Condolences to the Tune Inn

Metrocurean would like to extend sincere condolences to the Nardelli family and the Tune Inn after Monday's passing of owner Tony Nardelli, which Roll Call reported (subscription required) Tuesday.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Tony and his daughter, Lisa, for a story I wrote in Roll Call a year ago about the bar's history.

For those of you who have never experienced the Tune Inn (and there are a few), the dive bar has a long and colorful history that has made it a fixture in Washington. After Prohibition ended in 1933, the building housed one of the first bars to open in the District, according to Tony.

The Tune Inn has been in the Nardelli family's hands since Tony's father, Joe, took over management of the bar 1955. Five years later, he bought the bar at 331 Pennsylvania Ave. SE from his debt-plagued boss.

Tony told me that as the area struggled for an identity, the Tune Inn “was always a neighborhood bar without a neighborhood.”

From my Roll Call story, which appeared June 16, 2005:

Walking in the place, you could easily feel you’ve stumbled back in time to a small town far from the hubbub of Washington. Rugged men, hunched over the bar, take pulls from longneck beers as smoke curls lazily around their heads. Only the morning sun streaming through the cluttered front window belies the actual time — it’s only 10:30 in the morning. Shift-workers make up a good deal of the Tune Inn’s clientele, so beer with breakfast doesn’t raise any eyebrows here.


On a recent visit, Lisa Nardelli proudly pointed out her first deer — and just as proudly her first mounted deer butt. Hanging over the bathroom doors, a trio of deer butts has become a sort of Tune Inn trademark, as well as a playful reminder of Joe Nardelli’s irreverent sense of humor.

“He was the personality of the place,” said Tony Nardelli, reminiscing about his father and his impact on the Tune Inn. For Joe Nardelli, running the bar was no chore, he said. “My father always said it was like going to a party everyday.”


The Tune Inn is about as far from pretentious as an establishment can be. And considering most people at the bar couldn’t care less who you work for — a rarity in this most political of cities — it’s understandable that high-profile figures seeking an anonymous escape would be drawn to the Tune Inn.

Then-Attorney General Janet Reno used to come in regularly for a burger, discreetly clad in a baseball cap and jeans with security detail in tow. A framed note from Reno hangs near the back of the bar that reads: “Thank you for the best hamburger in town.”

The roster of big names who have paid a visit to the Tune Inn also includes Joan Cusack, and Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, who came in during the filming of “All the President’s Men.”


[Tony] credits “perseverance and loyalty to the business” for the Tune Inn’s longevity. “When my father passed away it never crossed my mind to sell the place,” he said.

The bar seems in capable hands with Lisa Nardelli next in the line of succession. Her father said she’s naturally suited for the job, having inherited a good deal of her grandfather’s spirit. “She reminds me a lot more of my father than I do,” he said.

And Lisa Nardelli is happy to continue the family legacy. “I’d like to have it for my kids,” she said.

Roll Call also reported Tuesday that Lisa recently gave birth to her first child, a son whom she named after his grandfather. I hope the Nardelli family legacy can continue at the Tune Inn.

Story link: Capitol Hill's Tune Inn Hits Its Own 50-Year Mark (subscription required)