Idle Hands a Solid Addition to the H Street Scene

Idle Hands [Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, 1236 H St. NE, open at 6p, est. 2018] is a solid addition to H Street from Hill bar owner Erik Holzherr. Idle Hands comes to the space that was the super (overly?) chill Church & State. Erik also ran Church & State so the space is still recognizable and many of the cool church-like touches (like windows and the confessional room off the bar) and the relative lack of light remain. Think board games (available for rent for a few bucks except from 6-7:30p M-F and Sun when they’re free), a few arcade games you can sit your drink on, video games. Unlike Church & State, which offered great cocktails which took forever to make, Idle Hands menu is simplified, with a list of 7 quick and easy (but still tasty) $9-11 cocktails named after late 80s/90s movies, 2 housemade shots (“fireball” & “coffee liqueur”), about 14 types of canned/bottled beer (mostly around $7), and wine ($8-11/glass). Happy hour runs 6-7:30p M-F and Sun with a buck off wine and beer and $5 off bottles of wine.

Holzherr made the place much livelier, enlisting his friend to create speakers made out of cardboard and pumping out 90s tunes. You could call Idle Hands a more adult/less divey version of Atlas Arcade downstairs (also run by Holzherr, who appears to own the rowhouse, as he does his SE gin joint Wisdom).

Also, you may have heard the controversy stemming from marketing materials/interviews which talked about the bar being a “sexy nerd bar,” Drunken Twister (which incidentally may be hard to play since space is so tight) and infamously, the “casting couch” (Read DCist, WCP). The bar was blasted in social media and in Frozen Tropics blog comments, which led to a post by Erik on The Hill is Home blog apologizing but defending himself from the “anonymity of the Internet.” As someone who has met Erik many times (I live near Wisdom and am a lifetime member of the bar’s Gin Club), the vibe people are getting from those descriptions is different than the super chill, laid back dude I’ve met, so I’m giving the benefit of the doubt, but I understand if others are not.

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Bar Roubaix, a New Hilton Brothers Concept, Opens Next Friday in Columbia Heights

Bar Roubaix (courtesy Bar Roubaix Facebook page)

Bar Roubaix, Facebook, Twitter, est. Dec 2017, 1400 Irving St. NW [open at 5p daily, closes at noon Mon-Wed, 1a Thu, 2a Fri-Sat] is slated to open Friday, December 8th (a previous version of this story said the 1st but this has been pushed back), in the old Acre 121 space at 14th and Irving in the heart of the Columbia Heights neighborhood.

The spot, which strives to showcase “Great Beers. European Street Food. Cycling Culture,” is being run by brothers Ian and Eric Hilton (as first reported by PoPville in late April when Acre 121 closed after nearly six years). Although the Hilton brothers own/operate many spots around the area (Marvin, The Gibson, El Rey, The Brixton, American Ice, Satellite Room, the Brighton, Chez Billy Sud/Bar a Vin, Ten Tigers Parlour, Crimson Diner/Bar/View, and the upcoming Gaslight Tavern at 9th/U), this spot will retain the same ownership of Acre 121 (and Lou’s City Bar next door). Both bars are apparently owned by the developer of the Highland Park apartment building (Donatelli) in which they are located, quite possibly the only bars in DC owned by a property developer company.

Posts on social media so far only hint at some of the European street food offered by Chef Rafael Nuñez (who once cooked at Eatonville & Busboys & Poets): house-made spanakopitazapiekanki, German potato pancakes (Kartoffelpuffer) and doner kebab might be on the menu. Less is known about the drinks, but expect craft beers; the GM, Arturo Zaloga, recently managed the bar at the nearby Mezcalero and has been behind the bar at other Hilton brother spots like Marvin, El Rey, and The Brixton.

If you’re not Martin Austermuhle and aren’t familiar (and I wasn’t until I asked Jeeves), “Roubaix” refers to a town in France that is the terminus of a long-running bike race from Paris, as well as a name of a renowned road bike.  There will be a cycling arcade simulation game powered by Open Sprints software,  and a pool table. Bar Roubaix will have plenty of parking racks and will feature a fixing station where cyclists can perform maintenance or adjustments on their ride.

Before Acre 121, Commonwealth Gastro Pub from Jamie Leeds and the Hank’s folks (definitely don’t recall this part) occupied the space from 2008-2011.

[This story has been updated.]

Hill Prince: The Best Bar in DC Right Now.

