Idle Hands a Solid Addition to the H Street Scene

 

[NOTE: This bar closed at end of September 2018]

 

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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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

DC Harvest Introduces New Spring Cocktails and Friday Lunch

DC Harvest bar


DC Harvest
(517 H St. NE, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, website), the family-owned H Street restaurant, recently introduced its fresh new spring cocktail menu. The spot focuses both its constantly-changing food and drink menus locally and regionally, with emphasis on local, as it partners with urban farms across the District. Barred in DC was invited by Jared Ringel, who opened DC Harvest with brother Arthur in September 2014, to sample these new cocktails at the cheery yet cozy bar and they didn’t disappoint.

Spring Cocktail Menu at DC Harvest

Many, if not all, of the $12-14 cocktails make heavy use of local spirits as well as herbs, fruit, and vegetables. Two cocktails use a “boosted” Kentucky Gentleman bourbon- the only mainstay on the menu, the Kentucky Windage (the bar’s smooth version of an Old Fashioned) as well as the most popular drink on the menu, the Smokey Robinson made with mexcal, 5 spice syrup, lemon juice, and smoked lemon. By “boosted,” Jared told us, means that the bar has put the bourbon through a charcoal filter, added tinctures, herbal extract, homemade bitters, and other secret flavors. It’s a creative way of creating a “local” bourbon from a cheap bourbon when most whiskey is made elsewhere anyways.

Strawberry Field
BWB Blood Ornage Fizz

Many of the cocktails were bright and colorful. Particularly gorgeous were the Strawberry Field, made with Ivy City Gin, fennel liquor, lemon juice, and roasted(!) strawberry puree, and incredibly tasty; the refreshing BWB Blood Orange Fizz, mixed with Peychaud aperitivo (think Aperol but lighter), blood orange juice, rosemary syrup, and cava sparkling wine (made in conjunction with the Bitches Who Brunch blog; Barred in DC is waiting for a bar to create something terrible and nonsensical in his honor-hint hint); and the 517 Blossom.

Step 1 – 517 Blossom
Step 2 – 517 Blossom (Roasted Beet Puree)
517 Blossom

The latter drink is a popular holdover from Cherry Blossom season but is well worth it as one of the more inventive but delicious (possibly healthy, but who cares) drinks had in recent memory. A rare cocktail on a menu made with scotch whiskey (specifically, McCelland’s Highland scotch) that is not a Rob Roy, the rest of the drink is made with Leopold Brothers Cherry whiskey, Lyon Distilling (out of St. Michael’s, MD) Curacao (orange peel liquor made from its rum), sweet vermouth (house-made from rose), and the kicker, roasted beet puree. This drink is incredibly light, herbaceous, and beautiful. If you’re not a beet fan, don’t worry, it’s not overpowering.

What goes into a Chesapeake Storm
Chesapeake Storm Draft Cocktail

Also well worth your while is DC Harvest’s version of a Dark & Stormy, the Chesapeake Storm, which is kegged with Lyon Aged Rum & Lyon Curacao, with ginger syrup, lime juice, salt, and candied ginger lime added after it comes out of the Darth Vader draft tap. Incredibly refreshing is the incredible riff on a margarita, the Agave Dream, made with tequila, cucumber water (not just cucumber-infused water), lemon jam, salt, and cucumbers. As Mrs. Barred in DC remarked, it  is a “Lady’s Version of College in a Glass.”

Agave Dream, a.k.a “Ladies Version of College”

These cocktails can be had for 30% off (so, about $8-10) all night Sundays; drink specials also include 30% off select draft beer on Tuesdays, 30% off bottle of wine on Thursday, and daily HH specials (5:30-7p) including a selection of cocktails for $8, $6 beer and wine, as well as appetizers and cheese plates. Jared is also a big proponent of the DC Passport Program, which launches Friday May 26th, and will provide passholders (cost-$20 for passport) a visit to the bar with 2 cocktails for the price of one. The well curated draft beer list include a lot of local beers (think 3 Stars, Hellbender), though refreshingly the options are often more unique than you’d expect.

