The Ballad of Ranger Russ: One of Pike District's Most Interesting Characters

Monday, May 22, 2017

Mild-mannered game designer by day, outspoken mountain ranger by night -- all in the heart of Pike District.   

Russell Allen is a student in the Simulation and Digital Entertainment department at the University of Baltimore at Shady Grove. He also happens to have one of the most interesting jobs in Pike District.

Russell is a game designer at Rockville Panic Room, an escape room that recently opened in Pike District. You can read our profile of Rockville Panic Room here. He designs the layout of the escape rooms and creates the logic puzzles that have to be solved in the 60 minute time limit to win the game.

“I make sure all the puzzles and clues make sense and if people are getting stuck… I have to look at that and change it,” Allen explains. “I make sure it looks pretty and it works right and people have a good time.”

The challenge is designing a series of puzzles that can be adapted for players of all ages and skill levels. “It’s tricky,” Russell says.  “Our goal is we don’t want everyone to get out of the room quickly, we want them to get out with a minute left. So I have to design the room so it takes up almost the whole hour but…if you get out 15 minutes early that’s not a good game.”

Although Russell spends a lot of time in front of a computer, game design is only one part of his job. If you sign up to play Cabin Fever, one of the two escape rooms currently available at Rockville Panic Room, there’s a good chance you will meet Allen’s alter-ego, Ranger Russ.

Ranger Russ greets players in full costume when they arrive -- mountain ranger jersey, backpack, and Mountie hat -- and stays in character the entire game. After Ranger Russ checks you into the cabin, he monitors your progress on video and is always available on the two-way radio to give hints, answer questions and warn about the movement of an oncoming blizzard.

“We joke around on the radio a lot, the Cabin Fever one especially,” said Andrew Ma, the owner and Chief Escape Officer at Rockville Panic Room.  “It’s cheesy but people love it.”

Russell fully commits to his Ranger persona. “It’s fun. I love it. I can mess with them and push them in the right direction.”

Where does Russell find his motivation for his acting role?

“I think it all comes from playing Dungeons and Dragons,” he explains. “All the players I have are my players and I’m kind of like their dungeon master.”

In fact, Russell’s love of Dungeon and Dragons helped get him the job in the first place. When he interviewed, Ma asked Russell if he had played an escape room before. Russell had not, but he said the concept reminded him of Dungeons and Dragons.

“That is one of the big reasons I hired him,” Ma confirmed. “Because I used to play a lot of Dungeons and Dragons.”

While Russell enjoys the role of Ranger Russ, he does not want to be typecast. He is currently workshopping a Principal Russ character for Escape Detention, where groups are trapped in a middle school science classroom.

“I’m still working on that character,” Russell says. “They might be stuck on something and I’m like, ‘Let’s try this class. I see you all haven’t been doing your summer reading. That’s why you got detention.’”

With Rockville Panic Room in the process of adding prison and zombie-themed escape rooms, Russell will have more than enough chances to showcase his acting range.  

Rockville Panic Room is located at 12009 Nebel Road and is by appointment only. You can reserve a room online at

Interview With Michael & Son on Their DC Metro Bathroom Map

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

It’s a situation everyone hopes to avoid. You are on the metro and you realize you need to use the bathroom. You look at the map to see the next stop. You have never been to that metro before and have no idea where to find the nearest restroom. What do you do?

Luckily, you now have an answer. Michael and Son Services, Inc., the local plumbing company that has served the area since 1976, recently embarked on a month-long journey to visit every stop on the DC metro and create an interactive online map showing the closest restroom to every station, including the three stops in Pike District: Grosvenor, White Flint and Twinbrook. They even included a five-star rating for ease of access. The profiles for each Pike District metro stop are below, along with additional photos to help you find your way.

You can view the map here.  

We reached out to Art Barletta, Digital Marketing Manager for Michael and Son, to learn more about how this innovate public service project began and how the restrooms in Pike District measure up.

Pike District: How did you come up with idea?

