May 21, 2022
Experiencing a Washington Mystics win from their official bar partner As You Are
The first-place Mystics showed on Friday night that ‘as they are’ is plenty good enough
WASHINGTON – As fans re-enter WNBA arenas en masse for the 2022 season, the rediscovered energy is palpable.
“It’s just fun being in a basketball environment where the fans are there,” Washington Mystics head coach and general manager Mike Thibault said on Friday. “You feel like there’s energy in the building when you step on the court. That’s a great feeling. We certainly have seen it at home … [and] as the road team, we love shutting up the home crowd.”
The Mystics were on the road on Friday, toughing out a 78-73 win at Atlanta to improve to 5-1 this season. But back in DC, a new bar and café called As You Are had just opened its outdoor patio for the season and welcomed in fans to watch the game.
As You Are opened indoors on March 22 in Southeast DC, just three miles from the Mystics arena, with the goal of better serving the LGBTQIA+ community and its allies.
“We like to call ourselves all-inclusive,” co-founder Jo McDaniel told The Next, “and that’s not just the people who are welcome here but also the experience. So we want to make the most marginalized of the marginalized humans feel safe … because if the most marginalized person feels safe by proxy, everyone else is safe as well. So we spend a lot of time thinking about how to make sure not people aren’t being overserved or not being approached, talked to [or] touched without their consent. …
“When I [say] all-inclusive in experience, I mean, you could come have a nice quiet date. Or you could come get a cup of coffee and read a book. Or you can go upstairs and jump up and down on the dance floor to a DJ and get sweaty and feel glorious. … It’s a place that’s a community space for the people and by the people. We just signed our lives away to put it here.”
McDaniel and her co-founder Rach Pike have been WNBA fans since 2018 and 1997, respectively, and As You Are is one of the Mystics’ two official bar partners this season. The bar is streaming every game, home and away, and trying to create a new kind of fan experience where everyone is welcome and where women’s sports get the airtime that men’s sports take for granted in bars and restaurants around the world.
“Especially in the queer community, right, we see so many folks out at [Washington] Nationals games and [Capitals] games and it’s like, ‘All right, well, if you’re sporty, this is where we should be,’” McDaniel said. “And so shining the spotlight on the Mystics … we’re constantly trying to convert people.”
The commitment to the Mystics is immediately visible at As You Are, from the sticker on the front door announcing the partnership to the signed memorabilia decorating the first floor of the cozy two-story building. A signed poster of 2019 WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne hangs between two front windows, and a T-shirt signed by 2020 All-WNBA Second Team selection Myisha Hines-Allen is closer to the bar, at the end of a row of window seats. (The NWSL’s Washington Spirit are represented, too, with a small flag hanging next to the television by the bar.)
Pike and McDaniel planted a seed for the partnership before As You Are had even opened its doors. While attending the Mystics’ Pride Night game in June 2021, they happened to strike up a conversation with Shelan Baynes, the team’s director of fan development and community engagement.
“We started talking about how we were going to open this place and how it was our dream to be an official Mystics bar,” McDaniel said. “… The Mystics then reached out to us … once we had our brick and mortar [building] and we were getting ready to open, and it all sort of worked out.”
The first event that As You Are hosted within the partnership was a watch party for the NCAA national championship game on April 3. Mystics season ticketholders were invited, and representatives from the Mystics’ parent company, Monumental Sports and Entertainment, attended and brought some giveaways.
“We were all very hoarse the next day,” McDaniel said. “… It was really cool to watch a bunch of people who love basketball watch basketball together. [Rach] always says sport brings people together, and so we did that.”
In total, As You Are boasts at least six televisions: two in the café downstairs, three in the upstairs game room and one on the dance floor. Yes, you read that right — there is a dance floor upstairs with its own bar and a skylight, and there is a television mounted on one wall, with black drapes that can cover or reveal it. On Mystics game nights, the dance floor opens early and the game is on as the music plays.
“It’s like a chill vibe. I like it,” Hines-Allen told The Next recently, a few days after she briefly dropped by to see her signed shirt on display. “… But I did not know that they were streaming all the games. That’s dope.”
