Last Thursday, Feb. 22, I ventured out to Hampden to check out the grand reopening of Holy Frijoles. The place was packed. They had plenty of stuff going on: food, $2.22 margaritas, rock music and pinball. It was awesome, but the path leading up to this triumphant party was no easy one.
I had the opportunity to talk with the owner of the restaurant, Geoffrey Danek. He has been in the restaurant business ever since working in a restaurant at 13 years old, “slinging a skateboard over [his] shoulder, getting paid in medium-sized pizzas.”
During college, he ate his way around the globe, discovering new cultures through food and restaurants.
“Once I came back to school, I went from being in a state of transition, trying to figure out what I wanted to do, into even more of a state of transition,” Danek said.
After coming back and working at Giuseppe’s in Charles Village (now Niwana), he founded Holy Frijoles in 1996. Twenty two years later, the restaurant is still standing.
For Danek, it’s never been all about the food. Holy Frijoles — sometimes referred to as the FriHole by locals — is as much a hangout spot as a restaurant, hosting special events like Pinball League and inviting local bands to perform.
He explained that pinball has always offered him a cathartic getaway from the troubles of a busy life.
“I decided to make a section just for the pinball, and another section just for shows,” he said.
Unfortunately, in late 2016, the place burned down.
Danek described the moments before he learned of the news.
“I woke up at around six in the morning to loud knocking, and I was like, ‘what the hell I’m not getting up at freaking six in the morning for some random dude knocking,’ but then by the third set of serious knocks, I knew something was wrong,” Danek said.
His friend then informed him that his restaurant had just burned down.
“I got there as fast as I could, going ‘fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!’ The kitchen was burned down, the bar area was smoked out and they took out a few walls to further inspect the fire,” he said.
The rebuilding process had to start that day. After a jumble of waiting, paperwork and dealing with the city government, the restaurant was finally able to reopen.
Danek described the craziness surrounding the rebuilding.
“It was a whirlwind of a year, man. Sometimes I look back on it, and I wonder how we even pulled it off,” he said.
Such an amazing turnaround from a brutal catastrophe required an amazing party to kick off the new and improved Holy Frijoles. Turnout was high, and the place was filled to the brim with a mix of hipsters, old dudes and hipster old dudes. Local band The Glenmont Popes performed a banging show for the crowd.
Danek said he was proud of his staff for kicking ass, and the night was a big success. I got to play some pinball (I learned some strategies by walking by and watching a few butt-drunk hipsters) and had some pretty good runs.
The next day when I came to try the food and talk to the owner, the wooden floors that once smelled like ass and were littered with spilled drinks the night before looked smooth and pristine. It had turned from party central to family restaurant overnight.
Now let’s talk food. I ordered the chorizo taco and the beef refried beans burrito. The usual generously-large free basket of chips and salsa came first. The chorizo was alright, but the beef burrito was heavy and humongous. It could definitely come alive and beat the crap out of me if it wanted to.
Both dishes came with a side of sour cream and salsa, but I regret not getting some guac with it. It was better than the ugly mush of food mass that Tex Mex cuisine usually is, and honestly, that’s a W for the FriHole: good, cheap food with a great environment and drink specials.
Their newly added carry out area also allows customers to walk in and out for a quick bite instead of sitting down for a full meal.
Overall, I’d say the food’s nothing to rave about, but the events and the pinball make this place worth checking out if you’re in the area. If I’m in Hampden and want to get my stomach full while also keeping my wallet full, I’d definitely drop by again.
Holy Frijoles is open Monday-Friday 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. and Saturday-Sunday 12 p.m. to 2 a.m.