H Street Prepares for City’s Biggest Block Party

11th Annual Street Festival

Local businesses are preparing for an estimated 150,000 people expected to attend the 11th Annual H Street Festival. The event will include 250 vendors, two beer gardens and two eating contests. Courtesy photo

WASHINGTON — Smokey’s Barbershop & Oldies and its owner, Smokey, have been fixtures on H Street for more than 50 years, though business these days, despite the boom for others, is not like it once was.

Smokey will be putting down his clippers Saturday. But don’t shed a tear for him, because he’s actually quitting only temporarily as he joins the biggest block party in Washington, D.C.  – the H Street Festival.

“Yeah, I’m going to be out there selling barbeque,” he says with a laugh.

Photo by Courtney Davis:  Joe, a bartender at Po Boy Jim’s, shows off
the restaurant’s acclaimed New Orleans-style gumbo.

It’s time for the 11th annual H Street Festival and on Saturday (Sept. 17) restaurants, bars, clothing stores and other vendors will be dishing out food and booze, having eating contests and celebrating District culture. 

The festival will take place from noon to 7 p.m. between 4th and 14th streets on H Street. It is expected to draw 150,000 people.

According to festival officials, this year’s event will include over 250 vendors, two beer gardens, a kid’s zone, a chess academy, free professional portraits, a karaoke stage and a PokemonGo Zone. There will even be a couple of eating contests. Smokey will sell his “original” North Carolina barbeque.

Ever since the first H Street Festival, Smokey said he has been outside his shop selling barbeque –straight off the pit.

“It’s only ever rained once,” Smokey said.

Nat, also a barber in the shop, said, “Folks come from all over. There’s a line half-way down the block for Smokey’s food.”

Nat’s advice? Come before noon if you don’t want to wait too long.

Smokey, his customers and old and new neighborhood residents said they look forward to the festival because of its positive influence on the neighborhood.

“It’s been something to bring together the community, where races and all walks of life are here, present, to enjoy themselves,” said Damoné Henderson, who has been coming to get his hair cut at Smokey’s for 20 years.

Photo by Coutney Davis:   Alana of Dangerously Delicious Pie shows
off one of the pies that people will be devouring during the pie
eating contest that the restaurant is sponsoring.

Most restaurants, like Boundary Road and Khan’s Bar & Grill, said they are preparing for the festival by limiting menu items and doubling staff.

Boundary Road’s general manager Mary Kate Wrzensniewski said on the day of the festival, her restaurant won’t offer as many brunch items due to the number of people and the amount of time each dish takes.

“Imagine poaching eggs for a restaurant full of people,” Wrzensniewski said.

 It will also have to keep the kitchen running through its normal daily three-hour break between lunch and dinner, she said.

 Other eateries will have eating contests.

Po Boy Jim’s, a 2-year-old New Orleans-themed restaurant will have their 3rd annual eating contest at 6 p.m. The winner of the contest will receive a trophy and a sandwich named after him or her for a month. Po Boy Jim’s will have outdoor seating, something it does only for the festival.

Dangerously Delicious Pies, a national pie chain, will also be having an eating contest.

“The pies for the contest are going to be blueberry, so messy and hysterical,” general manager Claire Gladbach said. “No hands.”

The restaurant has been on the block for seven years, Gladbach said. According to Gladbach, It has watched the festival grow over time.

 “It was really about four or five years ago that it really exploded into the phenomenon that we see it as now,” she said.

Gladbach described the preparation as a “pretty beefy process.” The H Street Main street organization schedules meetings between all the business owners and vendors to make sure everyone is updated on new requirements and regulations.

Photo by Courtney Davis:  Smokey, owner of Smokey's Barbershop & 
Oldies for 50 years, will put down his clippers to again cook his famous
barbecue for the hundreds of patrons that will line up outside his door.

 “There are a ton of permits that you have to file for,” she said.

Despite the meetings and paperwork Gladbach assured she is still looking forward to the festival.

“It’s one of those days where you kind of anticipate it,” she said. “Like finals in college, you work your butt off, and you’re exhausted, but at the end of the day you feel like you really did something. It’s like that for the whole neighborhood. It’s pretty much a collective sigh of relief and a simultaneous high five.”

Moe Abdi of Eurostyles, a men and women’s clothing store, said he won’t be selling food. Instead, he will sell H Street Festival shirts on the sidewalk on the sidewalk in front of his store

While most H Street businesses are preparing for a big payday, one store won’t be opening its doors.

Cirque Du Rouge, a tattoo shop located right at the start of the festival, will be closed.

 “It’s a great day, it’s just there’s a lot of drunk people and we don’t want to have to turn people away from the shop,” employee Cynthia Rudzis commented. “Also with traffic and street closures, our employess get home too late," said Rudzis.

For more information about the festival, visit the festival’s Facebook page. For volunteer and vendor information, click to visit H Street Festival web page.