The goal is both to create new fans by showing the games and to give current Mystics fans a new option to watch games. The fact that As You Are streams all the games through the Mystics’ Monumental Sports Network (MSN) is a big plus for local fans, who otherwise could only see Friday’s game by paying for a MSN subscription or watching it live on Twitter, which reportedly had several technical difficulties. And the bar is very close to several bus routes and a metro station serving three different lines, which was a priority for Pike and McDaniel to be accessible to as many people as possible.
As You Are is in DC’s Eastern Market neighborhood, on the corner of a street bustling with restaurants and another street lined with colorful brick homes and townhouses. The café was calm at 6:45 p.m. on Friday, 45 minutes before tipoff, as people ordered food and drinks or talked quietly in small groups. Despite the summerlike humidity, I ate a (delicious) turkey BLT and side salad on the new patio, watching cars and a bus to Congress Heights — the neighborhood where the Mystics’ arena is located — drive by.
McDaniel and Pike’s welcoming nature and commitment to accessibility stood out when McDaniel responded to a person on the sidewalk asking for money by inviting her inside for a meal, and when Pike patiently troubleshooted to try to get closed captioning on the televisions for the game. The café area also has standards of behavior posted on one wall that emphasize respect and consent.
Most patrons were not watching the Mystics game on Friday night, but with the televisions muted, the café music seemed to complement the action on the court. In the second quarter, for instance, point guard Natasha Cloud made a layup as the chorus of Lizzo’s “Fitness” played: “Independent, athletic / I been sweating, doing calisthenics.” Cloud finished with 16 points and five assists, including four free throws to seal the game.
Next, Mac Miller’s “Dang!” played as the Mystics entered halftime tied at 44. After Atlanta shot 55% from the field, led by rookie Rhyne Howard’s 19 first-half points on 6-of-6 shooting, the lyrics “Wait! Can’t keep losing you!” felt appropriate. Lizzo’s “Good as Hell” then portended what was to come in a game that featured 20 lead changes and 14 ties, the last of which came on a Tianna Hawkins free throw with 41.5 seconds remaining. It also aptly described wing Alysha Clark’s defense on Howard in the second half, when the rookie scored just two more points.
“It’s AC. She’s one of the best defenders to ever come through this league, and that’s like of all time,” Cloud said postgame. “… She bullied Rhyne. That’s what we needed to do, bully her early, not allow her to get comfortable coming off the screens. And AC did a phenomenal, phenomenal job that second half.”
As You Are’s second-half music included Jermaine Dupri’s remix of “Welcome to Atlanta” and “Sorry Not Sorry” by Demi Lovato. Lovato sings about payback, which was fitting given that two Mystics, Hawkins and Elizabeth Williams, played for Atlanta last season. Hawkins finished with a season-high 11 points along with five rebounds, three assists and one steal, while Williams had just two points and five rebounds but returned from overseas obligations just in time to contribute against her former team.
“[Tianna and I] haven’t talked about it overtly,” Williams said on Thursday about the idea of beating their former team. “I think it’s both kind of in our heads just because we were there before. I think that’s anyone when they change teams.”
Although the Mystics added Williams to the rotation on Friday, they were without Delle Donne, who had a scheduled rest day as part of a season-long plan to manage her surgically repaired back. “Our team is kind of getting a little more used to it or comfortable with it,” Thibault said pregame, pointing out that some plays can be run for Delle Donne, Hines-Allen or Hawkins interchangeably. “But it is different. But … that’s the nature of what we’re going to have to go through for part of our season, and we’re just learning to live with it.”
The Mystics improved to 2-0 without Delle Donne, with both wins coming on the road. They are demonstrating their depth, getting a league-high 23.5 points per game from their bench. And although they still want to reduce their turnovers and increase their communication, they are showing that they are good enough, as they are, to contend for a championship.
“As You Are? What’s that?” a man wondered aloud as he walked by the patio on Friday night. There are many possible answers to that question, but one is, the newest home away from home for all fans of the first-place Washington Mystics.
Written by Jenn Hatfield
Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats and FanSided.