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The ribbon has been cut, the neon sign is on and the beer is flowing: The Tune Inn is tuned in for business.
The restaurant and bar reopened this morning to much fanfare. Some people had been camped out since before 8 a.m. because they didn’t get the notice that the Capitol Hill staple needed to undergo one final inspection before opening its doors.
By noon, not an empty seat could be found.
The bar has been undergoing renovations since a fire damaged the kitchen in June.
Lisa Nardelli, the third generation of her family to own the bar, originally thought the Tune Inn could reopen in just a few weeks.
But as time passed, the renovations, costs and inspections started to add up. She then aimed for a Labor Day weekend opening, but the opening was pushed back.
Nardelli described the last few months as “hell.”
Yet, as she stood by the door Friday, greeting old and new customers alike, the grin on her face wouldn’t go away.
“Dad and Grandpa would be proud,” she said.
While the bar has gone through extensive renovations, old customers will find the same memorabilia hanging on the walls. The taxidermy owl that serves as the bar’s logo and was made by Nardelli’s grandfather hangs above the bar.
The iconic deer butts sit above the bathroom doors. Frames of photos and articles cover the wood paneling. The bar retains the same rustic dive feel it had before, Nardelli said.
That isn’t to say that extensive work hasn’t been done. The Tune Inn’s entire water and electricity system is brand new. The antler chandeliers are new, as well as the antler-shaped handles on the bar. And the ceiling has been opened up to reveal the original brickwork of the 150-year-old building, as well as a skylight.
“Lisa, the place looks great,” said one visitor, shaking her hand as he searched for a seat to eat lunch.
“Thanks,” she replied, gesturing for him to follow her. She would make sure he could sit down.
Chuck Lane, a former Library of Congress employee, sat at the bar, Budweiser in hand, shot just consumed. As the months have passed, he’s gone to other Hill bars. But as a Tune Inn regular for the last 15 years, he has a special place in his heart for the Tune Inn.
“I used to get in trouble for all the time I spent here,” Lane said.
As Lane talked with another Tune Inn regular, James Forward, the two went back and forth sharing the memories that the bar holds: the cancer fundraisers that have been held here, the many meals they’ve eaten here, the staff they have seen come and go.
They then pointed out the familiar faces serving up drinks and food, including some staffers who came over from the old Hawk ’n’ Dove.
“We’re all home again,” Lane said.
Just a couple of seats down was a Capitol staffer, downing his National Bohemian and waiting for his burger and fries to arrive.
He skipped work today to make sure he didn’t miss the Tune Inn’s reopening. The bar has been his favorite since he started working on the Hill a few years ago.
“I’ll be here all day, probably,” he said. “There’s no replacement for this place.”