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Posted at 6:32 PM ET, 08/28/2006

A Night at the Hotel

By David Malitz

Joe Englert and his partners plan to open eight bars on H Street NE, and they're halfway there. This past weekend, in the neighborhood that he may revitalize almost singlehandedly, Englert unveiled his biggest venture: the Rock and Roll Hotel. The two-story club is positioned as a destination spot for live music and your everyday drinking needs, and early returns are mostly positive on both fronts.

Entering the venue is a minor adventure. You don't simply give your money to someone and walk in; it's more like the Black Cat's multi-step shuffle. Show your ID to the bouncer outside the door, buy your ticket inside at the box office and give that ticket to the person who stamps your hand. The one or two perhaps unnecessary steps in there give the club more of the "big venue" feel that it is clearly going for. This vibe is also reflected in the club's booking, which seems to eschew the "show for a show's sake" approach and allows holes in the schedule in between more "major" acts. A look at the current calendar shows some of the area's more popular local bands -- Exit Clov, Monopoli, Washington Social Club -- and a healthy helping of the always-popular DJ night, with such special guests as Andy Rourke (the Smiths) and Marky Ramone (duh).

The primary destination will be the ground-floor concert hall, and the performance space is bigger than many of the clubs that have opened in Washington in recent years. While it's not as big as the Black Cat's mainstage area, it is certainly closer in size to the Cat than smaller places like the Red and the Black, DC9, the Warehouse Next Door or the Black Cat's backstage. The room is pretty deep, if not incredibly wide, and can hold a few hundred people comfortably. It seems bigger than it is because of that old trick: gigantic mirrors on the wall. Three huge ones rest on the right side wall, while a long bar stretches across about two-thirds of the room on the left. There's no draft beer, but I was fine with a vodka tonic and a decent bottle of beer.

The sound was pretty impressive on opening night, especially considering the bands that were playing. Owls & Crows used three guitars at times, and each one could be picked out of the mix, which is no easy feat. Kohoutek specializes in psychedelic soundscapes that can also bleed together, but of the handful of times I've seen them play, this was the best mix the group has had. I'm no gearhead so I can't tell you what kind of speakers and equipment are being used, but it's not like the backstage at the Black Cat where only the vocals are through a PA. The stage itself is also big enough to accommodate bands of all sizes, assuming it's not the Polyphonic Spree.

The downstairs performance area doesn't really prepare you for what awaits upstairs. Downstairs = rock and roll, upstairs = hotel. Maybe the reason the opening was delayed for so long is becayse it took all of this time to acquire the furniture on the club's second level. Dozens of couches and chairs fill the spacious main area and the two "private suites," which can be rented for special events but most of the time will be open to all. This is the kind of retro-chic furniture that your average hipster would be delighted to find at a yard sale. The guys in Stillwater (from "Almost Famous") would probably feel right at home, and I think that's the vibe the owners are going for. Still, there's something just a bit off. The one aspect of the room that could give it some actual personality -- the jukebox -- is your standard issue Internet jukebox, the same you'll find at dozens of bars in the area.

Coming soon upstairs: two rehearsal spaces for bands to rent (about $100 per four-hour session) and a small recording studio.

--David

By David Malitz  | August 28, 2006; 6:32 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs, Music  
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Comments

You forget to mention how fun the staff is at the Hotel. At least last saturday they stuck around post show to have drinks and add a lift to the small crowd upstairs. Great place - just avoid palace of wonders down the street.

Posted by: Ben | August 30, 2006 11:43 AM | Report abuse

The Argonaut is another great place in the neighborhood(15th and H). Solid beer/food selection, good crowd and great staff.

Posted by: Jo | August 30, 2006 12:10 PM | Report abuse

I hear this place is awesome and as someone who is active in organizing local music shows in DC I Can't wait to get a DCene.com show going there!

Posted by: Adam | September 11, 2006 2:07 PM | Report abuse

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