Michael & Son: As a leading plumbing and septic company in the Washington region, we wanted to create something that would be useful for our customers and the larger community. Metro's Safetrack program has lengthened commutes and made traveling by public transit considerably less comfortable this year. The Metro Bathroom Map seeks to improve one aspect of the situation by providing riders with a bathroom option while on the go. 

How many people were involved in scouting bathroom locations? Did people volunteer? Was this a fun project? 

We had a team of about 10 doing the scouting and taking notes for the Metro Bathroom Map.  Everyone involved was a local Washingtonian and we had many people who were excited to contribute to the map with their personal favorite bathrooms near metro stops. 

How long did the process take to compile the complete list? 

It took about a month for us to find the bathroom at each metro stop and write up the directions from the train platform to the restroom. There are over 100 stations in the metrorail system so it took a significant amount of time to gather all pertinent details. 

How long did you spend at each location searching around for bathrooms? 

We typically spent between 5 and 15 minutes per location.  

What metro stop was the most difficult to find a bathroom?

There were several stations along the green line across the river that had no accessible restrooms nearby. This has been indicated on the map. 

What metro stop had the best bathroom accommodations?

The new stations along the silver line have nice, easily accessible restrooms in the station. These are probably the most convenient. There are also a few stations with a grocery store right at the entrance that made for an easy bathroom stop. For example the SW Waterfront and the Potomac Avenue stop.  

What kind of reaction have you received? (customers, social media, media coverage, etc.)

Reaction to the map has been overwhelmingly positive. We have received lots of coverage in local publications such as DCist, Curbed, and Popville. Additionally, our customers and social media followers have all been supportive of the campaign and have helped get the word out!

[Left: DC Metro Map profile for Grosvenor Strathmore stop; Top Right: Front entrance to Meridian at Grosvenor Station; Bottom Right: View of Grosvenor metro entrance, Meridian is in the distance to the left of photo.]

Grosvenor – How did you end up at Meridian? You say “You may be able to use the restrooms, but not a guarantee.” Any story behind that? Did you have to talk your way into the bathroom?

Meridian was the only nearby building that seemed to be open regularly. The person who took notes for this stop said it would likely depend on who was working that day. Technically, it is not a public restroom, but in an emergency it would likely be an option.  

[Left: DC Metro Map profile for White Flint station; Top Right: McDonald’s on Rockville Pike, White Flint metro entrance in background of photo; Bottom Right: 7-11 in strip mall located just south of McDonald’s.]

White Flint – there are a lot of businesses across the street, how did you choose McDonald’s and 7-11?

During our research, we found that 7-11 stores seemed fairly reliable in terms of offering a restroom. Even when they were supposed to be for employees only, if you explained that it was an emergency, they often provided access.

[Left: DC Metro Map profile for Twinbrook; Top Right: Safeway across the street from Twinbrook Station driveway entrance; Bottom Right: Fuddrucker’s to the north of metro parking lot.]

Twinbrook – this appears to have been a relatively easy search. Any issues at this stop?
Twinbrook had many nearby options. Safeway had an easily accessible restroom but the Fuddruckers was just slightly easier to get to from the station exit.

Any overall impressions about the bathroom availability in Pike District? (Grosvenor got 2 stars and White Flint and Twinbrook got 3 stars for ease of access).

Compared to the stops along the silver line (with restrooms in the stations themselves) and some of the downtown DC stops (with dozens of options just steps away) the Pike District restrooms were slightly less accessible. Overall though, everyone at the local establishments was very friendly and many stores and restaurants located near Twinbrook, White Flint, and Grosvenor could be an option in a pinch!


New Rockville Panic Room Opens on Nebel Street

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Rockville Panic Room recently opened at 12009 Nebel Street. Andrew Ma, owner and Montgomery county native, sat down with Pike District to explain what a panic room is and why he brought one to Pike District.

Andrew Ma gets quizzical looks whenever he wears his company’s apparel in public. “When you wear a shirt that says ‘Texas Panic Room,’ it always brings up a discussion,” Ma jokes.

