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Local nightlife mogul Joe Englert has business interests throughout Northwest D.C., from the 51st State Tavern in Foggy Bottom to the Big Hunt downtown to DC9 in Shaw.
On Capitol Hill, Englert’s entrepreneurial influence stretches down Pennsylvania Avenue SE from Capitol Lounge to the Pour House (formerly Politiki) to the newly opened Trusty’s hot-dog-and-chili joint, located near the Potomac Avenue Metro station.
As extensive as his reach into area boozehounds’ pockets already is, Englert now wants an even bigger presence—a bar-lined corridor to call his own. Something similar to Robert Siegel’s endangered nightclub-and-bathhouse complex on the proposed baseball stadium site in Southeast. Only a bit less homoerotic.
Since last fall, Englert and his associates have gobbled up eight separate properties along three blocks of H Street NE with plans to transform the strip into a destination place, featuring, among other things, Grecian- and boxing-themed bars.
It’s an aggressive strategy—one that has not only garnered splashy front-page coverage in the Washington Business Journal but also seemed so expansive that Sterling, Va.–based industry pub Foodservice Monthly recently devoted a separate section of its regular Restaurant Activity Insider Report to what it dubbed the “Joe Englert Entertainment District.”
The next phase of Englert’s plot for H Street domination kicks off on Aug. 7, when the Argonaut, a new tavern to be run jointly by Englert and fellow barmonger Bedrock Management, will open for business at the corner of H and Maryland Avenue NE. Seven other nearby Englert-launched venues will follow.
Not that the historic, riot-ravaged corridor, which has been blighted by drug activity and public drinking for decades, really lacks places to buy booze.
“I don’t think they need all these bars up here,” says Jackie, a 43-year-old resident of nearby 14th Street NE, who points to a number of existing liquor stores on nearby corners, as well as a handful of neighborhood carryouts that hawk beer and wine.
If anything, Jackie, who refuses to give her last name, suggests the proliferation of pubs could lead to “more alcoholics—straight up.”
On the other hand, she adds, “it might be good for the neighborhood.” The promise of economic development—any economic development—is that it could “fix [H Street] up to how they say it used to be,” she says. That is, before the riots prompted by Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 assassination.
Of course, Englert isn’t the only one injecting the neighborhood with development. All the hubbub over his activities has largely overshadowed the efforts of first-time club owner Clifton Humphries, whose own H Street Martini Lounge is scheduled to open later this month. And don’t forget the venues that have been open for a while now, such as the Atlas Performing Arts Center, which Executive Director Patrick E. Stewart calls “the real catalyst for everything that’s going on down there.”
Not that Stewart’s complaining. As is, it’s pretty lonely down there. And Stewart is counting on Englert’s venues to help out his own business. “It’s the far end of Capitol Hill…so you gotta have a real reason to go,” he says. “I think getting Joe’s stuff open is going to be key.”
A potential boon to some businesses, Englert’s plan will undoubtedly compromise others. “I’m gonna be phased out eventually,” says Angela Jones, owner of Plaitz Braiding Gallery, located on the second floor of a building that Englert & Co. intend to turn into a pub—the Pug, to be exact, a boxing-themed tavern that longtime Englert employee and Cap Lounge suds-slinger Tony Tomelden hopes to open as early as October.
Losing that space will be particularly disheartening to Jones, whose business was “just getting established,” she says, after opening only two years ago.
Englert’s designs on H Street haven’t gone unchallenged. But every time neighbors raise a fuss, the experienced entrepreneur always seems to have the right answer.
Back in November, neighbors protested Englert’s designs because they seemed to open the door to strippers on the strip. The scare later turned out to be a case of residents’ misinterpreting liquor-license jargon. Englert assured them that “[a]ny dancing of any kind would be making fun of the old burlesque—but no nudity or anything like that.” (Show & Tell, 11/19/2004) He later signed a written pact to “not offer ‘sexually oriented’ entertainment…or entertainment that has nude performances.”
In May, local advisory neighborhood commission (ANC) member Robyn Holden organized a meeting to discuss the high number of new booze-selling businesses under Englert’s plan. Fliers promoting the gathering asked: “Do you want 8 bars to open at the same time on H Street?”
The bar owner responded with an e-mail to the ANC’s constituents intended to “get the facts right about my establishments and my intentions.”
“I have a plan to clean up H St, to recruit just not restaurants, but bakers, chocolate shops, museums, flower shops and more to the strip,” which Englert suggested was presently inhabited by “two dozen or so homeless, urinating, yelling, screaming and guzzling malt liquor crazies populating the street corners.”
Moreover, he was “more than happy to sign voluntary agreements insuring cleanliness, policing, lighting, anti-all you can drink specials.”
“My plan is smart, inclusive and well-thought out,” he added. “No one else has stepped forward that is willing to do nearly enough.”
Englert’s ensuing public-relations campaign, which has since dropped in on both the ANC and the Linden Neighborhood Association, has been so persuasive that it’s caused some neighbors to rethink their positions.
In June, the ANC initially voted to prohibit the playing of music at six of Englert’s establishments after 11 p.m. on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends. Then, shortly before adjournment, the panel had a change of heart, altering the proposed voluntary agreements to allow music until midnight during the week and 1:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Englert has engaged his idiosyncratic side in naming his bars, never daring to pull a Martha Stewart and just go with, say, “Joe’s.” But what good is having your own entertainment district if your patrons don’t know the patrón? Herewith, S&T’s suggestions for a more megalomaniacal H Street:
The Olympic 1206 H St. NE
Former use: carryout restaurant
New use: sports bar featuring “basic bar menu, pool tables, with a variety of music”
AKA: The ESPNglert Zone
The Showbar 1210 H St. NE
Former use: BM&M Beauty Salon
New use: nightclub featuring “American cuisine, burlesque dancing, show performers, live and recorded music, appealing to adults”
AKA: Strip Joe’s
The Red & the Black 1212 H St. NE
Former use: La Blanch unisex hair salon
New use: New Orleans-style tavern “providing live rock and roll music…dancing”
AKA: L’Englert Plaza
The Beehive 1224 H St. NE
Former use: Carry-Out Kitchen, LLC
New use: restaurant “serving appetizers and homemade pizza; jukebox, billiards, table top electric games”
AKA: Regular Joe’s
The Pug (short for “pugilist”) 1234 H St. NE
Former use: Looks Hip-Hop & Urban Wear for Men & Women
New use: boxing-themed tavern serving “finger foods and snacks”
AKA: Joe’s Jab Shack
Dr. Granville Moore’s Brickyard 1238 H St. NE
Former use: Dr. Granville Moore’s office
New use: restaurant “specializing in Belgian cuisine and beers”
AKA: De Joegaarden
The Rock and Roll Hotel 1353 H St. NE
Former use: Robert O. Freeman Funeral Services Inc.
New use: tavern “providing regional and local bands…occasional DJ music”
AKA: Joe’s Strummers
The Argonaut 1433 H St. NE
Former use: Ledbetter Steak & Crab House
New use: restaurant “with an American grill menu…No dancing”
AKA: Sloppy Joe’s
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Illustration by Joe Rocco.