First Person Singular: Nightlife entrepreneur Joe Englert
I always liked throwing parties, crazy theme parties. Like in college, the goal was to get the most craziest, diverse group together. You know, townies, athletes, frat boys, punk rockers, all together in one place; that always made a really good, fun party. Then after college, I wrote freelance for three or four years, a lot of nightlife copy, so I knew there was not much going on in D.C. This was the early-to-mid-'80s, a real barren type of era for music and fashion and going out. So I decided to do a little nightclub called the Random Club. We basically transformed some old-man's pub into a dance place on Fridays and Saturdays.
Then we had this really strange nightclub: part old-person cafeteria, part groovy space. We had a DJ and a couple of different bands, and then we'd sell the old-time cafeteria food: institutionalized potatoes, meatloaf and short ribs. But because the lease was so short, we were desperate to find other places. So we ended up having a bunch: 15 Minutes Club, Crowbar, Insect Club, Andalusian Dog, Zig Zag Cafe, Planet Fred, State of the Union. [Now] I have 12 places but different involvement in every one.
When I first started, there were always people that were willing to talk with me -- the Greek restaurant guys always helped me out -- so I'm willing to talk to people. The most successful people I've met always helped me, be it in real estate, restaurants, whatever. A successful guy or woman has enough time and energy to give to other people. And that's part of their success, to be giving.
Sometimes you get burned out, but then you get reinvigorated by going to a really good place. I like to search out great bars, great personalities in great bars. We go to Baltimore and Richmond a lot. New York. Montreal. Just to check everything out. Remember, the restaurant business isn't microchips or military intelligence; it's out there. You can just go to a good restaurant and watch what they do: how much things cost, how inventive's the menu, how involved is the host or hostess or management. So it's not this top-secret endeavor; it's working your butt off.
I think the hardest thing is letting go. Because there are just so many details. Like, it's hard for me to go to one of my places. The light's either too low or too high. It's the wrong music. The server doesn't know that soup of the day. The busboy is carrying an empty glass through the room with his hand in the glass. Stuff like that. But at some point, you have to be satisfied with what is going on at your place. You just have to let it go, or you lose your mind.
-- Interview by KK Ottesen