If you have never heard of a panic room, or escape room as they are commonly called, you are not alone. The interactive game, which started in Japan 15 years ago and quickly swept through Europe, has only recently gained popularity in the U.S.

So, what exactly is an escape room?

Escape rooms are a new form of themed entertainment where players are trapped in a room and have 60 minutes to solve a series of puzzles to get out. Each room has a different theme, like a log cabin, a classroom or a dungeon. 

The concept sounds a little strange until you try it. Even Ma, who opened Rockville Panic Room in March, was initially skeptical.  “At first when I heard about [the escape room concept] it sounded kind of silly,” Ma concedes. “You lock people in a room for an hour and I am going to pay for that? You should be paying me.”

But Ma, who is an equity analyst, quickly changed his tune when he looked at the financials. “After I saw the numbers on it I was like ‘wow’ there’s something here.” Ma became a silent investor in Texas Panic Room, an escape room chain with six locations throughout Texas, and when the company looked to expand to the East Coast, Ma, a Montgomery County native, jumped at the opportunity. 

He thought the Bethesda/Rockville area had similar demographics to Austin, Texas, home of the company’s most successful escape room and believes his Rockville location could eventually be even more popular.

After scouring potential spaces in the area, he quickly concluded that Pike District was the perfect fit. “Coming from a finance and accounting background, the bottom line is very important,” Ma explained. The Nebel Street location checked all the boxes on his wish list: central location, plentiful parking, metro accessibility, and reasonable rent.

Once he had the location, it was time to design the escape rooms. As Ma gives a tour of the various rooms – some finished, some still under construction – you can tell he enjoys his job: “I like getting involved in this because the concept is fun.”

Ma shows off a “prison escape” game that is under construction, complete with jail cells, a warden’s office and even an authentic prison toilet shipped from Texas. As we enter a storage room, he points to a large coffin sitting in the corner that will eventually be part of a zombie-themed room.

Right now, there are two escape rooms open to the public – Cabin Fever and Escape Detention. The Pike District location has the capacity for up to five rooms and the plan is to introduce a new game every six months. 

[Andrew Ma, Chief Escape Officer, plays chess with Russell Allen, one of the game designers, in the cabin-themed escape room.]

Escape Detention, which is the easiest of the two, looks like a sixth-grade science class with grade-school desks, lockers, and a table full of beakers. Just because it’s the easiest, does not mean you will definitely escape. Every group moves at its own pace. Case in point, a group of 11-year olds recently escaped the classroom with 56 seconds remaining while a group of adults on a corporate retreat could not beat the deadline.

The harder option, Cabin Fever, challenges groups to escape a secluded ski resort in the wake of an on-coming blizzard. We cannot give away too many details but can attest that it feels like you just checked into a ski lodge when you walk through the door.

And it’s not just the rooms that are decorated. The staff ordered outfits to go along with each theme, like a sheriff’s shirt with fake Billy clubs and mountain ranger jerseys, backpacks, and Mountie hats. “We try to get into the role of things,” Ma said. “You are supposed to feel that immersiveness in a game. We like that part. I think the clients like it.”

They even have graduation caps and pin-wheel hats for group photos after Escape Detention. The hat you get depends on whether you escape or not.

Rockville Panic Room is also developing a kid-friendly arcade-themed room and has additional space for birthday parties, as well as a conference room for corporate outings. Ma expects almost one third of clients will be corporate retreats and team-building exercises during the week.

Rockville Panic Room is by appointment only and must be booked at least three hours in advance. You can reserve a room online at

County Executive Announces New Bike Lanes in Pike District

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

By Maureen Chowdhury, Montgomery Community Media

The Pike District now has one-half mile of separated bike lanes located on both sides of Nebel Street between Randolph Road and Marinelli Road in Rockville.

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett along with local officials announced the completion of the bike lanes today at a ribbon cutting event.

