H Street Bar Scene

Joe Englert opens the door at The Pug on H Street, NE. Behind him is Granville Moore's.

Walking down H Street ,in Northeast, Washington, D.C. with Joe Englert is like being with the mayor of a small town. As he moves towards Granville Moore’s, people shout out greetings to the tall guy with the horn rim glasses. To look at him with his baggy pants and old baseball cap, you wouldn’t know the critical role he has played in reviving this once decimated 14-block stretch of road in the Nation’s Capital.

Englert, is the driving force behind many of the bars and restaurants along this main thoroughfare that connects to Union Station. He is like a busy bee moving along the sidewalk from one bar he owns or co-owns such at the H Street Country Club, the Rock and Roll Hotel and The Argonaut to other establishments he has helped start or flipped to other people like The Pug and Sticky Rice for little profit to bring in “fellow travelers” as he says to the area.

View H Street, NE, Establishments in a larger map

As he goes from place to place, construction workers loudly blasts away concrete to lay street car tracks. The city scape in the day light looks ragged but Englert is oblivious to it as he chats with bar managers or business partners about a particular band or the latest beer brand at each stop along his way.   While there is no collective name of all the entities he has had a hand in creating and funding, each place along H Street is like a favorite child to him. He jokes, “We’re like the disjointed Soviet Union, and I am like Boris Yeltsin. We preside over a brunch of dysfunctional USSRs. That’s basically what we do.”  All kidding aside, he is a serious business man for an English major.

Englert grew up in Pittsburgh and arrived in D.C . after graduating from Penn State. He wanted to write for the Washington Post. Eventually, he did after stints at other publications around town. But it was when he was freelancing for the Post, fate stepped in.  While writing about D.C’s nightlife, he quickly realized there wasn’t much of one inside the Beltway. So he become an entrepreneur and opened a club in 1989. He attributes his success to beginner’s luck. Englert and his friends invested $15,000 and grossed a million and half in sales the first year.

Fast forward to 2005, he was casting about for more real estate, and more cultural outreach when the opportunity to invest in H Street arose. There were 158 vacant buildings and he and his associates snagged 11 structures that had been destroyed by the 1968 riots and used by drug dealers for the last 40 years.  The places are near the Atlas Performing Arts Center, a community hub for locals.  He made the investment because of the real estate and the Small Business Administration.

“Because we could buy [the buildings], it was attractive to investors. Also, it was attractive to the SBA when we went out and financed some of these project,” said Englert.  But dealing with the SBA was not easy, even for a seasoned real estate guy. “I’ve done it many times before but it is three to four times harder than getting a conventional loan because of the paper work and the hoops you have to jump through with SBA money. So most of it was private money.”

Getting the buildings proved easy but rehabbing them was far different from even his first place, that was an old Hallmark Card store. Everything need to be brought up to modern

Englert at H ST Country Club, with his lookalike Photo by Sandra Abrams

regulations and standards to make them viable enough to operate.

“The building stock was old and decrepit,” He said. “Unlike other buildings in Northwest, these had not been touched since the fifties and sixties with new handicap codes, new fire codes and new safety codes. It so unbelievably expensive on this side of town.”

Today, he and his partners still own numerous buildings including: H Street Country Club, Granville Moore’s, The Red and The Black and the Palace of Wonder. The investment is still ongoing. For Englert, H Street is only in its second phase of its return to vibrancy with all the young families and new places populating this quadrant of the city.

“We’re just in the very throws of the second phase. The first phase was night clubs and bars, the second phase is dining and fine dining and the third phase would be retail and day businesses,” said the nightlife impresario.  As for the infrastructure upgrades and additional street car transportation, “I think it will be magical once the street scape is done.” He expects the city to complete its work in two years and say it will probably really start hopping. “You will come down in the day and say this is beautiful and you won’t have to squint.”
Video Tour below

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