behind The Big Board...
We'd love to be the ones that invented this idea, but our buddy, Dave, saw the one in Barcelona and we thought that would be a great idea. It's not done in D.C.
So they decided to give it a go. But they wanted more than just a cool concept.
We know that we wanted to open a place where people came back because it's a friendly atmosphere and the food was good.
Which is why they take special pride in not just their beer, but their burgers. Each one inspired by a city, like The Great Chicago Fire.
The Great Chicago Fire is our spicy burger.
It's a, you know, it's a black bean and chickpea burger.
And The Big Apple.
It's a little bit bigger patty then it's just your classic bacon cheeseburger.
But the brothers Flannery say all the burgers share one thing, their father's flank steak marinade. Admiral Flannery directed the national military command center at the Pentagon. And as a single dad, he'd stay up late and wake up early to cook for his sons. When the boys grew up and moved away...
We'd email him and ask him for the recipe. And we always got the recipe.
Admiral Flannery passed away a few years ago so when Mark, Eric and Doyle decided to recreate their dads marinade for their new chef...
Doyle says, well, it's two tablespoons of this, a teaspoon of that. And Eric said, no, no, it's a tablespoon of this and two tablespoons of that. And then I chimed in and said, you guys are wrong, that tablespoon you're talking about is not even in there. And then Doyle says, I have the email dad sent me. And Eric, of course, also has the email that dad sent him and so all three of us actually have different recipes. He kept the secret recipe with him.
But they managed to work out some amalgamation of all three and now they say their burgers are selling like hotcakes. And their beers are selling like hotcakes too, albeit variably priced hotcakes. What are you drinking?
We recently paid $6 for the Copper City Ale.
So if you're to order them, looking at the Big Board, what are the prices now?
Chocolate City is still $6.
Well, $6 for now anyway. But remember what Mark Flannery said about wanting more than just a fun concept, but a friendly atmosphere too. He and his fellow co-owners see the Big Boards ever changing prices as just another way to achieve that friendliness. And customers are agreeing.
Most people just come to the bar to drink and socialize with their friends. But this gives you more of an opportunity to, like, interact with the bar itself, with the establishment. And I haven't been anywhere else that has done that.
After all, if you turn to the strangers sitting next to you and convince them to help you drive down the price of your favorite brew, who knows, you just might be brewing a lasting friendship. For more on The Big Board and D.C.'s H Street corridor, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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