“The Pike District is in the process of transforming itself into a walkable, bikeable, transit-oriented community and the completion of the Nebel Street protected bike lane is one more step towards this goal,” Leggett said. “Creating a smart-growth community in the Pike District means more economic opportunities, more jobs and a better environment. It means making Montgomery County more competitive and brings greater prosperity and a stronger sense of community to this area,” he said.

According to a news release, the bike lanes are one-way,  six-feet-wide and are located against the curb on either side of Nebel street, separating cyclists from moving vehicles. There is also a stripped buffer area to provide cyclists extra protection. Parking on the westside of Nebel Street was relocated to the east side.

An additional lane is expected to be completed on Marinelli Road, that would create a continuous protected bike lane connection from Montrose Parkway along Nebel Street to White Flint Metro Station.

Montgomery County's second protected bikeway just opened, and more are on the way

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

By Jonathan Neeley, Greater Greater Washington

On Monday, Montgomery County's second protected bikeway opened, doubling the number of lane-miles in the county where there's a physical barrier between space for bikes and general traffic. It's part of what will one day be an expansive network that will make bike commuting in Montgomery safer and more practical.

Actually comprised of two one-way lanes on either side of the road, the new infrastructure is on Nebel Street, a commercial and industrial street in White Flint that sees a lot of use. The lanes will eventually be part of a bike corridor that runs from downtown Bethesda to Twinbrook, in Rockville.

Protected bikeways are the wave of the future for Montgomery County, which has plans for a network of them in White Flint, the Life Sciences Center, and Silver Spring. In 2014, the county opened the protected bikeway on Woodglen Drive, which was one of the first of its kind in the nation for a place outside of a major city's limits (and, different from this one, has two lanes that run in opposite directions but sit side by side).

The new bikeway runs from Marinelli Road to Randolph Road. At the southern end, they will connect to bike lanes planned for Marinelli Road, which will connect to Metro and eventually to the Woodglen Drive bikeway.

The new bikeway on Nebel Street brings the county's total mileage of protected bike lanes to 0.8 miles, roughly the same number as Arlington County. The District has around six miles of protected bikeways.

Other projects to add to Montgomery's total are underway now, and more are in planning. A separated contraflow bike lane on Glenbrook Road in Bethesda will be completed within weeks, and the county hopes to begin construction on downtown Silver Spring's first protected bikeway along Spring Street in November, weather permitting.

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett reaffirmed the county's commitment to building a low-stress network of bikeways at the ribbon cutting Monday. The county has a long way to go, but is working quickly to build better bike facilities.


White Flint Western Workaround Scheduled To Start Construction Next Month

Thursday, October 13, 2016

By Andrew Metcalf, Bethesda Magazine

Montgomery County plans to start construction next month on a long-awaited project to realign roads near the White Flint Metro station to create a more defined street grid that could allow new developments to move forward in the area.

The “Western Workaround” will realign Executive Boulevard where it meets Old Georgetown Road and add a new street that will create rectangular properties near the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center and the Montgomery County Aquatic Center. The county estimates the road realignment project to cost $55 million.

“It’s exciting,” Dee Metz, who oversees development in White Flint for the county, said. “It’s the first step of the grid process.”

The county plans to start construction Nov. 8 on the first phase of the workaround, which will relocate and straighten Executive Boulevard starting at Marinelli Road and connect it with a new east-west road called Market Street that will also be constructed. The road work will also extend Executive Boulevard from Market Street to meet Old Georgetown Road near the Grand Park Avenue entrance to the Pike & Rose development.

To allow the construction to happen, the County Council’s transportation committee approved a resolution Thursday that gives the county permission to take property from the owners of land that has housed two car dealerships across from Pike & Rose. The county is negotiating with the property owner, VOB, and expects a land swap deal to be completed soon—possibly negating the need for the county to take the land.

During the committee meeting, VOB representatives said they would lose about 11,000 square feet of property even if the county gave VOB additional land on a parcel that would be created when Old Georgetown Road is squared near where Executive Boulevard currently meets the road. The triangular piece of land would be part of the land swap.  Despite this, the representatives said they mostly approved of the deal and expect to have an agreement with the county in place within the next week—possibly before the resolution comes before the full council Tuesday.

