Mug Shots: Not a Real Country Club

New H Street Venue Opens Its Doors to All

Posted July 8, 2009 at 3:23pm

The H Street Country Club is a hybrid of sorts — it’s part bar, part restaurant, part amusement park. Customers can get their fill of quesadillas and guacamole or they can pound back a few top-notch margaritas and play a round of miniature golf. Though the bar seems to be having an identity crisis, this hodgepodge of activity actually works. The food is tasty, the drinks are strong and the golf is fun, albeit extremely challenging — even before a cocktail or two.

[IMGCAP(1)]If there’s one thing owner Joe Englert loves, it’s a theme. From the Rock and Roll Hotel’s record-decked walls, to the Palace of Wonders’ sideshow stage, Englert gets his kicks by creating bars that take customers out of D.C. and transplant them in another world. The H Street Country Club (1335 H St. NE), which features lockers, golf clubs and golf tees at every turn, is no different. Attention has been paid to every detail, resulting in a bar that feels lived-in and wonderfully kitschy.

The main draw of the Country Club is the much-talked-about miniature golf course that takes up half of the second floor. While fun for a round, the nine-hole course is very much a novelty. Parts of the course are far too challenging, and the line of people waiting to play on weekends can be miserably long. It is worth noting, however, that every care has been taken to make the course extremely D.C.-centric. Scandal-ridden Mayor-turned-Councilmember Marion Barry rises up from the ground on one hole in an imitation of the “Awakening— sculpture, and on another hole the players are required to shoot the ball between a miniature Ben’s Chili Bowl and Lincoln Theatre. Englert himself makes an appearance as the face of a gargoyle on one hole.

[IMGCAP(2)]Both the Mexican-inspired food and drink menus are a hit. The mojito was wonderfully sweet without being too sugary, and the sangria managed to retain some of the wine’s flavor even as chunks of fruit floated in it. Sweet tea vodka is sweeping through every bar in town, including the H Street Country Club. The bar has created a drink called Par Bar that mixes Jeremiah Weed Sweet Tea Vodka with lemonade and fresh lemon juice. The result is a refreshing cocktail that goes down quickly and smoothly. And what would a Mexican-themed menu be without margaritas? I recommend ordering a mixture of the lime and guava margaritas for a drink that is both sweet and tart.

The food, like the drinks, is quite good. The menu was developed by Ann Cashion of Cashion’s Eat Place and Teddy Folkman of Granville Moore’s. The second floor of the H Street Country Club offers full table service and an extensive menu, whereas the first floor offers a selection of bar snacks. While the quesadillas served on the first floor are tasty, your best bet for food is upstairs. Unfortunately the country club doesn’t take reservations, so an early arrival is a must.

The tacos al carbón were a tasty appetizer that could work as a light dinner. The soft tortillas are stuffed with tasty chunks of meat. The tres gorditas entree was delightful. Featuring three pieces of fried dough smothered in roasted pumpkin and poblano peppers, zucchini and cotija cheese and Mexican scrambled eggs, this dish had something for everyone. The buñuelos, however, stole the show. This Mexican fried dough is covered in honey and comes with a small chocolate drink on the side. The honey is sweet and the chocolate is a nice complement — whether for drinking or dipping the dough into.

A meal at the H Street Country Club is made even better by the friendly and helpful wait staff. Bartenders and waiters are eager to make recommendations. When I asked that a bit more lime be added to one of my cocktails, the bartender was happy to oblige.

The biggest thing working against the country club is the hype. From pre-opening buzz on every food blog in town to chatter among staffers, the bar has a lot to live up to. In addition, co-owner Teddy Folkman appeared on the Next Food Network Star earlier this summer. Sure, the country club is fun, but it is not the unique bar that it has been made out to be. When it comes to the games, strip away the mini golf and you’re left with another Rocket Bar, only this one serves food.

That’s not to say that game-centric bars aren’t fun, but they are extremely prevalent in D.C. these days. This one is just more difficult to get to.