Hill Prince

Hill Prince, website, Facebook, Instagram, 1337 H St. NE, opens at 5p (weekdays), noon (weekends), HH until 7p everyday, closed Mondays, est. March 2017 [Washington Post, Washington City Paper, Washingtonian, Eater DC]

Hill Prince is the best bar in DC right now. I’ve been to the newish H Street spot (opened back in March) at least 10 times since it opened (I’m not a regular anywhere-gotta perform research, ya know?). Although it exudes cool and charm, Hill Prince also feels like a neighborhood bar thanks in part to the much-ballyhooed budget-friendly (and excellent) $10 classic cocktails but also largely due to friendly service from folks like Tony Lawson (ever-present beverage director), Eve (who hosts recurring “Friday Eve” parties on select Thursdays)-even the door person/bouncer greets you warmly. The crowd, unlike many of the other spots on the 1300 block of H Street, skews a little bit older, and it often feels like an oasis of chill when it gets “lit” (as the kids say) on the Atlas Corridor weekend nights. Crowds do come at times on weekends, but there’s more an ebb and flow that adds positively to the vibe.

The cocktail menu varies a bit, but expect around six classic cocktails (awesome Daiquiri, French 75, Sidecar, Old Fashioned, Sazerac, Negroni, and New York Sour have been on the menu) and a few more specials ($12 or $14). Around 4 rotating beers are on tap (beers from local breweries like RAR are often available, Narragansett Lager was on tap for much of the summer), along with around 10-12 bottles/cans (you’ll see $4 High Life or Natty Boh often being drunk). There’s a choice of wines as well.  Whistle Pig seems to be often highlighted as the fancy whiskey of choice. Recently, Hill Prince just kicked off a great happy hour, going everyday until 7p – many drinks are roughly $3 off.

Space-wise, it’s bigger than you think , and there’s a lot of pine flooring, exposed brick/wooden ceiling, and even a floor-to-ceiling wooden beam or two. The front section of Hill Prince is occupied by the long main bar as well as a table with a few chairs. Stairs, off-limits to patrons, are kind of mysterious (I’ve heard that some dude lives up there, unaffiliated with the bar). The next room has a long-ass drink rail, which is a nice perch if you can’t catch a spot on the nearby couch or at the bar. Currently, a DJ sets up shop there starting at 10p on Fridays and Saturdays (don’t worry, it doesn’t turn into a dance club). Back further is a small covered patio that overlooks a super-chill hipstery courtyard (strung lights, sandy surface, tables); in warm times, a mini-bar with separate menu (think a couple canned beers an $9 G&T and Dark & Stormy) has been open weekend nights. In the carriage house on the other side of the courtyard is an under-construction bar (possibly 30 seats and a more permanent DJ set-up); owner Nick Wiseman tells me that it’s on track to open in early 2018.

Hill Prince comes from Nick and his cousin David Wiseman, the folks behind the upscale Jewish deli DGS Delicatessen in Dupont and Whaley’s in Navy Yard/Capitol Riverfront (in fact, I’ve hung out with staff from both spots on multiple occasions at Hill Prince). The bar has a fairly subtle equestrian theme (other than the fake stuffed horse head), as Hill Prince is the name of the horse that won the 1950 Preakness and the building used to house horse stables. Not surprisingly, the bar hosted watch parties for the horse racing Triple Crown series in May-June (I met DC bar extraordinaire Derek Brown there watching the Belmont). During the summer, crab boils were held on select weekends, and recently the bar started serving waffle brunches on weekends (noon-4p).

In full disclosure, one reason I extoll the virtues of Hill Prince to all who I encounter is that it’s less than a twenty-minute walk from my house, but I legit would love this bar even if it was in Park View. Go.

Bar at Hill Prince
Back Room at Hill Prince
View of Bar from back room
Bar at Hill Prince
Hill Prince is named after the 1950 winner of the Preakness
Hipstery Courtyard

Thomas Foolery

Sidewalk Chalkboard Sign Hints at the Goofiness of Thomas Foolery
Sidewalk Chalkboard Sign Hints at the Goofiness of Thomas Foolery

Thomas FoolerywebsiteFacebook,  2029 P St. NW, opens at noon everyday, closes at midnight weekdays, 2a on weekends, HH (Angry Hour 5-7p daily, est. 2013 [Post (Carman), Post (Hahn) WCP (read this), HuffPoYelp]

Indisputably the goofiest bar in DC, the uber-fun Thomas Foolery entertains those who stop by the snug basement spot in west Dupont on P Street with games and candy and “adult” milk and cookies and grilled cheese! Steve Davis, the rocket scientist who operates Mr. Yogato, the frozen yogurt establishment on the east side of the Circle on 17th Street, runs this joint, imbuing it with the same care-free, harken-to-childhood atmosphere as the yogurt place.

The small bar area
The small bar area

Although one might try to compare it with one of my favorite spots in town, the nearby Board Room, Thomas Foolery has a different style. Unlike the sprawling board games place, Thomas Foolery is quite small, essentially fitting into one room (with a nook that features a king’s throne and a Nintendo Wii) and sporting only one bar (with no stools, so be prepared for all the milling about the area as you embarrass yourself ordering an Elmo and a saucerful of Starbursts).

Nintendo Wii/Mario Kart being played
Nintendo Wii/Mario Kart being played

Games, though significantly fewer in number, are free, and random diversions are available throughout the bar (such as Nerf basketball, Etch-A-Sketch, velcro darts, and hopscotch).

Food with a distinct childhood theme is served, i.e.,  grilled cheese sandwiches and bakery fresh cookies from two popular food trucks are available to purchase. The cookies, from the the great Captain Cookie and Milkman food truck, are well worth sampling, but be warned, you may become a bona fide Cookie Monster. Cups of candy are a nice dessert if you don’t want cookies and ice cream.

Another view of the bar
Another view of the bar

The drink selection isn’t exactly comprehensive, but there are always a couple of colorful cocktails (a shot of vodka with a candy treat at the bottom of the glass was downed on a recent visit). There are no beers on draft, but a nice list of 40 or so bottles are listed, each chosen by a local minor celebrity/journalist (Barred in DC hopes to make this one day).

Candy in shots? Candy in shots.
Candy in shots? Candy in shots.

Most interestingly/hilariously is the selection of 2 or 3 Smirnoff Ice flavors (Steve doesn’t like beer), including regular, green apple, or my new favorite peach bellini. Normally these cost $4; in the many times I’ve been I’ve never actually paid that amount. Instead, patrons wanting to get self-Iced can play a Plinko game next to the register; the drink might be $1, $2, $3, $4, or $5 instead. Another terrific drink special twist; instead of Happy Hour, Thomas Foolery offers an “Angry Hour” from 5-7p daily where patrons who order in an ANGRY tone get a buck off their drinks. These hours (and into the evening) some weekend nights are hosted by a local charity/non-profit organization; some of the “guest” bartenders those nights work behind the bar to earn money for their organization.

Another view from back of Thomas Foolery
Another view from back of Thomas Foolery

Aside from the games and the playful food, the small area of the bar along with the games are conducive to interacting with other guests, which adds to the fun. To be sure, this is a very laid-back spot. The music doesn’t blast (so you can always hear your friends), you don’t spot many bros, and too-cool people would feel out of place. The atmosphere is so collegial that you may even find yourself daring a neighbor at an adjacent table to join your Jenga tournament.

Party Jenga!
Party Jenga!

One simple quibble is that the lighting near the bar is way too bright and fluorescent, which sometimes spoils the mood in the rest of the place. One of the most interesting scenes I’ve seen in a bar anywhere was set here: post-midnight one Saturday, a group of 10 or so younger Muslim women came in, some with strollers. They proceeded to have a grand time playing games, eating milk and cookies, and being friendly with the other slightly drunker customers late into the night.

Barred in DC Rating: 4/5

Close-up of games
Close-up of games
View from P Street
View from P Street
Someone just got Iced
Someone just got Iced

Bar Charley

The bar at Bar Charley
The bar at Bar Charley

Bar CharleyFacebookTwitter,  1825 18th St. NW (at Swann/T), opens at 4p on weekdays, 10a on weekends, closes at 11p Sun-Thu, midnight Fri-Sat, HH 4-6:30p M-F, est. 2013 [Post (Sietsma), Post (Hahn), InTheCapital, PoPville, Forking DC, EaterYelp]

A welcome respite from the circus that is the nearby Lauriol Plaza, Bar Charley is one of my favorite places to grab a cocktail in DC. This new spot in the north part of Dupont, from the folks behind the popular Silver Spring establishment Jackie’s and El Chucho in Colombia Heights, is well worth a visit, whether you’re a neighbor or come from afar.

