Chances are you look to the restaurant industry to tell you what to put on your plate, not what you ought to be wearing. After all, how interesting can another iteration of an apron be? But for managers and bartenders, the dress code gets more creative. In this new feature, we’re chatting with some of the stylish characters in the DC restaurant scene. This week, we talk to Greg Engert, Beer Director at Neighborhood Restaurant Group about what he’s wearing. Check out the edited interview after the jump.
How would you describe your style?
Restrained, kind of normal. I’d say it’s minimalist. I don’t wear a lot of color. It’s subdued and understated. I stick to white, black, charcoal, heather. I like to incorporate nuances from patterns and layers. Not flashy, but sharp and urban.
What’s your favorite item of clothing that you own? Where do you find yourself shopping the most in DC?
There’s one thing that I couldn’t do without and never try to do otherwise with: black socks. I can only wear black socks. I just don’t like the way patterned socks or any other color look. Other than that, I’d say I like tapered black jeans, cardigans, skinny ties, like the 1950s slim ties. I have a faux leather Members Only jacket that I really like.
I mostly find myself shopping in the Gallery Place area. I look to Calvin Klein for ties and shop for other clothes including the best denim track pants. Restaurants tend to beat the shit out of your clothes, so I try to find things that are stylish but affordable and replaceable. If you work in a restaurant you want to look great, but also be comfortable and have things that can stand some wear and tear and be replaced frequently.
Why do you think it’s important for restaurant and bar staff to care about how they dress or to have a unique sense of style?
Our staff at Churchkey and Birch & Barley are dressed in black. It’s unobtrusive, but also has a sense of a formality and creates a group or team mentality. When people go to restaurants or bars, we provide them with an experience. It’s somewhat theatrical. You’re not just having dinner; you’re experiencing an event. You’re coming to be pampered. There’s that entire experience rather than just eating and drinking. The ambiance, the music, the decor are all factors. The wardrobe is kind of like a costume.
Tell us about your biggest fashion faux pas.
What a lot of people don’t know about me is that I’m a big sports fan. I played sports when I was younger and through college. My family gets New York Giants tickets every season. But when I go to New York for a weekend, sometimes I forget that distinction between what you wear going out in New York and what you wear to a sporting event. So I often find myself there on the morning of a game and I’m overdressed. I don’t really have sports apparel.
There was one time that I packed as if it was going to be really chilly. I always pack for New York like it’s November. I was wearing slacks, a black shirt and a cardigan. We were having this Indian summer, so it was a 90 degree day in October. I was able to shed the cardigan, but beyond the strange looks I was getting I was also very uncomfortable.
Bluejacket Brewery is set to open in 2013 and you mentioned that you’re working on some clothing items for the brewery. What sort of Bluejacket clothes or accessories will people be able to buy? How much involvement have you had with picking out the clothing and designs?
Everything that we do at NRG has a lot of thought put into it. I’ve been designing some things with Michael [Babin, NRG owner]. We have a “the more the merrier” approach when it comes to creative input on a project. And our designer, Kris Mullins has been heavily involved.
We made it very clear that just because the name of the brewery is Bluejacket, it doesn’t mean that everything has to be blue. There have been some designs for baseball tees and hats. The clothes are stylized, washed out, urban and hip. It’s about making the brewery apparel stand out beyond from what you’d expect. I want to design some slim ties, slim fit buttondowns, cardigans and maybe even a short trench at some point. All of the clothes will have subtle, slight indications that they’re from Bluejacket. For example, with the ties they might have a pattern with diagonal lines that up close say Bluejacket on them. The clothes will be more urban and understated.
Do you have any background in fashion or is it just something you’ve been interested in?
I just have an interest in all of the elements that provide an experience in a restaurant. I was originally trained to be an English professor, so I had this notion that I’d be wearing a lot tweed or jackets with elbow pads when I got older.
Image is really important. People think with their eyes a lot. So when I went into this profession, I wanted to bring the respect and adulation to beer that it deserves. I wanted to convince people that beer wasn’t this macro, yellow swill. I took a note from sommeliers I knew and dressed impressively.