- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 27, 2001

It has been a tough year. But it need not be cheerless after the heartbreak of September 11. We have no greater American treasure, after all, than the Founding Fathers' injunction to hold tight to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Let "happiness" guide the days ahead, then, as raising a glass this New Year's Eve occasions consideration of some of the unforgettable bars and bartenders of Washington, who dispense not only refreshment but also something far more important a sense of welcome.
For no matter what you choose whether to cruise the Potomac with a wine stem in hand on a floating restaurant, to sit on silk while sipping martinis at a marquee hot spot, to stand sore-footed at a classic beer joint there's a place for you.
And as everyone knows, it's the bartenders who make that happen.

Take Guisseppi Seghi, the Bologna-born bartender 32 years now at the 1789 Restaurant in Georgetown. Generations there have called him Pino and he looks like Humphrey Bogart's older brother all eyebrows, hair of iron filings, and a mouth full of teeth but with the patience and tenderness of a Thomas Merton.
"I'll never forget this one time," he says, tugging a straight fold down on the neat white jacket he wears behind the tiny, six-stool bar just to the left of the 1789's entrance. The bar he wipes is black marble and once was the cutting board at the old Evening Star on Pennsylvania Avenue, where giant blades sliced generations of newspapers until the old presses were replaced in 1968.
"There was a mother, a lady who came in with her little girl, waiting for the husband to come for dinner," he remembers. "When the daddy came, the little girl was so happy to see her father, she said, 'Daddy, look at this pretty dress!'
"Jenny, leave me alone," the father said, "I don't want to be bothered."
Pino stops telling his tale momentarily to greet well-wishers as the evening rush in late December brings happy hellos from well-dressed men and women. They come for the expensive cuisine of Ris LaCoste whom restaurant critics have for five years named as one of the best chefs in Washington and the unforgettable romance of the gaily-decorated federal townhouse.
"I felt so bad," Mr. Seghi says. "I said, my God, the little girl didn't understand. You could just see the hurt."
When the mother and girl slipped off to the washroom before dinner, he casually said to the husband, " 'You should be lucky to have such a nice little girl, sir. I think she was trying to show you her pretty dress and how nice she looked,' and then I kept doing my work quietly behind the bar."
"You know what?" Mr. Seghi says, smiling at least 24 teeth. "When they came back, the daddy grabbed the little girl. 'Oh, Jenny, you look so pretty,' he said."
Later that evening the mother came back to the bar to say, "I'm sure you said something. He changed like night and day."
Months later, the woman phoned and asked to speak to the bartender, Mr. Seghi remembers. "You don't know how much I need to thank you. You made such a difference in my husband. Since that night it's been a different person."
Most of the time tending bar at the 1789 is less emotional, says the Arlington resident, whose daughter Marie is a retired Air Force pilot. Not that there aren't high points, he says, including visits by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope years ago, Tony Bennett more recently, and all the presidents back to Jerry Ford.
"I'm still waiting for Mr. Bush," says Mr. Seghi. "His poppa liked it here, and I hope this Bush does, too."

