josh balz beetle house
Zach Neil and Josh Balz.

Josh Balz turned 30 last week, and he still has the fascination and artistic drive of someone half his age. The former Motionless In White keyboardist has entered a partnership with Beetle House, a goth-themed restaurant/entertainment chain. Balz will be responsible for the look, design and ambiance of the new Beetle House bistro, opening today on H Street on the North East side of Washington, D.C.

“I like to create, I like to design and I like to build stuff,” Balz says, prior to doing major renovation on the upstairs of the Beetle House locale. “I get to do what I want, and nobody tells me otherwise.”

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Balz has been driving from Kingston, Pennsylvania, to Washington, D.C., staying in three-day periods to create the new spooky-themed restaurant. “We are legitimately opening a restaurant in…” He pauses to count the days in his head before laughing. “This is the 11th day.” When asked if people ever tell him that he’s insane, he cheerfully responds, “Every day of my life!”

Balz is working with entrepreneur Zach Neil, a person he’s known since he was 15. Neil has a career that’s had him in every imaginable music-based situation: He signed a teenage Motionless In White to his label, Masquerade Recordings, which was then an imprint under Warner Music Group distribution. (“I was managing the band, producing the band and trying to get people to like the band!”) He also worked on Warped Tour as a stage manager for 10 years, as well as widening his experience into promotion, production and social media among many other fields. He gradually moved away from music and into pop-up events centered on bars and restaurants. “It’s a similar kind of thing to the music industry,” Neil says, “except you actually get paid.

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“Josh has always had more to offer than being a keyboard player in a hardcore band,” Neil shares quite lucidly. “I’ve kept in touch with him and watched him grow as an entrepreneur.” Neil helped Balz create the Steamy Hallows coffee shop he has inside his Strange And Unusual shop in Kingston, Pennsylvania, a move Neil thought was foolhardy. “I told him, ‘Nobody’s there. It won’t work,’” he says. “He twisted my arm, and then he proved me wrong.

“I kept coaxing him out of Kingston,” Neil continues. “This Washington, D.C. location popped up, and it was too good to pass up. I asked Josh to come up and do it. He’s a hustler, and he has an amazing work ethic. I’m proud of him, and I’m glad he’s here. He has a massive skill set that he developed during the band that he developed out of necessity. In the past few weeks, I’ve seen him paint [and] do plumbing and electricity, and he has an excellent eye for details. He’s not just an idea guy: He can make those things happen. We used [to] have guidelines, but now I just let him go and do it. He makes me feel old and tired every day.”

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Beetle House is described by Neil as “what if goth kids that were huge Tim Burton fans made their version of a Medieval Times. In the Hollywood location and D.C. location, there’s a performing theater where we have wild, macabre entertainment—sword-swallowers, contortionists, fire-eaters, mentalists—all the circus sideshow stuff. You have your dinner, interact with characters, have drinks that smoke and bubble and catch on fire and a magic show on a side table. Then you get shuffled into the theater for a Vegas-style show of the macabre. It’s a place where you go and it’s Halloween every day.”

“I made it so that even if you didn’t know who Tim Burton was, you could say, ‘Wow, this is a nice spooky restaurant,’” Balz says. “It’s Halloween all year round. The Beetle House vibe is literally how I live my life. I want everything I do to be a full experience for someone visiting.

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“My role is basically as a creative director and logistics, so I’ve become a partner in the company,” he explains. “This whole building was orange and yellow and was a Greek fusion restaurant. I go in and say, ‘I want that wall painted purple, these skull-type sconces over here…I built a wall that has black-and-white stripes on it so when you first come in, it looks like a funhouse. It’s like weekend warrior touring: You go away for three days, then go home. I get to go to work every day and build out spaces.”

Don’t worry, friends: Balz is still going to be Pennsylvania’s goth ambassador to the world. (Our words, not his: He prefers “the Chip And Joanna of the goth world.”) He’s still maintaining his Strange And Unusual shops, his new day spa facility (the Midnight Society in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania) and promises that Strange Kids (his collaboration with Jake Simons) are going back into the studio soon. And it’s about time for the next Noir Nights event to rise.

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And when it’s construction time again, there are plans afoot for Balz to work his designer magic into the world of rock-based sports bars, as well as another Beetle House location on the West Coast to be determined. Undoubtedly, Balz and Neil may very well be the powerhouse their niche needs right about now.

“There’s no point in doing it alone, so you should do it with friends,” Balz says. “You can’t have fun by yourself. Right now, I just want people to know that when they come into this Beetle House, the skeleton they’re looking at on the wall is definitely not from Michaels.”