[This is a guest post from Tony Tomelden. You may know him by Tony T, who owns (solo or w/ others) The Pug, Union Trust, and Brookland’s Finest. Before these joints opened, he managed Capitol Hill’s Capitol Lounge for years, which announced yesterday on social media (Twitter (post went viral), Facebook, and Instagram) that it was closing after Sunday, September 20th, saddening former and current customers and staff all over DC and beyond. The current owner Jimmy Silk explained to Jessica Sidman of Washingtonian that its revenues of about 10% of average normal revenues weren’t sustainable but he was keeping the decor/memorabilia for future possible reopening at a different location in the future.]
By Tony T
I dated the server in this pic above while I was at the Lounge. More on that later.
The Lounge opened mid April 1996 I think (someone will look it up and give the correct date; Editor’s Note: appears to be May 15, 1996). Like that first U2 show in the states, everybody was there. Not me. I wasn’t even there the first fucking night. I was still at 15 Min Club and Planet Fred. I was gonna be a shift manager at the Lounge. As often happens, there were pretty quick shake ups and Little Joe and I ended up managers. Big Joe Englert was hoping for a cocktail/martini friendly bar with a cigar lounge in the basement. Little Joe and I were probably not the best choices in that regard. Unlike his other spots, Big Joe was pretty hands on at the Lounge. Pretty quickly though he ceded control of the jukebox to me. (pre-internet jukebox you heathens).
It was pretty touch and go, summer is never busy and on the Hill, campaign years are tough. Easter weekend that first year we did $0.25 drafts Good Friday and maybe 20 people came through (Way less than opening night). Joe and I worked for tips alone. At one point Austin Grill expressed an interest in taking over, and Big Joe was stoked, but it fell through and we kept at it.
The $2 Cap Amber was Dominion. We offered Guinness, Newcastle, Sierra, and the usual fare for the mid 90s. We finally started getting crowds. I worked Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Friday. Happy Hour on Fridays was really getting to be a thing. For whatever reason, one of our beer deliveries was every Friday. They were always late. After the 3rd or 4th happy hour delivery in a row, I told the driver if he came during happy hour again, I would drop Miller Lite. “No you won’t.” So now you know that bit.
The MLS started in 96 as well. Big Joe hired Old Town Trolley to run back and forth between the lounge and RFK. We sold tickets to section 232 at the bar. The Capitol Lounge Choir. Along with Summers and Lucky Bar, we were it for soccer. The DC Belfast supporters club spent a season there arguing with Lavo. Joe worked on the odd hour waivers for the World Cups.
Big Joe was from some dusty ass suburb of dusty ass Pittsburgh. As soon as it was available, he had the NFL package going. I had to listen to polka every time the Stillers scored. For two awful years before Politiki, we were the Steelers bar. Bunch of the Steelers regulars brought Jerome Bettis in one night for drinks. Course I had no idea who he was. After the fire, DirecTV gave us no break on fees, so yeah, they can go fuck.
The MPD first district substation is around the corner. A lot of LEO [ed. note: law enforcement officers] regulars. The IMF World bank demonstrations/disturbances from so long ago were organised by some folks working in an office above the Chinese restaurant a few doors down. On a walk through one night all of the anarchists were shooting pool with the MPD bomb squad. No one ever knew. No Politics. Tough in DC, but we did alright. Those last couple Sundays in an NFL season, after a campaign cycle, there were more often than not opposing campaigns drinking together.
Yep, I DJed Saturday nights. It was good fun.
I met a huge crowd of people at the Lounge who have meant an awful lot to me over the years. When my kids started school, there were three types of parents, 1. “hey, why do i recognize you?” 2. “TonyT!!! What’s up?!” and inevitably, 3. the ones who looked away. Mostly, I had chucked them out one night or another
Yes, Big Joe made me fire the server I started dating. Stephanie and I have been married 17 years.
Never saw lobbyists pick up big tabs, even after the rules changed. Never got prominent politicians drunk. I always made kamikazes, cosmos and appletinis when asked. Was never treated like shit by an elected official. We did not consume a case of Jamesons my final shift.
I hated that place and I will miss it terribly. For a bit, it was the best bar on the planet, and DC will be worse off after all this shit is over and all the little places are fucking gone.