Aug. 30, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Fire Sparks Tune Inn Memories

Bill Clark/Roll Call
A delivery man on Wednesday wheels two kegs of beer to the Hawk ‘n’ Dove, next door to the Tune Inn on Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast. A fire in the Tune Inn’s kitchen caused about $75,000 worth of damage.

Like so many memories gathered from atop barstools, some of the best nights at the Tune Inn are lost to the ages and to the Pennsylvania Avenue bar's famed pitchers of cheap domestic brew.

But those stories that persist seemed more precious Wednesday morning, as a grease fire ripped through the kitchen of the watering hole, a hangout of a weird tribe of firefighters and police officers, Members of Congress and interns, lobbyists, veterans, retirees, journalists, and waitstaff from other neighborhood bars.

All are drawn by the joint's good jukebox, decent burgers and kooky, beat-up décor which is probably too grandiose a term for 50-plus years worth of accumulated taxidermy, posters, badges and ephemera that line the bar's walls.

The fire destroyed the kitchen, causing what D.C. officials estimate is about $75,000 in damage, although the owner hopes to reopen in as little as a month.

Until the extent of the damage was known, regulars worried that they had lost what some call their home away from home. Many more people who cherish their own Tune Inn stories feared that the touchstone for their recollections of friends, first dates and co-workers would become another vanished landmark.

Hours after firefighters extinguished the blaze on Tuesday morning, as glass shards sparkled on the sidewalk of Pennsylvania Avenue and the acrid smell of smoke wafted, waitstaff and regulars huddled near the yellow tape circling the storefront.

Noelle Sment happened to be driving by and pulled over in alarm. Sment, who works at the nearby Tortilla Coast and has been hanging out at the Tune Inn for the past 20 years, give or take, quickly got a report on the morning's fire from one of the waiters.

She hopped out of her truck to get a closer look and a few hugs. Firefighters had smashed the front windows, and the iconic neon lettering that spelled out the bar's name lay in tangled bits on the ground.

"We're family here," she says, wiping a tear. "It doesn't matter what you look like or what you do we don't talk about any of that. It's just family."

Two older men stood nearby watching the parade of insurance agents, commercial cleaners assessing the smoke damage and curious onlookers.

One of them, Dennis Feeney, is a retiree who counts himself among the most regular of regulars. His friend, who identifies himself only as "Cappy," is a retired bartender himself.

Feeney is going on a long-planned vacation for a few weeks, so he won't be without a hangout, but he knows some of his compatriots aren't so lucky.

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