The dining area at Bar Charley
The dining area

The space, previously home to the short-lived Cajun Experience, is a few steps down from street-level but feels comfortable and neighorhoody without being divey. Although there are no TVs, a rarity for DC bars that I like to frequent, the absence contributes positively to the pleasant and casual, yet upscale vibe. To the left of the entrance is the establishment’s cozy bar area where folks can grab a stool or stand up while ordering from one of two bartenders, who often come out from behind the 10-seat bar to take orders and serve drinks. You can usually find me posting up on one of the 5 stools next to the bay window opposite the bar; this is a good spot to have a group consisting of both people who like to stand (me) and those who prefer sitting (most people). The rest of Bar Charley is made up of the main dining area to the right of the entrance: comfortable seating along one of the exposed brick walls; a communal table in the center of the room; and a large, semi-secluded booth in front of another bay window. In warmer months, visitors can enjoy food and drinks out on the back patio.

Back patio at Bar Charley
Back patio

The stars of the show are the cocktails created by co-owner Gordon Banks. The menu includes the quite economical (for DC standards) classic cocktails ($8 for a Sazerac, Jack Rose, Monk Buck, and fantastic Old Fashioned), on-tap Tiki drinks ($7 for a Mai Tai and Suffering Bastard served in tiki-themed ceramic cups), and more standard-priced creative concoctions (such as the Quack-Quack-erac, made with a duck fat wash and the Stepdad which involves a blowtorch). While the pretty solid wine list, both by the bottle and glass, serves as an ample co-star, the beer list, despite nary a macrobrew, is at best a fledgling starlet. Three drafts don’t rotate as often as I would like and many of the bottles on list are $15-25 large format bottles.

Tiki drinks at Bar Charley
Tiki drinks

Although it has only been open since September, Bar Charley has quickly generated a tremendous amount of buzz (both positive and negative). The spot has already appeared in the Post FOUR times (including critiques by bar guru Fritz Hahn and dining expert Tom Sietsma), and Bar Charley’s request to be open normal DC bar hours (2a weekdays, 3a weekends), has quickly become a source of controversy in its hood, as previously documented by this blog here. Many neighbors vehemently oppose the hours extension, though I personally know several proponents of it.

One of the fancier cocktails
One of the fancier cocktails

Since later hours of operation have not yet been approved, when you stop by for a drink (which you must do), make sure you go on the early side, as Bar Charley closes at 11p sharp weekdays and midnight Friday and Saturday nights.

Barred in DC Rating: 4.5/5

View of the bar with dining room in background
View of the bar with dining room in background
The dining room at Bar Charley
another view of Bar Charley dining area
Bartender making an excellent cocktail at Bar Charley
Bartender making an excellent cocktail at Bar Charley
Bar Charley from 18th Street
Bar Charley from 18th Street

Jack Rose Dining Saloon

Jack Rose

Jack Rose Dining Saloon, website, Facebook, Twitter, 2007 18th St. NW, opens at 5p everyday, HH 5-7:30p M-F, est. 2011 [Yelp, WaPo, Washington City Paper, Washingtonian]

Jack Rose, located at the far southern end of Adams Morgan at its border with Dupont and U Street, is my favorite non-dive bar in DC. With frequent events at any of its 5 bars spread over 3 floors, the whiskey-and-beer-centric bar from Bill Thomas (owner of both locations of Bourbon) is a great place to drink all week long.

2nd Floor Open-Air Terrace With Roof Closed
2nd Floor Open-Air Terrace With Roof Closed

My visits to Jack Rose are usually spent at its second-floor Open-Air Terrace bar, reached by the stairwell that greets visitors at the front entrance (the folks who make up the fast-moving line that often forms on weekends are typically waiting to go up here). This expansive rooftop space, carved out of the second floor of a former boxing gym, can be enjoyed all year long; the long bar that occupies one side of the space is covered by a permanent roof, while the other half, with high-top tables, can be covered by removable glass panels when it rains or the temperature goes down.  The wall to the north provides a great view of 18th Street and the rest of the Adams Morgan neighborhood (sometimes clear plastic panels are hung to protect folks from wind and cold) .  A host of craft beers (mostly $7-8) and cocktails can be ordered from the friendly and knowledgeable bartenders, who do a great job of taking orders even when the place gets crowded, as it often does on weekend nights from 10p-1a. The crowd upstairs skews slightly younger than the rest of Jack Rose; but the lack of cheap beer (often only 1 light beer available) and other typical 18th Street specialties (I overheard a bro and his young lady friend lamenting the lack of Red Bull on a recent visit) means that this bar isn’t overrun with 22 year olds like the rest of the hood further north. Tasty bites cooked on the wood-fired grill upstairs can be ordered earlier in the evening if hungry.

