The time has come: the newest and very long-anticipated Joe Englert H Street hot spot opens its doors today, and bar-goers will like what they find there. H Street Country Club has a lot going on– its a well-developed concept bar with impeccable attention to detail as well as a sporty hang-out and Mexican restaurant. KatieT and I got a sneak peak Tuesday night and our expectations were met by what we found, in every way.
The first thing that struck me upon entering the downstairs bar was the enormity of the space. Compared to other H Street spots like the Pug, it’s HUGE. There is a large and long bar with enough room flanking it for table seating, and further back in the place there are two tables each of shuffle board and pool with space to spare. In the back corner there are also two skeeball games, if you need some sporty engagement while you wait for a table.
Upstairs, the feel is different. The sunnier lighting and fun mural paintings that cover the entirety of the upstairs indicate that the place is meant for chilling out or eating out. There’s a smaller bar upstairs as well as bench-booth seating for food. The accents–from the squirrels to the flying toasters to the birdhouse lights–are immensely amusing and will inevitably serve for conversation starters.
Most of the upstairs is relegated to the brilliantly-crafted 9-hole Mini Golf course. $7 will get you your club and ball (“Protect your balls” is a caveat offered by the clubhouse sign) and a chance to go round through a tour de DC. The course begins at U St with a tiny Lincoln Theater and Chili Bowl and moves on hitting the Cathedral and K Street and ending at the Washington Monument. The room is covered floor to ceiling in impressive murals mimicking diverse art styles adapted to suit the DC theme. Behind “The President’s Table” is an ode to the Cherry Blossoms. On the back left is the Iwo Jima memorial made entirely out of little army men. “Cool” is pretty much the word for the artwork at the hands of Lee Wheeler.
Now, the game card indicated that all the holes were either a par 2 or 3. As someone who can decently wield a golf club, I found that to be a lie. Several of the holes are difficult bordering on frustrating to impossible, especially the Lincoln Memorial, at which you have to essentially pop the ball up in the air up a 150 degree incline so it falls into the hole. A difficult mini golf course is absolutely fine by me, but even after one Marg I was going the way of Happy Gilmore. Imagine what damage scores of drunk bros could do when impeded by this course.
Bar General Manager Ricard Vergara said he wasn’t too worried about destruction, save for the murals, which are largely uncoated. There is a heavily lacquered shelf that runs around the full of the course to hold your drinks. Even so, I could easily imagine a point in the near future when the course gets restricted play after-hours.
Back downstairs we got a taste of the goods in a literal sense. KatieT tested out the Besos Margarita ($7), which mixes your traditional frozen marg with a Guava Margarita, to good results. My Margarita Especial ($13), which mixed Petron with Grand Marnier, sours and juice was a little bit too especial for me, though I’m a fan of all those parts when they are not mixed together. I would probably stick with the tried and true Margarita in the future. My curiosity is also piqued, however, by the Bonnibelle ($10), a whisky concoction our bartender said was his specialty. For the beer drinkers, there are house drafts – Amber and White – for $6 a pop.
The El Norte menu lived up to its claim to authenticity, so far as my palate could tell. KatieT is in love with their fresh Guacamole ($7), which paired amazingly with really good in-house tortilla chips. The Spicy Tamales ($7) were good, as was the Lobster Tostada ($11). For the price though, I’d go with Guac and chips at the bar, hands down. We did not get a crack at the dinner menu, but the menu looks as delicious (ex. Chilaquiles with Roasted Duck) as it is pricey ($22). Appetizers could go pretty far, and run from $7-$11 and the desserts sound beyond amazing, especially the Benuelos, or Mexican Fried Dough.
Undoubtedly this bar will become the new touchstone watering hole for those who usually stick to Adams Morgan when they want to try something new. And why not? It’s a spacious, hip place in a semi-foreign locale. Herein lies the rub. Walking the three blocks between the Country Club and my house off of H Street, the gentrification question hovered over me. Did they really just open a bar called “The Country Club” in this neighborhood? On one hand, sure, great to bring traffic and spending power to the Atlas District in an attempt to urge on its “revitilization.” But I can’t help but wonder at the expense of what other businesses around. This is a whole can of worms I honestly am underqualified to respond to, but it’s something that could never be far from my mind while reracking pool balls in the Country Club.