County Council member Roger Berliner, who chairs the committee, said the swap would provide VOB with properties that could be more valuable for future development.

The Western Workaround was first detailed as part of the White Flint Sector Plan that was approved in 2010.

“This piece is so important to get done,” Berliner said. “We’ve been waiting on this piece for a long time.”

The Western Workaround will also square off property where Gables Residential is planning a 476-unit mixed-use project on a 5-acre property that Executive Boulevard currently runs through. And the workaround helps enable the county to move forward with a $22.5 million, 650-space parking garage to replace the surface parking lot at the conference center where a realigned Executive Boulevard will be constructed.

NBC Washington - Pike District's Effect on Traffic, Shopping and Dining in Montgomery Co.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Montgomery County is redeveloping the area around White Flint Mall into a community called the Pike District. Chris Gordon reports on the effect on traffic, shopping and dining out in the county.

Pike District joins Intervention 7

Friday, August 19, 2016

Pike District is proud to be a sponsor of one of the most unique and diverse conventions in the country, Intervention 7, which celebrates the intersection of science fiction, fantasy, pop culture and the arts.

In partnership with Intervention 7, Pike District is reaching out to local high schools to sponsor students to attend the convention so that students interested in art, comics, science fiction and fantasy can meet their favorite celebrities and learn about art and technology in Intervention 7's Creator's track.

Pike District is the 2.5 mile segment of Rockville Pike in Montgomery County, Maryland that scans Grosvenor, White Flint and Twinbrook Metro Stations and is rapidly evolving into a walkable, sustainable urban-suburban community. Formerly White Flint and better known as the North Bethesda/Garrett Park area, Pike District was named #1 suburb to live in Maryland and #18 in the nation in Niche’s 2016 Best Places to Live. The County’s focus is to support and promote the diverse people, places and events within a 10-minute walk of the three metro stations.

Bethesda Magazine Restuarant Week is August 12 to 21

Thursday, August 11, 2016


















Bethesda Magazine's Restaurant Week is back! Starting August 12th and running through August 21st, over 40 restaurants are participating with 2-course Lunch menus for $16 and 3-course Dinner menus for $36.

Check out the menus of seven Pike District restaurants and make your reservation today! Click here to view the full list of restaurants.

Cava Mezze
Website | Lunch Menu | Dinner Menu | Reservations

City Perch Kitchen + Bar
Website | Dinner Menu | Reservations

Del Frisco's
Website | Lunch Menu | Dinner Menu | Reservations

Helen’s on the Pike
Website | Dinner Menu | Reservations

Seasons 52
Website | Lunch Menu | Dinner Menu | Reservations

Stella Barra Pizzeria
Website | Dinner Menu | Reservations

Summer House Santa Monica
Website | Lunch Menu | Dinner Menu | Reservations

More Than Just Berries at Westmoreland Berry Farm

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

(Fresh picked berries at Westmoreland Berry Farm.)

Westmoreland Berry Farm was started by the Voorhees Family in the early 1980s to provide premier berries and orchard fruit to the local community and top restaurants. Their berries and fruit are available as on-farm pick-your-own, in retail stores, at farm markets, and through wholesale. In addition to offering berries, fruit, and fresh produce, Westmoreland Berry Farm also carries products made with their own fruit such as jams and toppings.

Visitors to the farm are welcome to come pick-your-own on-site while enjoying tractor rides, bean bag tossing, beautiful natural scenery, and four energetic and adorable baby goats. The farm is also home to Twinkle’s Cafe where they grill up hot dogs and hamburgers and serve refreshing drinks and ice cream sundaes.

(If you visit Westmoreland Berry Farm, go meet their goats!)

Westmoreland Berry Farm focuses on growing the most delicious berries possible. To taste the difference of fresh berries picked at their peak of flavor in person, find them at Pike Central Farm Market where they have been participating since the beginning for the past four years. These scrumptious berries far exceed those in grocery stores!