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Posted at 1:00 PM ET, 06/ 4/2008

An H Street Update

By Fritz Hahn

If your living room had a wine bar, it might look a bit like Sova. (Courtesy of Sova)

Julia recently posted on the opening of Sticky Rice, and there are even more new venues cropping up on H Street NE. If you've been sticking to the usual Granville Moore's-Palace of Wonders-Rock and Roll Hotel circuit, or you're looking for a reason to go explore this neighborhood, here's a whole list of new places to visit.

Pap & Petey's (421 H St. NE)
The revitalization of H Street has brought plenty of martini lounges and nightclubs to the strip, but one thing we'd been hoping for was a juke joint -- a non-nonsense kind of place to stop in, say hi to the regulars, open a cold beer and listen to some great blues or jazz music -- maybe get a bite to eat, too. With the arrival of Pap & Petey's, our wishes have been granted.

Pap and Petey were real people, as you'll learn if you spend a few minute around owner Duke Cross; the place's names refer to his great-grandfather "Pap" and his friend Petey, both bluesmen. We have to think they'd be pretty happy with this sunny little spot, where framed album covers and black-and-white portraits of musicians dot the walls and light pours in through large windows. The stage is just a raised platform, but the sound is good, and the audience is polite enough to not talk loudly over the musicians.

The menu's not fancy, so plan on a ham and cheese sandwich with a couple scoops of potato salad for $4.50, or try a pair of freshly-cooked hot dogs and a side of potato chips for $3. The beer's a little more uptown, with Chimay and Leffe joining Bud, Yuengling and Sam Adams in the coolers, and prices start at a reasonable $3.50 outside of happy hour.

There's live music most nights -- the bar is closed Monday -- and if a performer's on, there's a $15 minimum per seat. Seating on the sidewalk is in the works -- let's hope it's sooner rather than later.

Napa 1015 (1015 H St. NE)
It's hard to be the cute little bistro on the block when there are metal bars in your windows, but Napa 1015 sure is inviting once you step through the doors. The menu skews American, with a few pasta dishes thrown in with the steaks for good measure. Most dishes are under $20. We stopped in for dessert one night and met a zesty key lime tart and a bittersweet chocolate mousse cake that had us scraping the plate for more.

The restaurant offers free wine tastings from 5 to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays, when you can sample four wines and help inform the restaurant's ever-changing wine list: Wines that become particularly popular with the Wednesday sampling crowd are likely to become a regular offering. On Thursdays at Napa, the owners have begun featuring a small Mexican menu to accompany the regular one. "I know that is kind of crazy," says Jorge Velazquez, one of the two owners. "My mother is Mexican and I learned all these great Mexican recipes [growing up]" he explains.

Twelve (1123 H St. NE)
Let's just throw this out there: On our last visit to Twelve -- around 10:30 on a Saturday night -- the bouncer outside told us there was a $30 cover. Thirty. Three-Oh. Was the new lounge and restaurant hosting a go-go band? Was a hot DJ down from New York, drawing folks to fill up the semi-private VIP couches on the second floor? Is that why we could see crazy disco lights swirling around the upstairs as we walked closer to the club? Turns out the answers were no, no and no. The folks gathered right next door, around the corner of 12th and H, were groaning and laughing about the cover charge, too, so we didn't feel bad when we decided not to pay.

Try visiting Twelve on another night and you may encounter live jazz (Wednesday) or stand-up comedy (Monday). You can also grab some seafood in the downstairs restaurant, but it's the enormous upstairs lounge that people are going to be talking about. It's one large room that seems to extend halfway to G Street, with an extra-long bar and plenty of couches -- some of which have curtains on the sides if you want to keep prying eyes off. The bar serves up delicious rum-and-fruit juice cocktails that go down pretty easy -- try the Mango Mai Tai -- but honestly, there's little here that'd be worth paying a $10 cover to check out, let alone $30.

Sova (1359 H St. NE)
Sova has been selling coffee from its downstairs coffee shop for the last seven months, but in March, it opened a low-key wine and beer bar in a two-room space upstairs. Mismatched chairs and couches in shades of green, red and even purple dot the funky space, alongside long, low red-velvet benches and even a large dinner table. Small gatherings of friends, book clubs and those on non-committal let's-just-have-coffee dates could all find a nook here. Works by local artists hang on the walls, and musicians and poets occasionally perform. (There's also free wi-fi, if you want to try to get some work done.)

Sixteen wines are available by the glass, most in the $6.50-$8.50 range. In this warm weather -- especially if the air conditioning isn't fully working -- try the tangy Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc from South Africa, a tangy white with hints of tropical fruit, or the crisp Huber Gruner Veltliner from Austria. The beer list mixes some same-old names (Chimay, Delirium Tremens) with interesting selections American microbreweries, including Bear Republic, Lagunitas, North Coast and Victory. There's not much to snack on, especially late on weekends, but owner Frank Harkins hopes to add cheese plates, charcuterie and hummus to the menu in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

Langston Bar and Grille (1831 Benning Road NE)

While H Street itself has been the primary beneficiary of the influx of new restaurants, bars and shops, the revival is beginning to spread. For proof, just cross H Street at the seven-way "starburst" intersection after 15th Street, and continue a short way down Benning Road.

