On Friday and Saturday, 27-year-old Yasmine Afshar cried coming into work.
They were tears of pure elation.
After a year-and-a-half-long ordeal to get required county permits for her new College Park bar, Terrapin’s Turf, the co-owner said opening the establishment was “unreal.” On Friday, across from the College Park Shopping Center on Knox Road, the bar opened to about 2,000 people and a line that stretched around the corner of Ratsie’s Pizza even without formal promotions or advertising.
“We’re doing something right,” Afshar said. “For us, it seemed like for so long it wasn’t going to happen — to see our doors open, our lights on and bodies in there just loving it, and hearing all these things. All the people who booked tables from me were texting me today [saying], ‘Thank you so much; last night was amazing.’”
From noon, when staff arrived, until 5:30 a.m., business was “nonstop,” said bartender Matt Zelkoski, a 2013 alumnus. On opening day, the bar received almost $3,000 in credit card checks, and all tables and bottle services were sold out. It was so busy, Zelkoski said, employees didn’t have a moment to take a break to eat.
“It was awesome to see people come for happy hour and then go home for two hours and then come back and literally stay until the end of the night,” Afshar said. “The response was amazing from everyone.”
Afshar, who runs the bar with her sister, university alumna Salomeh Afshar, and father, Mohammad Afshar, previously owned a bar in Georgetown. The owners hoped to bring that same city vibe to their College Park bar, through everything from their open architecture and decorative lighting to VIP lounges, live music, specialty frozen drinks and dancers.
And for the most part, students and employees thought they’d succeeded.
At about midnight Friday, patrons packed the bar’s large central area and spilled over onto the outside patio. Futuristic square architecture dominated and red and blue lighting illuminated the stage, where two dancers moved to electronic beats spun by a disc jockey.
“I think the club feel is what people really liked,” Zelkoski said. “You get the prices of a college bar and the opportunity to get a [D.C. club atmosphere].”
The Afshars said they wanted to be a “multifaceted” establishment, combining aspects of a restaurant, sports bar and nightclub. According to Yasmine Afshar, one patron came for happy hour on Friday, returned later that night and then showed up with his parents for lunch on Saturday — the “epitome” of what she said her family hopes the bar will provide for the community.
But some students said the combination was confusing. The VIP table space, for instance, “gives the connotation as a nightclub, but they don’t function as a nightclub,” said senior economics and mathematics major Jon Cook.
“If they want to be a nightclub, they need to turn off the TVs,” Cook said, referencing the string of flat-screens that lined the walls of the bar adjoining the stage.
But in response to the idea of choosing just one aspect, Afshar said, “Why?”
“There’s so many sports bars; there’s so many restaurants,” she said. “Why would I limit myself to just offering food? Why would I limit myself to being a sports bar?”
Patrons took advantage of all the bar’s offerings opening night, from its low-lit, VIP plush white couches to the open dance floor, cozy restaurant-style booths along the walls and quieter outside patio, where patrons could order drinks through a window connecting to the inside.
“[The best aspects were] the atmosphere, food and music that appeals to all crowds — even people eating lunch were boppin’,” senior geographical sciences major Jimmy Vargas said.
Vargas had been waiting for the bar to open for months. He had frequented Santa Fe Cafe, the space’s previous occupant, and said he loved his first day at the new bar.
“When you look at it from the outside, it looks like a great place,” he said. “Then inside, it becomes an amazing place.”
But one student, junior communication major Eric Marshall-Main, criticized the bar’s use of female dancers and girls in tutus, stating they catered to “male sexual interest” and seemed “raunchy.”
Other criticisms included what students said were smaller drinks and steeper prices.
It’s “one of those places where you have to drink elsewhere before coming,” said recent graduate Emily Cruikshank.
The bar also upped its cover charge from $5 to $10 over the course of the night. But that was only due to the number of customers already inside, Salomeh Afshar said. Typically, she said, the door price will stay at $5.
As junior geographical sciences major Salim Boumoncef waited in line outside Friday night, he said the bar seemed to cater to an “older crowd” with its stricter door policies.
Terrapin’s Turf was scanning IDs, said bouncer Chris Nash, a senior kinesiology major, which he said kept out the “blatantly underage kids.”
Jimmy John’s was also giving out free sandwiches to students waiting, telling them to stop by after going to the bar. The Afshars didn’t mind, they said, adding they want to help support the community, including a possible barhop with other city bars.
“Our purpose is not to shut anyone down or hurt anyone’s business — our purpose is to better the community and help out one another,” Yasmine Afshar said. “[In Georgetown], if we didn’t have a bottle or we ran out of something, I’d run three doors down and say, ‘Hey man, I’m from the Saloun, give me … .’ And that was the relationship we had, and that’s what we want in College Park.”
The Afshars have ideas for events such as for Halloween and homecoming, and Salomeh Afshar said she’d like to have an acoustic band “jamming” on the patio in warmer weather.
For now, the bar will offer a mimosa special brunch on Sundays, specials on 22-ounce draft beers on Mondays and electronic music on Tuesdays. Wednesdays will offer Top 40 music nights for patrons ages 18 and older, and Thursdays will feature theme nights and live local bands. Fridays will be electronic music, and Saturdays will feature Top 40 music at night and an all-star buffet from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., during which patrons can pay a flat rate and get unlimited “game-day food” as they watch college sports games.
The Afshars said they hope to be here for 20 years, and they want students’ feedback to help better their establishment.
“We party, so we know how people like to party,” Yasmine Afshar said. “And we’ve been going around … asking our staff, ‘So what did you think? What did your friends say?’ … We’re doing everything we can to make sure our customers are happy and blown away. We want them to be like, ‘Where are we going tonight?’ ‘We’re going to Turf.’”
For some students, Turf is already the place to be. Outside on the patio on opening night, Vargas couldn’t contain his happiness.
“I love it,” he said. “I will be back — that’s in capital letters.”