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A place to relax
Temperance Hall is not what name implies
(Published March 6, 2006)

Staff Writer

It’s 4:15 p.m. Clinking glasses chime loudly, three separate conversations are growing louder and ripping boxes whisper as a hard-working man vigorously sweeps the upstairs floor and a muted television shows ice skaters in the Olympics.

"What’s the password to the router?" a guy wearing a black-hooded sweatshirt shouts.

A tall yellow ladder stands in the middle of the floor and power drills occupy nearby black painted-wood tables. Manager Dan Searing seems to have things under control.

"We are having security cameras installed," he said as he rushed through the narrow walkway of the restaurant.

In this cozy spot at 3634 Georgia Ave. NW, the staff of the newly opened Temperance Hall restaurant busily prepares for its signature 5-to-7 "happy hour."

The restaurant’s name was chosen after the initial name, The Whiskey, was opposed by neighborhood residents, despite the presence of a large liquor store already in the block.

"We just took a step in the opposite direction," Searing said.

Temperance supporters, advocating abstinence from alcoholic beverages, helped usher in the Prohibition Era of the early 20th century, when illegal bars known as "speak-easies" thrived in the United States.

Temperance Hall is a neighborhood bar, acknowledges owner Joe Englert. With its vintage 1920s theme, Temperance Hall evokes the Prohibition Era.

"I researched speak-easies in D.C. -- on Georgia Avenue and in Northwest -- during the Prohibition Era," Englert said. "I wanted to stick with that theme."

Englert is also the mastermind behind other local themed establishments like Lucky Bar on Connecticut Avenue and DC9 on Ninth Street in Northwest Washington.

"Joe comes up with all the concepts for his places," Searing said. "He loves nightlife and places with character. He looks to make each of them something special."

Temperance Hall "has been very successful thus far -- we are the neighborhood place," Englert noted, in an area where carryout liquor or a nearby strip club have been the closest places to buy a drink.

A recent visit to Temperance Hall found Scott, who sports a basic ‘uniform’ of a green cap, jeans and a black T-shirt, stocking the bar.

"It takes us about an hour to set up and we usually have a pretty decent crowd for happy hour," Scott said.

A gentleman with a distant gaze, seated nearby, declares, "I’ve had a bad week." Searing walks in, briefly entertains the gentleman, gives him a beer and asks him for an invoice. Before long, he disappears downstairs.

The lower level of Temperance Hall mirrors the top floor. Although far from complete, it has a full-size bar, a few dinner tables, a full kitchen and a large sliding door, which will soon be the entrance to an outdoor patio.

Upstairs, antique mirrors trimmed in gold grace brick walls and mini-chandeliers dangle above the black tables. A leather booth, which seats four, fills a corner beneath the front window. An indoor balcony holds additional dining space, a flat screen television and a pool table.

While one worker places ashtrays onto the bare tabletops, a female bartender walks behind the bar and gives Scott a hand.

Although she’s been a bartender for a couple of years, Tamara acknowledges how intense happy hour already is, considering the grand opening was on Jan. 13.

"At first it was really chill, but now every Friday is crazy," she said. "It’s really packed and really diverse. Most [customers] are from the neighborhood."

Searing describes his customers as "young couples from the neighborhood and groups of guys who shoot pool and watch Wizards’ games … black and white, old and young, those who grew up in the neighborhood or those who just moved here."

"I’ve seen a few students in here as well -- we’re close to Howard [University]," he adds. "I’ve seen people studying and we have WiFi so people can check their email."

Searing describes Temperance Hall’s current menu as "creative bar food -- affordable but high quality."

"We are still adding to the menu," he said. Buffalo wings and sandwiches are coming soon, as well as a Sunday brunch.

"We have only been open a little while, but we already have regulars," Searing said, noting that people seem to be discovering Temperance Hall "to relax and have a good time in a place close to home."

Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator