An H Street Update
(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
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