Weeks after a fire damaged its kitchen, the Tune Inn’s doors remain open to passers-by.
Step inside, though, and you won’t find taxidermied deer on the walls or friends to greet. Most of what made the restaurant familiar is gone. The decorations have been taken down, the booths removed, the floor torn out.
The unmistakable smell of smoke still hangs in the air. The kitchen area is scarred by scorch marks reaching up to the ceiling.
But the contractors continue to chip away at the mess, and one thing has become clear: The Capitol Hill watering hole isn’t going anywhere.
Owner Lisa Nardelli said she hopes to have the restaurant and bar — now in the middle of extensive renovations — reopened by Labor Day weekend.
The last few weeks have been a “pretty emotional roller coaster,” said Nardelli, granddaughter of Tune Inn founder Joe Nardelli.
For the first 15 days after the June 22 fire, no work was done on the restaurant as an investigation into the cause of the fire took place.
The damage was assessed to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, more than twice the original $100,000 estimate, Lisa Nardelli said.
At a fundraiser to benefit Tune Inn employees last week, Nardelli smiled at patrons. Even though she was the one to deal firsthand with the destruction, she still offered words of comfort.
“We’re getting there,” she told one man after they hugged and he asked about the situation.
The Capitol Hill community has rallied around the Tune Inn; Nardelli is grateful for that. Another Tune Inn fundraiser was held Wednesday night at Capitol Lounge. Those who missed the fundraisers can donate online at friendsoftuneinn.org.
Last week’s fundraiser at the American Legion Post 8 raised more than $30,000 through donations and an auction. While deer derrières that once hung on the Tune Inn’s walls were some of the famed objects in the auction, an original Tune Inn dining booth bought by a man from Alexandria, Va., brought in the most money. The man said he was a part of the “St. Patrick’s Day crew” and that he and his friends sat in the “party booth” every March 17.
Fundraiser organizer Chander Jayaraman said he was pleased with the turnout, which he estimated to be close to 700 people during the course of six hours.
He started planning the event the day of the fire. As someone who has frequented the restaurant since the mid-1990s and considers himself a “friend of the Tune Inn,” he thought he needed to do something to help the establishment. Jayaraman quickly connected with the American Legion Post 8 for the space, other Capitol Hill businesses for food and residents for help.
For Jayaraman, the restaurant holds a special place in his heart: It was there that he had a chance meeting with the woman who would become his wife. They had known each other for years, but it took bumping into each other at the Tune Inn for them to reconnect.
He had just returned from a year living abroad in India and was working as a legislative aide in the Senate when he stopped by the Tune Inn for a drink after work. And there she was, meeting up with some friends.
Following the speeches from elected officials, the crowd stands at long tables as they dig into BBQ, brunswick stew, cadillac rice at the Law Enforcement Cookout at Wayne Dasher's pond house in Glennville, Ga., on Thursday, April 17, 2014.