I intended to get this piece up last week, but it ended up on the backburner for a bit. This is the first piece in the "Eye on..." series. I haven't forgotten about the Arena Stage renovations. I'll be getting to that as well. I'm stretched a bit thin, with my continuing coverage of Metro and my work on a brand new project. In any event, here's an inside look at a source of much 'controversy,' the H Street Country Club.
A little over a week ago I attended a cocktail 'preview' night at the H Street Country Club. The 'preview' was to showcase a new selection of cocktails created by prominent mixologist Gina Chersevani. I'm using the term preview loosely, as the new cocktail menu was already being used. It was mostly a chance to get local bloggers and media-types hyped about the idea of craft cocktails at the city's only indoor miniature golf location.
The H Street Country Club opened this year on a wave of incredible hype. There was no possible way it could satisfy everyone. The H Street Corridor has seen serious development over the past 2-3 years, with the opening of the Rock and Roll Hotel, SOVA, The Red and the Black, The Palace of Wonders, Taylor Gourmet, so on and so forth. The area has become a destination, and for better or worse the H Street Country Club is a huge draw.
Prior to the cocktail night, I had never been to H Street Country Club. I had heard the same comment echo through the blogosphere--the concept is OK, but it caters to yuppies from Clarendon and is miserably crowded. Add in complaints about poor service, and I wasn't expecting a whole lot.
So how about the cocktails? They were good. Chersevani knows how to sling a good drink, and can even spice up some traditional ones, such as the Pimm's Cup. For the most part I enjoyed what she has done for the place. However, even at the preview night I could see some of the service problems. At times there were at least six people behind the bar, yet customers were left waiting for long periods of time for drinks as simple as a glass of house wine. The place has only been open now for around four months, so I'm willing to cut them a little bit of slack. However, I was not incredibly impressed with the service.
I showed up around 6 PM for the cocktails, and by 7-7:30 the place was beginning to get crowded. This was a Friday night, and it started to get a bit loud in the downstairs. There were your groups of yuppies, wearing polo shirts and whatnot. There were noisy groups, with those girls who just love to scream at the top of their lungs.
I had a chance to talk a bit with co-owner Ricardo Vegara, who admitted they have had some kinks to work out. There have been significant crowds on the weekends, and they have been working hard to keep staff and train them. I don't doubt that; it can certainly take a while for a place to find its groove. As much as I'd like to, I can't blame Vegara or the management for being popular.
Here's the deal. H Street Country Club runs on gimmicks. Craft cocktails, gourmet small plates, miniature golf, etc. It tries to do it all, but with lackluster results. Someone could easily build another mini-golf course in DC, add a jukebox and serve bottled beer and it could put the H Street Country Club to shame. Why craft cocktails? I don't want to go to a loud crowded bar to sip on a complicated drink. I'll go to the Gibson, or a few doors down to SOVA for that. Is it to make more money? Higher margins on the drinks? The moral here is: you can't be a speakeasy, a gourmet restaurant, and a skeeball and minigolf place all at once. It's not going to work. If you want to be an adult Chuck-E-Cheese, you should aim more towards dive bar instead of fancy hotel bar.
Worthy of hatred? More like indifference. This place can be loud and expensive, with the service at times lacking. The idea of an indoor mini-golf course that's DC themed sounds great, but what happens after you play through the course? Why go back? Fancy cocktails in a loud bar isn't enough to get me to trek to H Street.
If you want to check this place out, go on a weeknight for happy hour and a round of golf. Stop by Taylor Gourmet down the street for a sandwich beforehand. Stay away on Friday or Saturday nights.
Rating: 5/10 (Conversation, enjoyment difficult)