The venerable DC-area arts and entertainment magazine On Tap will relaunch as District Fray magazine on March 7. The social sports and events company United Fray, which operates DC Fray and similar entities in three other cities, bought On Tap last year and has been operating it under its old name since. The new publication will begin with On Tap’s print circulation of 20,000. It will publish print issues 11 times per year, and publish frequently online, where the company says it receives about 50,000 visits per month.
The rebranding, says founder, CEO, and publisher Robert Kinsler, will help knit the company’s community–between sports leagues and events he estimates it reaches about 100,000 people—more tightly together. There’s lots to do in the Washington area, and he sees District Fray as a way to not only share his company’s own events (it produces more than 160 per year in DC alone) but to help curate its readers’ downtime. District Fray’s commitment to will appear in the finite medium of print will sharpen those recommendations: “You have to decide what makes the cut,” he says. “If it made it into the magazine, there’s a reason.”
Monica Alford will be District Fray’s editor-in-chief. Alford has been On Tap‘s managing editor since 2016 and freelanced for the publication before that. The retooled magazine, which will have four full-time editorial staffers, will feature three new sections in addition to its four longtime sections devoted to eating, drinking, culture, and music: Play, which will cover travel, outdoors activities, and social sports; Work; and Life, which will include health and wellness and self-care stories.
Alford says she’s particularly jazzed about the March issue, called “For the Love of D.C.,” which she describes as “our love letter to the city.” Brandon Hill of the No Kings Collective has designed the cover, and the magazine’s staff and large roster of freelancers will write about what they love about their hometown. The issue also coincides with Women’s History Month, and it will feature lots of stories about “badass ladies, women that are doing really amazing things,” like sportswriter Lindsay Gibbs, Alford says.
I asked both Kinsler and Alford why they were running so enthusiastically toward print, a way of delivering information that many publishers can’t flee quickly enough. “Our whole lives cannot be on our phones,” Kinsler, who’s 35, says. “I think entertainment and recreation and living your best aspirational life is one of those spaces that can really benefit from a tactile experience.” Alford, who’s 32, says many of her peers “love picking up a local publication” and that print is experiencing a renaissance among millennials.
About those print copies of On Tap, for so long distributed in local bars and restaurants? Kinsler says the company plans to eventually “refine that process a little bit,” and is looking into subscriptions, or perhaps a membership option that offers more readers a “more integrated relationship with our community.” That reflects the reality that District Fray will be part of the larger Fray universe, which it intends to cover almost like a community newspaper. While many national publications are struggling, Kinsler says, “Local publications are doing a lot better, especially those that have a sense of community and identity.” If District Fray works here—he says it will need to cover its costs—he’ll consider adding print magazines in United Fray’s other markets: Jacksonville, New Orleans, and Phoenix.
Fray’s ownership means only additions to what On Tap was doing already, both Kinsler and Alford say. Alford, once the magazine’s theater critic, is particularly keen to continue covering theater and performing arts. Both say the new magazine will go nowhere near politics. “We’re very much about objective feature journalism and long form journalism and profiles and telling the stories of people, Alford says. “I think we’re carving out a space that’s more feature focused and about fun things to do in the city.”