Second Floor Open-Air Roof Terrace Bar
Second Floor Open-Air Roof Terrace Bar

Two more smaller bars also make up the second floor. To the front sits the enclosed Balcony Room, which contains a wood-burning fireplace, its own bar and outdoor veranda overlooking 18th Street, and often serves as the location for private events; while in the back, past the restrooms, is the cozier open-air seasonal Tiki Bar (at least during late summer/early fall 2013), with décor and drinks to match, along with an unique view to the east and south .

Seasonal 2nd Floor Back Tiki Bar
Seasonal 2nd Floor Back Tiki Bar

The more sedate Dining Room on the first floor is impressive for the shelves and shelves of booze (mostly bourbon and other types of whiskey) that line its walls, evoking the coolest library ever. Many of the reported 1,600 different kinds (“the largest publicly available collection of whiskey in North America” according to one report) of whiskey that Jack Rose possesses are on these shelves.  Because it’s more relaxed than upstairs, this is a better place to sample some of the amazing spirits on offer. A dining area makes up two-thirds of the room, separated by a railing/partition from the long bar makes up the rest; I could do without this partition, which forces patrons at the bar to squeeze into a smaller space when crowded.

First Floor Dining Room and Walls of Liquor
First Floor Dining Room and Walls of Liquor

Those looking for an even more intimate whiskey experience should check out the recently opened Whiskey Cellar, reached by going down the stairs at the back of the Dining Room. This cozy basement space is only open Thursday-Saturday evenings, but is quickly becoming a favorite spot to sample whiskey (bourbon on tap is offered) and spend time in an even more relaxed environment.

Basement Whiskey Cellar
Basement Whiskey Cellar
Whiskeys on Tap in Whiskey Cellar
Whiskeys on Tap in Whiskey Cellar

If you visit, you’ll frequently spot an older gentleman who looks like Father Christmas with a long hair and beard; this June 2011 Washingtonian profile on this man, Harvey Fry, who supplied around 1/3 of the whiskeys for the bar, is well worth the read. Also, Jack Rose makes great use of social media to advertise its many events; I’m an especially fan of the colorful, informative posters it produces to provide event details.

Although the place (especially upstairs) can get crowded, the lines that often form on weekends are an annoyance, and (most selfishly) it opened up right after I lived less than a football field away (you can spot my house’s old rooftop from the Balcony Room), Jack Rose is well worth a visit.

Barred in DC Rating: 4.5/5

Young lady doing push-ups randomly at Jack Rose's St. Patrick's Day Celebration
Young lady doing push-ups randomly at Jack Rose’s St. Patrick’s Day Celebration

Vendetta

Vendetta, website, Facebook, Twitter, 1212 H St. NE, opens at 5p everyday, HH 5-8p daily, est. 2013 [Yelp, WaPo, Washington City Paper, Washingtonian, NPR]

Upstairs bocce court
Upstairs bocce court

Bocce is the group sport du jour in Washington, especially for  forever-young adults graduating from kickball or those too unathletic to play softball. While other bars have dabbled in the Italian lawn bowling game (e.g., Vinoteca, Blackjack, and Penn Social),it was inevitable that a bar fully devoted to bocce would open in DC.

First Floor Bar
First Floor Bar

That place is Vendetta, the new Italian restaurant/bocce bar from bar impresario Joe Englert on H Street. Located in the old Red Palace space (which itself was a combination of two very different bars, The Red and the Black and Palace of Wonders, neither of which I visited), Vendetta is a nicely decorated spot, with red walls accompanying Vespas hanging or embedded in the wall. A nice 25 foot bocce court highlights each of the two floors; it’s free to play and easy to learn if you haven’t played before. There is small, bare bones deck (with chair umbrellas) off the 2nd floor.

Second Floor Bar
Second Floor Bar

Pasta and gnocchi make up the food menu, while the beer list is nothing special, moderately-priced (for DC) cocktails ($8-10) and prosecco on tap are the draws. For the straight guys out there, take note: the clientele was about 75% women on my visit, and friends have confirmed the favorable mix at other times. A nice addition to the H Street landscape.

Barred in DC Rating: 3.5/5

Vespa in the wall
Vespa on the wall
Upstairs 2nd Floor Patio/Deck
Upstairs 2nd Floor Patio/Deck
Another view of the upstairs bocce court
Another view of the upstairs bocce court