Langston Bar and Grill is a month-old bar-restaurant just after 18th Street, but don't look for a flashy sign. The only detail that sets this place apart from other buildings on the block is a simple shoe motif dotted on the windows, a touch befitting a restaurant housed in a former cobbler's shop. The downstairs bar is similarly understated, bathed in exposed brick and decorated with straight tall chairs and a few TVs. Upstairs, short small tables line a cushiony bench.

Designed by owner owner Antonio Roberson and executive chef Terrell Danley (of Creme and Station Nine fame), the menu features soul food favorites like whole fried fish and barbequed meatloaf. Our barbequed spareribs -- more than enough for two people -- were slathered in a subtly sweet sauce. Half of a fried chicken was served crispy-fried (but perfectly moist) with a side of spicy chili sauce. The dish is a steal at $11, including a choice of two sides like smoky collard greens, candied sweet potatoes, butter beans and fries.

"We're a restaurant, but our profile is more of a tavern, more of a community feel," says Roberson. That much is clear when you step into the place. Even on a slow Wednesday, fellow diners at the bar are eager to advise us on the restaurant's best dishes.

-- Julia and Fritz

By Fritz Hahn  | June 4, 2008; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs, Restaurants  
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Comments

"but one thing we'd been hoping for was a juke joint -- a non-nonsense kind of place to stop in, say hi to the regulars, open a cold beer and listen to some great blues or jazz music"-Julia and Fritz

Before club owner Joe Englert "discovered" and assisted in the "revitalization" of H. St Ne, longtime old-school soul combo Eddie Jones & the Young Bucks used to perform at Ledbetters in that neighborhood. Joe then bought that place and made it the Argonaut I think and stopped having music. I saw the Young Bucks do a nice show there a few years back. More recently Eddie Jones and the Young Bucks were playing at a nice little place called Gwen's Magestic Lounge at 1368 H. St NE. The club did not advertise in the City Paper or W. Post, and Joe Englert did not own it, but it had a bit of a juke joint feel. Not sure if it still open, maybe you can follow up.

Posted by: curm | June 5, 2008 12:35 PM | Report abuse

I wrote about the Majestic in a cover story I did about H Street in 2006. Cool place, but had more of a dinner/supper-club atmosphere to me than a casual juke feel.

Posted by: Fritz | June 5, 2008 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Sova is my new favorite spot. The beer and wine selection is interesting and funky. The vibe of the place is really laid back. And the staff is awesome. It doesn't matter whether you're hanging out with the owner, Frank, or one of the bartenders, they're all terrific.

Posted by: B in DC | June 6, 2008 9:12 AM | Report abuse

Napa has a totally amazing french toast entree for Sunday brunch. It's the best I've ever tasted in my life. You should totally mention Sunday brunch. It's usually quiet and a great place to take your parents, say for Father's Day. (We took my boyfriend's mom when she visited and another time we went for brunch there was a large family enjoying champagne and strawberries.)

Posted by: brcmapgirl | June 6, 2008 10:09 AM | Report abuse

Twelve is a wreck - they have a raucous, lowest-common denominator clientele that screams and fights in the street after the bar lets out very late at night. I've been at friends' houses on three separate occaisons after the bars closed and witnessed rough characters coming out of this place, making a huge ruckus at 3 and 4 am in a residential neighborhood a block or two down from the club, and then getting in their cars, which they rev and scream from for another 15 minutes before driving away, clearly intoxicated beyond any legal limit. I would be happy to see this place go under in place of the many respectable African American owned businesses along H street.

Posted by: hstreeta | June 6, 2008 10:24 AM | Report abuse

The comment about Twelve is obsurd. I for one and one of the MANY people that leave Twelve on any given Friday or Saturday night at 3 and 4am and there HAS NOT been any fights in the street or the other lies that have been mentioned above. It is true that there was a $30 cover one night but it was rented out as a private venue and open to the public is you wished to pay the cover. Oh and there was a celebrity there that night, so don't think it can't happen. Also, there have been HOT DJ's in there from NEW YORK as well.

There is plenty of raucous on H Street but mainly on the other side of 12th where all the other bars are lined up. Stand out there on any given night, especially the weekend and tell me what you see.

Posted by: FOR the RECORD... | June 9, 2008 6:20 AM | Report abuse

I had an occasion to visit the "Majestic" Restaurant for a funeral repass. I was pleased that the Majestic was an appropriate place to have a repass. It's small, but quaint. Only a certain kind of person can appreciate the many avenues the Majestic can serve. If you don't like overstuffed crowds, then Majestic is the place.

Posted by: KarenW | June 9, 2008 4:35 PM | Report abuse

I think that Twelve and NaPa 1015 are being BLACK BALLED,what do you think JOE-E ? Tell us the truth Is Fritz on Payroll or what ?

Posted by: Truth hurt | June 10, 2008 2:30 AM | Report abuse

Hey "Truth Hurt" -- I didn't write up Napa 1015, though I did review Pap & Petey's and Sova, which aren't (to my knowledge) owned by Joe Englert.

You do have a point, though -- I'll admit Englert's ownership is the reason that, in the past, I've reviewed Horace and Dickey's, the Majestic, Rose's Dream and the Martini Lounge. And, come to think of it, Jimmy Valentine's and the Ohio.

Oh, wait...

Posted by: Fritz | June 12, 2008 10:37 PM | Report abuse

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