Revitalization By Nightlife on H Street NE

Showbar Presents the Palace of Wonders

One man’s plans to single-handidly build a new nightlife district for the city are coming to fruition one year since a flurry of media coverage about his plans. Local nighlife mogul Joe Englert has been opening and operating offbeat bars in D.C. for nearly two decades, including current hotspots Capitol Lounge, the Pour House, Temperance Hall, Big Hunt, DC9, 51st State, and Trusty’s, to name a few. In 2004 Englert began thinking bigger: opening several restaurants and bars in the same neighborhood and founding his very own nightlife district. Last year his plans to open seven new bars and restaurants on H Street Northeast had the community buzzing. After some initial skepticism from local residents Englert seemed to win over most of his critics by patiently listening to local residents, agreeing to voluntary restrictions about noise and cheap liquor, and locating the bars in an area targeted by city officials for nightlife.

It’s a plan that’s so audacious it just might work, if a recent visit to H Street Northeast is any indication. One year after the media attention, two of the seven planned have just opened: the Argonaut and Showbar. I stopped by his newest venture (fully titled Showbar Presents the Palace of Wonder) last night to discover a surprisingly healthy crowd for a bar which has been open just about a week gawking at the eclectic decor. The two-level establishment boasts the refreshingly straightforward Engler approach: the bar features a limited menu and perhaps half a dozen standard beers in bottles, combined with what must be a painstakingly assembled decor. The bar also boasted the typically-Engler mostly-white and mostly-yuppy clientele. There’s a long bar downstairs, a smaller one upstairs, a modest outdoor patio, and a stage where they plan to feature sword swallowers and other acts. My only disappointment? The bar staff, including one who claimed to be in charge of the entertainment, hadn’t heard of the cat circus alluded to by Fritz Hahn’s profile that Techne had asked me to investigate. Nearby I noticed some of the other relatively new businesses on the strip (better chronicled elsewhere) including the H Street Martini Lounge, two coffee shops, and a playhouse. Getting home was a snap: getting a cab took just a few minutes. For those curious about the bus options, Mike’s got some ideas over at the Express blog.

Of the major commercial strips affected by the 1968 rebellion (14th and 7th Streets NW, 8th Street SE, and H Street NE) it seems logical H Street would be among the last to rebound. It’s the farthest from Metro and lacks major anchoring institutions like 14th Street’s large city office building or Barracks Row’s Navy Yard. This style of revitalization-by-nightlife stood in sharp contrast to another revitalizing part of the city I visited yesterday: the near Southeast area home to the new baseball stadium. While the two areas are in many respects very different (H Street is a residential area, much fewer live in the semi-industrial Southeast area) I think they represent two distinct models of revitalization. In the baseball stadium area some of the largest builders and developers in the region are building a new neighborhood wholesale, uprooting any local businesses and razing the buildings. On H Street a local businessman has purchased and remodeled long-neglected buildings in an area identified for nightlife use by neighborhood-led redevelopment plans. While both examples require yuppies (and their professional salaries) it seems clear to me what the City Paper terms “Englertrification” will do more to aid existing local businesses, provide jobs to neighborhood residents, decrease crime, and even preserve historic architecture than the grandiose plans for the stadium neighborhood. That’s a lesson some Shaw leaders might do well to remember.

Read more about Joe Englert and H Street:

> Hill Rag, June 2005: “H Street In His Image
> Wash. Business Journal, March 2004: “Joe Englert: Toast of the town
> Frozen Tropics, May 2005: “Sites of The Joe Englert Related Taverns & Restaurants
> WaPo, August 2005: “Plans to Set The Bar High On H Street NE
> City Paper, August 2005: “Englertrification

Author: Rob Goodspeed


  1. Sad about no cat circus. I guess burlesque will have to do.

    I’ve never taken the X2, but the 90/92 is surprisingly convenient. It sounds like that’s how I’ll be trekking out to the palace of wonder….

  2. 8th St. SE as a significantly impacted corridor during the 1968 civil unrest? I gotta say that’s news to me, although granted, I wasn’t here then… even so it’s not corroborated by reports of the time, see _10 Blocks from the White House_ by the Washington Post.

  3. I am reading 10 Blocks from the White House now, and 8th St SE is shown as well as two areas on Anacostia in a map of areas affected by fire and looting. Because there’s little in the book so far (I’m on page 75) mentioning those areas I am going to assume they were less impacted than 14th Street. Seems like a good topic to look into further, however.

  4. People interested, curious, or regulars at POW should check out this event…

    HIPS and Palace of Wonders
    present to you…

    The Most Eclectic and Unique show in DC!!

    Hosted by fetish and pinup model Asia DeVinyl!

    NOV. 16th, Thurs, doors open at 7pm
    Palace of Wonders ~ 1210 H St, NE

    Drink specials! Raffle!

    Aerialist performance by Moira!
    Burlesque by Thrill Kill Jill!
    A straight jacket escape by Mab!
    Drag king show by E-Cleff!
    Glass eating and hula hooping burlesque by Miss Joule!
    Drag queen performance by Alley Cat!
    Lip sync performance by Dejavu!
    …and More!

    ~ Suggested donation: $10-15 will benefit HIPS ~
    HIPS mission is to assist female, male, and transgendered individuals engaging in sex work in Washington, DC in leading healthy lives. Using a harm reduction model, HIPS’ programs strive to address the impact that HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, discrimination, poverty, violence and drug use have on the lives of individuals.
    For more information visit or email us at

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