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A person, a photo, a story
This Week:
Joe on Life Lessons from the Bar

“I got stuck here in 1959. I came to D.C. to look for work because there were no jobs in Ohio. I had no real plans to stay here, but after finding permanent employment, the city grew on me. I had not lived in a big city before, so I found it very exciting. There was always so much going on here.

“I found a job working at NASA, back when they were at 6th and Pennsylvania, and spent 30 years there doing programming and analysis. My academic background was in math and computer science, so it was interesting to be around so many scientists, mathematicians, and people with a lot of experience. It was a good learning environment, and I was afforded many exciting opportunities like getting my master’s degree and traveling to every major city in the country.

“While I was at NASA, I also got involved in business. I had ownership, with a partner, of a restaurant and club combination called Nob Hill on 11th and Kenyon St NW. I got into the place by accident. The owner was getting ready to relocate, and having been a customer, he approached me to see if I was interested in acquiring it. I had no experience, but it looked like an opportunity that you didn’t want to miss. There was no guarantee that it would be successful, but it seemed like a good risk. I had a Swedish friend who was an accountant. We talked about how we could take on the challenge together. After some talking, we decided to do it. We started around 1960 when Kennedy was coming on as president.

“Working in a bar environment can be very exciting and rewarding. I guess you have to like people, though, If not, it can be tough. Sometimes, you think you are a psychologist. You spend your days listening to people. Some people would talk all night if you let them. I guess they just don’t get that outlet at home or work. The bar gives them a chance to philosophize.

“As an owner, you learn a lot about people, and you learn that by being a good listener. The customer is there to relax and bring up issues on their own. You learn to follow their lead. A lot of time, that leads to very interesting conversation and ideas. And, when they talk, don’t try and be busy, give them your full attention. They will become loyal customers and keep coming back. And, when they get hungry, they may start coming in for dinner, too.

“After ten years at the bar, the city was changing. People were getting, I don’t know, belligerent and didn’t have as much respect for anybody. We had the riots and it brought on a whole different flavor. At the same time, our main bartender died and we had to make a decision on what to do. We decided to close and sell it. Someone was interested right away, and we backed out the back door. So, I can say that we closed the doors with success. That was the end of the business, and I haven’t been back into business since. After I sold it, I spent enough time there, and I didn’t want to go back…Actually, I think I may have been back once.”

Nob Hill remained open under the same name until February 1, 2004. It was the oldest gay bar in Washington and one of the oldest black gay bars in the country. Read more about it at Metro Weekly. The location is now home to the Wonderland Ballroom.

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“Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer and collector of stories. In September, he launchedPeople’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. Every day, People’s District presents a different Washingtonian sharing his or her insights on everything from Go Go music to homelessness to fashion to politics. Every Thursday he’ll share a favorite story with us”

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