Crawling Down H Street

A good bar crawl requires connections, careful planning, and alcoholic fortitude – possessing none of said attributes myself, I was thrilled when a friend stepped forward last weekend armed with all of those plus a handy map and suggested we all head out to the new/hot/buzzed nightlife area – H Street NE, otherwise known as the Atlas District.

Our destinations were The Red & The Black, The Argonaut, and The Palace of Wonders. This libational exploration was a fascinating glimpse into a neighborhood in search of an identity after years of neglect (or one whose former identity is rapidly being overtaken by the new). Urban philosophical musings aside, it also was a damn good time. Those of us who’ve lived in DC for years got hit by a good dose of deja vu as we crawled down the strip.

Hitting The Red & The Black first, we were immediately greeted with a friendly round of free whiskey shots (surprise, one of our more humble crawlers designed their sign!). The bar is decorated with an crazy abundance of French prints, doors, and empty frames, painted a lurid, ah, red and black, with obligatory tin ceiling and low lighting going for a very French Quarter feel. No flaming absinthe shots as yet, but a selection of bottled beers (to be expanded soon), vats of jambalaya and gumbo behind the bar, and comfy booths to relax in. The jambalaya sure packed a sweaty eyebrows punch. There’s also an upstairs for concerts and dance parties – several crawlers commented that it seemed “very DC9 East,” which makes perfect sense as it’s the product of the same mind, bar impresario Joe Englert.

This post appeared in its original form at DC Metblogs
Next we headed over to The Argonaut. It’s like a literal anchor of the district, a classic neighborhood joint situated on a corner lot with an inclusive and residential clientele hanging out. Settling into the heavy furnishings worthy of an old salty captain’s quarters, some crawlers couldn’t pass up the pulled pork sandwiches and truly addicting sweet potato fries. Their signature drink is the “Dark n’ Stormy” – a very tasty and very dangerous concoction of ginger beer and rum. After a few of these (and a drunken game of Battleship) we remembered “oh yeah, bar crawl” and off we went to The Palace of Wonders.

The ghosts of DC Nightlife Past seemed to follow us there. I’m not exactly sure why, but the whole spirit of the place made me feel I could easily walk outside and be in another part of the city in another time. Perhaps the deja vu really hit hard here as several crawlers remembered past Englert bars like 15 Minutes, Insect Club, pre-Lucky Bar Planet Fred (hmmm, does bar nostalgia mean we’re old? and yet we still got carded. go ahead, love to hate us). With its tall ceilings, brick walls washed in circus lights, and various eerie paraphernalia like a life-sized John Merrick mannequin, it had the strongest personality of the bars we crawled. You can sense it may also have the longest shelf-life if its promised freak and burlesque stage acts prove popular. It certainly is worth a return trek. The upstairs bar in particular with its intimate tables and creepy full-length display cases of abnormalia merits an alcoholic night of devious musings (not that I have tendencies in that direction or anything). The grand opening celebrations are Friday and Saturday nights (July 7 and 8) with some intriguing acts worth checking out.

Englert and others plan more bars on H Street, the Atlas Center for the Arts and the H Street Playhouse are in full swing, and eventually the city plans a streetcar to link the district to Union Station, as it used to have back in the day (no, I don’t remember that day). For now the only transportation options are car, bus, or cab, one downside to the area that U Street didn’t have when it started to experience that kind of revitalization. And wait a minute, didn’t Englert also have a hand in that with places like Andalusian Dog, State of the Union, etc?

Good grief, I need to get into a different line of work. I wonder how you transition from bar crawler to bar impresario…

This post appeared in its original form at DC Metblogs

As one of the founding editors of We Love DC, Jenn’s passions are theater and cocktails. After two decades in the city, she’s loved every quirky, mundane, elegant, rude minute of her DC life. A proud advocate for DC’s talented drinks scene, she’s judged the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s ARTINI contest, the DC Rickey Month contest, the Jefferson Hotel’s Quill Cocktail competition, and is a founding member of LUPEC DC. A graduate of Catholic University’s drama program, she toured the country as a member of National Players, and has been both an actor and a costume designer before jumping the aisle to theater criticism. Writing for We Love DC restored her happiness after a life-threatening illness, and she’s grateful to you, dear readers. Send your suggestions to jenn (at) welovedc (dot) com and follow her on Twitter.

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