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Posted at 05:06 PM ET, 09/19/2011

The widespread appeal of Marion Barry T-shirts


Englert and his best-seller. (Mike DeBonis - The Washington Post)
While I sat for the better part of an hour — okay, perhaps longer than that — outside H Street Country Club on Saturday enjoying a few libations as the Northeast corridor’s fabulous festival unfolded around me, I watched club owner and impresario extraordinaire Joe Englert and his compatriots do a rather brisk business in a repurposed piece of D.C. political memorabilia.

His navy-blue T-shirts bearing the legend “Marion Mayor Barry: Making a great city even greater” were going gangbusters.

That would be the official logo of Marion Barry’s 1986 re-election campaign. An original sign, incidentally, hangs above the stairs down into the basement of Englert’s Capitol Lounge on Pennsylvania Avenue SE.

Most of the folks I watched buy the tees were, shall we say, not in Barry’s base demographic.

While Englert acknowledged the shirts’ appeal to master ironists, he insisted he printed up the shirts out of appreciation for Barry, not to mock him.

”I think people, even newcomers, sort have a fond view of him,” he said. “He’s a folk hero. He’s as close to Johnny Appleseed as you’re going to get here.”

”He makes life enjoyable,” added Englert, who also included a rendering of Barry-as-The Awakening as an obstacle in the upstairs minigolf course at his Country Club.

And he says the shirts have appealed to a diverse audience: “You have the hipsters, but you have the old school people who love him.”

Barry, reached Monday, said he was unaware of Englert’s entrepreneurial efforts. He did not seemed pleased by them.

“I hope he gives the money to my favorite charity. . . . I’ve got about 40 of ‘em,” Barry said. He did, however, add that enforcing a possible copyright claim “ain’t a high priority of mine.”

The Barry shirt was on offer alongside a trio of shirts themed on the corridor that Englert has almost single-handedly turned into a nightlife mecca.

One, “Keep H Street Rolling,” nods to the coming streetcar. Another, “Keep H Street Safe for Beardos,” acknowledges the hood’s burgeoning hipster population. A third, “Keep H Street’s Soul, Fool,” celebrates the strip’s past and future as a largely African-American neighborhood. Together, Englert estimates, he’s sold “a couple hundred” of ‘em.

Folks interested in any of the T-shirts can stop by Cap Lounge or e-mail Englert.

UPDATE, 6:50 P.M.: The proceeds will indeed be going to charity, Englert calls to say, though not necessarily one of Barry’s choosing. He expects to gift a “couple of thousand” dollars in proceeds to Spingarn High School’s athletics department — “hopefully, their baseball program.”

By  |  05:06 PM ET, 09/19/2011

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