Mussels

DC Harvest is known for its popular brunch (it expands its hours starting May 26th, serving Friday lunch) and great food (from chef Arthur), so the appetizers/sides we sampled, including the mussels and asparagus, were characteristically tasty. Daily specials include 30% off vegetarian entrees/sides on Mondays and 30% off all fresh pasta on Wednesdays. With a Whole Foods just a few feet away and large apartment buildings sprouting across the next block over (Jared told us of some cool partnerships DC Harvest has made with these spots, including creating a garden/herb plot on the rooftop of the nearby Apollo), DC Harvest is perched to be a solid anchor on mid H (Barred in DC just coined this phrase, deal with it) as it quickly bridges to the bar district on the east side.

Co-owner Arthur Ringel Makes Barred in DC Cocktails

Guide to Bar Hopping with the DC Streetcar

DC Streetcar
DC Streetcar

The long-delayed DC Streetcar finally opened on Saturday (4 years after it’s originally announced start date), shuttling thousands of excited and curious riders down H Street and Benning Road in Northeast DC. The lengthy process has been well documented by Greater Greater Washington, WAMU, and the Washington Post, and the jury is still out on whether the $200 million project ($50 million for the car barn at end of line and $20 million for test line in Anacostia that will never be used) will be worth it.

Interior of DC Streetcar
Interior of DC Streetcar

What’s undeniable is that the Streetcar will be ripe for drinking excursions (though not on Sunday, since it’s not open, at least not yet)-particularly while it’s free for at least the first six months (SmartTrip will never be accepted, BTW). After walking most of the route and taking the ride the entire length, Barred in DC has discovered which drinking spots are closest to each of the stops. Although full blown bar crawls may be complicated to organize due to the restrictions on them for the eastern half of H Street, nothing stops you from grabbing some friends and hitching a ride, hopping from bar to bar.

How to Get There

Plenty of signs pointing you the right way in Union Station
Plenty of signs pointing you the right way in Union Station

To get to the beginning of the DC Streetcar from the Red Line Metro station, take the Amtrak/MARC exit, go up the escalator by Amtrak Gate C and follow the signs through the parking garage and past the intercity bus station. It takes about 5 minutes to walk to the Streetcar’s first stop in the median of H Street on the Hopscotch Bridge above the railyard.

Stops

DC Streetcar Map Route (graphic by author)
DC Streetcar Map Route (graphic by author)

Union Station
Thunder Grill in Union Station (1100 feet away)
Recommended: The Dubliner (2200 feet away)

3rd St/H St
Eastbound: Ethiopic (280 feet) [closes at 10p]
Westbound: Driftwood Kitchen (355 feet)

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5th St/H St
Eastbound: The Big Board (right at stop)
Westbound: Le Grenier (right at stop) [closes at midnight on weekdays]

The Big Board

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8th St/H St
Eastbound: Po Boy Jim (110 feet)
Westbound: Chupacabra (265 feet) [closed during late Nov-mid March, closes at 10p weekdays, midnight weekends]
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13th St/H St
Eastbound: Sol Mexican Grill & Cantina, Smith Commons (right at stop)
Westbound: Sally’s Middle Name (150 feet) [closes at 11p]; Da Luft (215 feet)
Expect this stop to one of the most popular-there are at least 20 places to drink on the 1200 and 1300 blocks of H Street.

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15th St/Benning Rd
The Argonaut (380 feet)
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19th St / Benning Rd
Langston Bar & Grille (260 feet)

Credit: UrbanTurf

Oklahoma Ave/Benning Rd
Langston Clubhouse Grill at Golf Course (500 feet) [open til 3p during winter, till early evening rest of year]
RFK Stadium [half mile]

Take your clubs to play at the best municipal course in DC  (or hit the range). Another option to watch DC United play.
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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