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All outward appearances to the contrary, Joe Englert is not some overgrown man-child. He’s a pretty serious-minded businessman, of which I was reminded when we took a taxi cab to his second office just off H Street NE. While in the cab, we had an in-depth discussion about the politics (and cash) required to get a business up and running in the District. Believe me, Englert sheds any pretense to silliness when discussing permitting issues.
Englert’s success in the bar and restaurant business, it seems, merely allows him to behave as he wants. Sometimes he plays the role of middle-aged game boy; other times, he takes on the persona of a college senior perpetually looking for the next party. Englert admits that he likes hanging out with young adults in their early 20s as well as seniors, those who have a good eight decades under their belts. Everyone else seems a bore to him, just more workaday drones with no sense of humor and no willingness to drink at noon.
Which brings me back to Englert’s H Street office, which was once a plumbing supply store. The space is actually more than an office. It’s also the living quarters of Englert’s nephew, Travis Englert, who has a very cool one-room apartment upstairs. The first floor looks more conventional by contrast: big leather chairs and sofa, a desk, a wall of books.
But as Englert is showing me around, he pops open a bookshelf, haunted castle-style, to reveal a secret speakeasy behind the wall. There, inside, is a battered old bar. Several bottles of liquor sit on the shelves. A cooler is stocked with beer. This, says Englert, is where he conducts business when on H Street NE.
Then he insists that we have a shot. He pulls down a bottle of dark rum from Guatemala and pours a finger for me and his two construction workers/drinking buds, Steve and Josh. He pours three fingers for himself. The rum goes down sweet and smooth. It’s only around noon, and I already have a slight buzz.
This, I think, is the price for hanging around Joe Englert.