t’s a question every developer asks themselves before embarking on a new project. Markets can be unpredictable, as well as the communities they serve. Without concrete evidence suggesting the success of a city’s next restaurant, bar, or retailer, the risk/reward is often hard to gauge. Many entrepreneurs won’t move ahead with a brick-and-mortar concept unless they’ve stared the evidence in the face first. Yet in a fascinating article published by the Washingtonian back in March, author Ariel Sabar gains insight into the mind of Joe Englert, a DC nightlife developer who’s less concerned with asking the question than he is with following his market-tested gut.
Englert has a public image that doesn’t at all scream “successful businessman”. An excerpt from his Wikipedia page reads, “With a 5 mile habitat surrounding primarily the H Street corridor of Washington DC, this mammal can easily be spotted by the ever present tennis racket bag and short pants on his person year round no matter the weather.” (I kid you not). But the head of the DC Nightlife Association deemed him the city’s most prolific opener of new bars, calling him simply, “the king.” Since moving to DC in the 80s, he’s opened over 2 dozen nightspots, including The Big Hunt, H Street Country Club, Granville Moore’s, Rock & Roll Hotel, Trusty’s Full-Serve, The Pug, Lucky Bar, Pour House, Capitol Lounge, and DC9.
Englert’s bars typically stand out as offering a wider variety of music, mood and atmosphere, and usually on the side of strange. As the principle designer of his venues puts it, “Joe likes to give people comfort in oddness.” And the all-inclusive vibe has done much to bring communities together. Northwest DC’s U Street and Northeast’s H Street, once filled with drugs and violence, have been revitalized into what Sabar calls “two of the city’s hippest nightlife districts,” thanks in large part to Englert.
In addition to adding value to the community, his ventures have also had a direct effect on surrounding businesses as well. Commercial property values have raised as other restaurants, developers and families have moved closer to Englert’s sites.
With the possible exception of New York, Englert views DC as the best place in the country to own a bar. “People have income, and the crowd is always young,” he says.
So back to the question. If you build it, will they come? Well one may not always arrive at the same answer. But in Englert’s case, it would certainly be a “yes”. And if you’re looking to increase your chances, moving closer to one of Englert’s nightspots might help.