Out the door to the right and down to the river from the 1789 is a different thing entirely from the sophistication of Mr. Seghi's bar. If the tide is up, two striking blondes, young and even Hollywood pretty, are pouring wine and drinks aboard the dinner ship Dandy or its sister ship, Nina's Dandy.
Windows circling each deck of the Dandy allow unforgettable river views of the Capital City. Silently the ship cruises from Alexandria to Georgetown and back, sliding beneath the low bridges of the Potomac, where by day panoramas of noble marble shine and by night dazzling cityscapes simply take one's breath away.
Groups of 300 to 400 sign on for two-hour boat rides with the knockout views, a smorgasbord of chow, dance and music, and the steady hands of Barbara DuBois and Scherrie Penn at the bar.
"We have everybody," softly says Ms. DuBois, 21, who was born at an American air force base in Naples, Italy, and is fluent in Italian. "People from all over the world come to see Washington this way, and maybe eat and dance and just celebrate."
"There was this one guy," recalls the budding romance novelist studying English at Northern Virginia Community College. "He went to the middle of the dance floor and had the band play a favorite song. Then he dropped down on his knees and proposed on the boat to his girl. She started crying, deliriously happy, and it was quite a ride."
Recent patrons on board include Secretary of State Colin Powell and Vice President Dick Cheney, she says, "and all kinds of famous people I don't even know."
For Scherrie Penn, 26, of Woodbridge, Va., cruising as a bartender on the Dandy is a dream job. "I love seeing the water, and meeting all the different people," says the Virginia native. "But it also gives me spare time, and I like to doodle and write poems."
She exhibits some of her art in the area, and recently sent a sketch to her brother Robert Penn, a tank commander at Ft. Knox, Ky.
Still, working as a bartender on the water is not completely without hazard, says Miss Penn. A customer who had too much to drink became unruly, she recalls, "and we called the Coast Guard to take him off the ship. At a regular bar, you might just throw him out on the sidewalk. Unless we give him a life jacket, that would be pretty tough to do on the Potomac."

"They love this," says Fernando Salas, 29, a knock-out Bolivian who tends bar at Marcel's in the West End. The big brown eyes have been known to crush all resistance from otherwise sophisticated women lawyers and executives who frequent the place.
The night is quiet. But it's early, before the crowd much younger than that at the 1789 comes to pack the 30-foot curved stone bar. This is where international types from the nearby World Bank and International Monetary Fund offices flock for what could be three-star dining in Washington.
Extravagantly beautiful murals grace the walls, where curling, wrought-iron flowers dance. Jazz pianist Alex Jenkins knocks out "As Time Goes By" in the bar, an updated scene straight out of "Casablanca."
All of this sits well with the snappy corporate go-getters who fill every silken chair later in the evening for the award-winning cuisine of chef-owner Robert Wiedmaier the venison so glorious as to be beyond category and maybe a little something from the bar.
"All my women customers order this," says Mr. Salas, referring to his apple Martini, an extraordinary drink of surpassing tartness that is tamed to witching perfection by an abundance of alcohol.
"I like people, and I feel good serving people," says the University of Bolivia graduate in general accounting. "You know, everybody wants to feel nice."

"Oh, there's crazy stuff at a bar like this," says Richard Caton, 40, bartender at the Brickskeller Dining House & Down Home Saloon just off Massachusetts Avenue near the Cosmos Club.
The Georgetown University graduate, who came on a track scholarship from Woodbury, N.J. where his father was superintendent of schools stayed to build a life in Washington, and loves to tell stories about the raucous goings-on at the city's premier showcase for thousands of beers, ales and stouts from around the world.
They are stacked in the floor-to-ceiling glass refrigerator cases on two stories, an ocean of suds vying for space with the city's largest collection of beer cans and bottles, a dance floor, dart boards on the walls, backgammon tables, and a wood-burning fireplace.
"One time some kids came in," he says, and names their school, an elite private school in Northwest. "We figured they're underage so we kick them out. Well, they came back with numchucks and brass knuckles to settle the score, I guess. But they attacked the wrong guy."
In the brawl that followed, every waiter and waitress in the 370-seat shrine to foam joined the fray, as eight or nine high schoolers battled at the entranceway with Mr. Caton and his crew.
"I grabbed a broom stick to bop them," he remembers, laughing, "and we had waitresses kicking them 'til the cops came to haul them away."

