News & Politics

Joe Englert: The Showman

A nightlife impresario embarks on his latest act.

Joe Englert doesn’t take life too seriously. This may explain why his bars have featured everything from insects on the menu to burlesque performers.

“He’s got nonstop energy,” says Getinet Bantayehu, a business partner. “I can’t keep up with him.”

Englert, 46, moved to Washington in 1984 from his hometown of Pittsburgh with a degree in English from Penn State. After writing weekend features for the Washington Times, he realized there wasn’t a lot to say about local nightlife.

“There was nobody playing new music, nobody doing anything with themes and decorations,” says Englert, who lives in Cleveland Park with his wife and two children, ages 7 and 12.

His specialty became the quirky theme bar, beginning in 1989 with the 15 Minute Club on 15th Street. He’s launched about 20 nightspots in all, including Lucky Bar and Big Hunt on Connecticut Avenue and the Pour House and Capitol Lounge on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Some credit Englert with helping turn around blighted neighborhoods. He was a pioneer on DC’s U Street when he opened the Insect Club, State of the Union, Zig Zag, and Andalusian Dog. He now has his sights set on H Street, Northeast, south of Gallaudet University, where he and his partners have bought eight dilapidated properties. Four of the eight planned bars are open.

The most popular, Showbar Presents the Palace of Wonders, features oddities—like an eight-legged goat in a glass case—as well as burlesque performers and sword swallowers.

“The greatest thing about DC is it’s like the biggest college campus in the world,” Englert says. “There’s a never-ending supply of young people.”