Having recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, Tunnicliff’s Tavern, an unassuming congressional watering hole, doles out its modern American persona with the likes of a super grilled cheese with tomato, bacon, onion and fries and a smoked gouda mac and cheese.
Knowing what’s right and doing what’s right are, quite often, two mutually exclusive trajectories. Particularly when it comes to a properly executed happy hour.
“I just want a beer and something not good for me,” a self-aware patron at Tunnicliff’s Tavern informed a gaggle of gal pals coyly debating salad options.
The truth is, Tunnicliff’s will most likely never appear on any “healthiest dining” listicle or get a shoutout from Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign. But none of that matters to the devoted clients who have made spending time at this Eastern Market standby as much a part of their daily routine as breathing, or, well, eating.
Same as It Ever Was
This unassuming congressional watering hole celebrated its 30th anniversary last fall, although the establishment has changed hands at least once since landing on the Capitol Hill landscape. Owner Med Lahlou, who also oversees Station 4 and Ulah Bistro, added the property to his portfolio just more than a decade ago but hasn’t tinkered too much with the formula that’s seen residents through the past three administrations.
General manager Lance Cook said he has worked at Tunnicliff’s off and on for the past decade, stepping away from the place for seven years to tackle some part-time assignments while his young children were growing but returning full time to the neighborhood saloon last October.
“As much was the same as had changed,” he said of the professional déjà vu he experienced on settling back into the all-too-familiar setting. “It was like stepping into a time machine . . . [though] all of us have a lot less hair and are a little chubbier.”
Regardless of whether the years have been kind, no one seems to be complaining.
Those who continue to gather do so without thought or reservation, like moths to a playfully flickering flame.
Some nights the crowd seemed almost impregnable, as if we’d stepped right over an illusory velvet rope into a universally accepted private party people were just too polite to kick us out of. On other visits, the vibe was much more come-one-come-all, offering up easily accessible topics of conversation — Local sports! Dim-witted politicians! Relationship killers! — one could readily weave in and out of with a clink of the glass and a broad smile.
The bar — which feeds attendees a steady diet of tongue-in-cheek philosophy via chalkboard (“I belong to no organized party. I’m a Democrat” — Will Rogers; “People with no weaknesses are terrible. There is no way to take advantage of them” — Anatole France, were two deep thoughts that recently caught our eye) — is home to grizzled retirees who spread their paper out across adjoining seats while nursing an adult beverage or meet pals to drain beer after sweating beer while dissecting whatever SportsCenter highlights or news interviews flash across the overhead TV screens.
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