"I needed a job, something easier than doing stone work in winter," says David Batista, 31, the bartender at Jaleo. Mr. Batista is a New Yorker who graduated from Penn State with a degree in American studies and didn't know what to do when his band, the Crownhate Ruin, folded in 1996.
"My dad's a psychologist, so maybe it's what got me interested in people," says the former stone mason and one-time bartender at the noncommissioned officers club at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
"That's what makes a bar so darn interesting, the people."
Jaleo is just around the corner from the Washington Shakespeare Theater and the MCI Center in the old city of Washington. Actors and athletes, slinky women and young men about town, patrons of the arts and sports junkies fill the place nightly, Mr. Batista says.
He wears his hair cropped short, and sports a raggedy Three Musketeers patch of hair under his lower lip. The effect is striking, as if a character from "Richard II" had walked over from the Shakespeare to work the bar. Accenting the eccentric image are tattoos covering both brawny arms, as he lords it over a bar that has the visual kick of one of the ancient wine bars in the basements circling Madrid's Grand Place.
"We make margaritas, cosmopolitans, martinis, and pour lots of sangria," he says, marveling at the monied crowd that packs the place nightly for drinks and the delicious but tiny portions of Spanish tapas warm and cold appetizers famously served at the 120-seat restaurant.
"I got a $500 tip the other day and couldn't believe it," he remembers, while conceding that that's not the only reason he works at Jaleo. "The women are so beautiful here, I fall in love just about every night."

Tom Herhusky, 32, of Kalispell, Mont., came to the Dubliner after graduating from LeMoyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., on a basketball scholarship. The bar's owner, Danny Coleman, was a LeMoyne graduate, too, and somehow it just seemed a natural fit, he says.
"I thought I'd work maybe three months," says Mr. Herhusky after six years behind the bar at perhaps the city's premier Irish hot spot. It sprawls on the first floor of an old residential hotel, built in the 1920s near Union Station and the Capitol, that Mr. Coleman turned into the fancy Phoenix Park Hotel. A white-tablecloth restaurant is upstairs, and "an Irish party every night at the downstairs Dubliner," he says.
"I have served just about every single person on the Hill," says Mr. Herhusky, as in late December security types keep drunks from bothering former Vice President Gore and Sen. Joe Lieberman, who with younger staffers take over a side room to eat and drink near the second, smaller oaken bar on the first floor.
Not that it hasn't been fun, but in March Mr. Herhusky leaves for a stint in the Peace Corps. "I want to live a life where I help people," he says.
Surprisingly, he says the lessons he learned while working at the Dubliner will inform his work in Haiti, where he plans to teach basic entrepreneurial skills to rural folk in the desperately poor Caribbean nation.
"What I learned in this bar is to listen," says the strapping bachelor, who lives in Alexandria. "And what I enjoyed was not working in an office, never getting on the Beltway to fight rush hour, and being responsible for myself not kowtowing to a boss."

Then there's The Tune Inn at 333? Pennsylvania Ave. on Capitol Hill. Like the address suggests, this is an eccentric place, perhaps the only bar in Washington with stuffed deer butts not deer heads hanging on the walls above the doors to the men's and women's bathrooms. They are, by the way, the filthiest, grungiest bathrooms in North America.
But the bar has been packed at least since 1938, when it was one of the first beer joints in Washington to get a liquor license after Prohibition ended. Behind the counter most nights in Matthew Manley, 33, a New Jersey guy from Bergen County who got a degree in sociology at Susquehanna University and found himself 10 years ago in Washington looking for a job.
The girl he married Mary Ann Manley, a reporter today at the Bureau of National Affairs introduced him to the Tune Inn. For eight years now, working the Tuesday-through-Friday night shift has been enough to buy the family a townhouse on the Hill, while giving him enough time to raise their son Joseph.
"There's nothing like the Tune Inn," says Mr. Manley, whose twin brother Mark is a defense contractor with the Navy. "Everybody in Congress comes by sooner or later, and this incredible community of old timers, young people, pretty girls, go-get-'em guys, gay people, straight people, black people, white people it's like some kind of crazy family that's just pops in here and has so much fun."
Most nights that would include Kojak, a chocolate Labrador Retriever who walks up and down the railroad car of a joint to beg food at the nine booths tucked into the walls. "Oh, she'll lick you to death," says Mr. Manley.
Still, not everything is sweetness and light at the Tune Inn. Recently a customer a well known, and you might say notorious, member of Congress brought in his own bottle of whiskey to surreptitiously pour drinks at a rowdy table of Hill staffers.
"I had to throw him out when he got huffy about it," Mr. Manley says.


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