The Bar Belle: The Red & The Black

The Red & The Black
1212 H St., N.E.

Before I took the trip down to The Red & The Black, DC’s newest 21-plus venue, I had heard talk of its location in the new Atlas district on H Street, N.E. It was called “edgy,” it was called “burgeoning,” and, in a phrase sure to awake hipsters everywhere from their even-I-can’t-tell-when-I’m-being-sarcastic-anymore routine, it was called “the new U Street.” But when we finally caught a cab home from the spot at 2 a.m., the cab driver called it “gambling with our lives.”

The pot that we were gambling for was a show put on by some GW bands: The Wakes, from Pittsburgh, and Jukebox the Ghost (formerly The Sunday Mail). We weren’t sure, at first, that we’d even make it. But one Metro ride and one very full, very wet and very, very late X2 bus later, we arrived, on a Wednesday night, only to find that the area that had been hailed as the second-coming-of-hip was completely deserted, save for the muted music spilling from the bar illuminated across the street: The Red & The Black.

As it turns out, the majority of the bars, nightclubs and restaurants known as the Atlas strip are currently in development – which means nonexistent. But The Red & The Black, though quiet, was at least there, so we entered the small, two-story joint. Downstairs, a long bar peppered with old clocks and photographs flanked a row of red leather booths. We paid eight bucks and snaked up the steps to the small venue upstairs: a small stage illuminated by hanging red lights fronting a small, dim dance floor, with another bar tucked in the back.

The Red & The Black, opened last June by the owners of DC’s other 21-plus venue-bar, DC9, claims a Big Easy theme: low lights, velvet curtains and Jambalaya for bar grub. A scan at the venue’s lineup in the coming weeks reveals a host of (mostly) D.C. artists, including Travis Morrison of the now-defunct Dismemberment Plan. The name of the place, Wikipedia states, is based on an 1830 novel by Stendhal that “relates a young man’s attempts to rise above his plebeian birth through a combination of talent, hard work, deception and hypocrisy, only to find himself betrayed by his own passions.” And the four-dollar-domestic, seven-dollar-shrimp-dip, Diesel-jeaned-clientele bar, dropped as it is in the middle of a struggling neighborhood in Northeast, surely isn’t designed for its “plebeian” neighbors.

But I just took in the show and tried not to let my “passions betray me.” The Wakes and Jukebox the Ghost got the crowd dancing, but as the music died down and the booze set in, things started to get crazy. The bartender threatened to kick my friend out of the bar for not tipping well enough, shouting at her, “haven’t you ever been to a bar before? You’re cut off!” Another friend ran off, disappeared, and turned up late the next day (with what may or may not have been a concussion). When we finally flagged down a cab at the end of the night (no small feat), the cab driver looked us up and down. “You are lucky to get a cab out here this time of night,” he said, laughing a loud, deliberate laugh. “You go two or three blocks East, you gonna get shot.”

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