Restaurateur Joe Englert on the Hardship of Making a Buck in the “New Pansy Climate”
In D.C., all it takes to shut down the government and create an organic coconut water shortage at Whole Foods is a little slush and a catchy storm name. The victim of this weather hysteria? Restaurants and bars, says restaurateur Joe Englert, whose properties include H Street Country Club, The Pug, Granville Moore's, and more.
Engert has been on a literary roll lately, penning 18 confessions he'd like to make to Oprah, eight reasons why it rocks to own a bar, and eight reasons why it sucks. Before spring weather arrives, we've let him have at it on the topic of the weatherman vs. the barman:
Most every D.C. beer garden, gastropub and other booze-centric business lives and dies by its daily sales report (DSR). The DSR not only details a night of transactions by conveniently breaking down sales into categories for food, beer, wine, and sales tax. By glancing at the comments section of these mini-time capsules, an operator has the perfect cheatsheet for bringing clarity into why a night might have rocked or fizzled. (“Why can’t there be a Presidential Inauguration every weekend?”) or (“Rugby party a bit too much of a success: Billiards tables upended. Women’s room stall ripped off hinges. See attached police report.”)
Unfortunately, on too many DSRs throughout the DMV these days, the same sentences keep on appearing: “Weatherman screwed us again. Scared everybody off with inaccurate prediction of monsoon. We were dead, dead, dead.”
For years, a typical Dodge City restaurateur knew that for only a few days a year would he endure ringing not a single dime in sales: Christmas, Easter, the day after New Year's, and maybe a night or two where a once in a decade storm dumped walls of snow upon the city. It took a monumental blizzard or Katrina-sized hurricane to cause the media into warning the masses not to head outdoors to their beloved pupuserias or titty bars. That was then. Now, the constant weather hysteria never sleeps. Anchor men, bloggers, online newspapers, and of course demented weather people scream constantly about killer snow drifts, code red air quality, and deer tick infestations. Booze operators are left to face the empty seats, the sad side affects of the paranoia.
I have owned bars, nightclubs and taverns in D.C. for a quarter of a century. I debuted a place in Arlington when the corporate offices of Whole Foods and Apple still thought the place was a backwater suburb in Texas. I launched a series of bars on U Street NW back in the age of innocence when people like me were called “crazy white boy” instead of “gentrifier.” I have outlived wine coolers, jalapeño poppers, Zima, the Macarena, and the don’t ask, don’t tell era of putrid smelling cigars. But now, I just don’t know if I can survive the weather boogey man any more. The constant screeching of weather warnings are causing innkeepers like me to lose our asses.
We used to have a saying in the bar business that cold weather “smelled like money.” During the cold months we packed them in. Now, a brisk chill is enough to keep our clientele in for a fortnight. Sadly, winter now reeks of death.
Take the damn “Snowquester” which didn’t happen a few weeks ago.
The 72 hours leading up to this non-event encapsulates the sorry state of Washington weather panics. But how to explain the next week or so afterwards as the city’s inhabitants bunkered down like Stalingraders circa 1943. When will we start realizing that the local storm barking always proves bigger than its bite? Our news stations, our sad phone, and even sadder regional leaders constantly wimp out. Cancel school and gubberment now. Ask questions later. And what I would like to know: if there are so many non-essential people populating our workforce why do we keep them on the payroll?
The new normal has become a straight-faced call for zero to 14 inches—and while this would make a compelling porn flick title, it signifies everything wrong Washington weather forecasting and its sycophants. Are we so soft we can’t endure a little dusting on Route 66? Would it hurt our children to trudge a mile or two to their private schools instead of being Ubered there? How does the capitol of a super power come to a screeching halt for nearly a week based solely on predictions from people who seldom get it right, have terrible haircuts, and actually get excited about the Washington Redskins?
Historically, I have had very little use for the weather except for taking advantage of the cold by pushing over-priced, hot alcoholic drinks topped with whipped cream. I always hated the losers in Catholic school who wore “rubbers.” I own nothing but contempt for umbrella carriers, raincoat wearers, mitten lovers, scarf bearers, and muffler milquetoasts. I’m gobsmacked by the wholesale wimpiness. How can the painfully mild Washington weather bring my fine peers to their knees? Most of the city hibernated through this winter even though we hardly suffered through 1.7 inches of total snow accumulation. Summer has a fearsome rap around here too. Sure, it gets hotter than Hades every July for a few weeks. But to paraphrase my hero Marion Barry, “Get over it, bitches. Your bandwidth is weak."
Shouldn’t we do what other people do all over the planet? Buy an affectionate yak or alpaca for the cold months. Get used to sweating in August. Or how’s about gliding around on your over-priced bike to create a very inexpensive air conditioning system? Then do like those billion Chinese do, hydrate with a frosty cold mug of beer on a lovely patio garden of your local neighborhood tavern.
Looking at this year’s March DSR’s compared to 2012, most of our beloved friends in the biz are experiencing a massive downword trend. Obviously this month Washingtonians have gone out not like lions, but lambs.
D.C. has a “state motto:” Justia Omnibus or “justice for all.” Francis Scott Key’s “Star Spangled Banner” unfortunately happens to be the official song of the city. But if we don’t start acting tougher, I think we should just go ahead and make our official musical group “Pussy Riot.”
D.C.ers, it’s time to accept that once in awhile, a hard rain is gonna fall, especially on the way to a drunkfest or that special bris ceremony with the open bar. Washington, you are young and pretty and you look sort of hot when you are wet. Damn the Cassandras. It’s time to get outside and start drinking again. It won’t fucking kill you. Or at least that quickly.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery