H Street on a Weeknight? You Bet.
By Fritz Hahn
Special to the Washington Post
Friday, February 27, 2009
In a town where you can get sushi at grocery store counters and high-end restaurants, it takes something special for a sushi place to stand out -- particularly when it's in a neighborhood that isn't known for drawing crowds on weeknights.
Enter: Sticky Rice. The H Street NE joint has character in spades, from the framed tattoo art to the gong behind the bar, and the neighborhood's ahead-of-the-curve hipster crowd has taken notice, flooding in for out-there sushi rolls, karaoke nights, sake bombs and weekend DJs.
Sticky Rice is part of the ongoing H Street trend, where hipster clubs are (still) hoping to transform a neighborhood that lacks good public transportation yet is hoping for a buzzing night life on more than just weekends.
"For a while, there was nothing, then on Friday and Saturday night you'd see people out here. Now I think people are more willing to come out here [on weeknights]," says Jen DeMayo, the communications director at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. "A lot of [businesses] are doing more," she says. "Sticky Rice has karaoke, the Pug has specials on Tuesday night, there are people at Granville Moore's. We're a theater, but the more people who are out and the more things there are to do, the better it is for everyone."
Sticky Rice is able to pack them in night after night. Even late into a work night. How? Perhaps it's the almost daily events. Let's start with the sushi.
Monday: Sushi Happy Hour (starts at 10:30)
You want a half-price sushi happy hour? Sticky's is designed for the bar-hopper, not the stiff rolling in from the office next door: The house rolls and nigiri deals run from 10:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Chefs at the second-floor sushi bar make inventive creations such as the Drawn-n-Buttered roll, with crabmeat, shrimp and cucumbers. It's paired with garlic butter for dipping. Or you can try the delectably spicy Sticky Balls, which feature crab, shrimp and rice inside a deep-fried tofu pocket.
The late starts are so events don't interfere with dinner, says Sticky's general manager, Rebekka Alacantara. "Surprisingly, we're pretty busy," she says. "The new shuttle helps."
The free H Street Shuttle that started last month runs down H Street between the Gallery Place and Minnesota Avenue Metro stations every 30 minutes from 5 p.m. until the Metro closes. It's a nice option, but it's really a glorified passenger van that holds about 15 people, and the street signage is lacking, so it's hard to know where to stand. (I actually hailed one like a cab.)
Tuesday: Karaoke Club (starts at 10:30)
Sticky Rice doesn't have a stage, so singers at Karaoke Club stand atop a table and read lyrics from a large projection screen on the opposite wall. It's just another quirk of this crazy night, when Guns N' Roses, Sir Mix-a-Lot and Creedence Clearwater Revival are all on the minds of the performers. The good-natured crowd packs in to booths and around the bar, cheering for performers while drinking $2 cans of Tecate beer.
Tisa Mitchell, a 37-year-old political activist, belts out "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" to whoops and cheers. "They love me to sing Whitney [Houston], so I always do a song by Whitney," she explains. Mitchell has been coming to karaoke night since she discovered Sticky Rice nine months ago. "We can come in, we can sing, we can express ourselves and have a good time," she says. But more important, the crowd is a reason to keep coming back. She says she likes the mix of ages and races. Says the Ward 6 resident: "Everybody gets along. We need diversity on H Street. "
Thursday: Blingo (starts around 11)
"This ain't your grandma's bingo," warns Sticky Rice's Web site, and that's right. Blingo is six fast-paced rounds of speed bingo, which means new numbers are called out at the rate of one or two per second, with none repeated. If you miss one, you miss it.
Focus is important, which isn't always easy in a bustling restaurant, especially when beers are $3 or less and other patrons are ordering buckets of tater tots over your shoulder. It's really competitive, but also a lot of fun, with plenty of socializing.Stakes can be high or low: Some weekly grand-prize winners have taken home a Nintendo Wii or a 3G iPhone. A few weeks ago, when the prize theme was "As Seen on TV," I took home Billy Mays-endorsed Mighty Putty epoxy, while the delighted winners of the top prizes took home a ShamWow and a Slanket.
Next month, everyone who wins a round receives a raffle ticket that could net them a pair of tickets to see Britney Spears at Verizon Center on March 24.
Friday and Saturday: DJ Dance Party (starts around 11)
Okay, calling Sticky Rice's weekend events "dance parties" is a bit of a stretch. It can be so crowded that it's difficult to shake a leg, but that doesn't stop some people from trying. Instead, I find myself stopping by for a couple of beers (Pabst Blue Ribbon cans are $3) and taking in the scene. Sometimes you may catch the Video Killers VJs mixing '80s hip-hop videos, strange movie clips and new radio hits on the big screen. Saturday, it's DJ Stereofaith, better known for his popular nights at DC9 and the Rock and Roll Hotel.
If you find yourself in the neighborhood, it's a good excuse to visit, but if you're making a special trip to Sticky Rice, well, I'd wait until a school night.