Joe, a bartender at Po Bo Jim's, shows off the restaurant's acclaimed New Orleans-style gumbo. (Howard University News Service)
Joe, a bartender at Po Bo Jim's, shows off the restaurant's acclaimed New Orleans-style gumbo. (Howard University News Service)

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.

But Smokey will be putting down his clippers temporarily Saturday as he joins the biggest block party in Washington, D.C.: the H Street Festival.

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

The 11th annual H Street Festival returns Saturday, and restaurants, bars, clothing stores and other vendors will be dishing out food and booze, having eating contests and celebrating District culture.

The festival, which will take place from noon to 7 p.m. between 4th and 14th streets, 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.

And of course, Smokey will sell his “original” North Carolina barbecue.

Ever since the first H Street Festival, Smokey said he has been outside his shop selling barbecue — 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 halfway down the block for Smokey’s food.”

Nat’s advice? Come before noon to avoid waiting 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.

Most restaurants, such as Boundary Road and Khan’s Bar & Grill, said to 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 also have its third 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.

“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 festival’s starting point, 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 said. “Also with traffic and street closures.

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

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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