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)


Anonymous said...

This is a sad story...

I lived in the neighborhood in the late 80's and spent way too much time at the Tune Inn enjoying small glasses of Natty Boh. It was an incredible place, truly a melting pot. Everyone went there.

Once when arriving for a cold beer after a long day at work the bartender threw an apron at me and instructed me to fill in as the cook. The regular cook had called in sick and it would be awhile till a replacement could be found. I spent the next few hours helping out by handling the dinner rush. Free beers kept me going during this difficult assignment.

The dead animals covering the walls, the best burgers in town, the jukebox and the people there will never leave me.

I no longer live in the neighborhood, but I still try to stop by every year or so to enjoy a beer and to suck up the feeling of this very special DC spot.

Thanks Tony...

Amanda said...

Thanks so much for sharing this story. Tony's daughter Lisa told me a very similar story about how she learned to tend bar - by being thrown in head first. They're an amazing family.

Anonymous said...

I first went to the Tune in 1967 when I arrived in DC. And I still always go there for my birthday to have the best cheeseburger in the entire metro area.

I'll miss Tony, just as I did Joe.

But the Tune will continue...

Anonymous said...

Our thoughts are with the Nardelli family...my friends and I have always loved this place.

A brief poem composed several years ago in the Tune goes as follows:

The slapping of backs and the clinking of glasses,
The warming of smiles as the night slowly passes,
The juke that twangs n' thumps through your feet,
The blanket of fries around cheeseburger meat,
The crooning of Coe and Tanner's fake tears,
The "Socials To Bob!" and downing of beers,
"He ain't my buddy" and all of the crew,
And Phyllis and Judy on All-Star Night too,
The necktied fox and deer on the wall,
And the picture of Tony, approving of all.

We'd seen the Tune Inn -- the best of this place,
The memories so great in such a small space.

Amanda said...

Thanks so much for posting the poem.

Joe Nardelli said...

My first opportunity to visit the "Inn" was during Rolling Thunder,06. I wanted to introduce myself to Tony and Lisa and was saddened to hear the news and felt I had waited to long to meet him. Coming all the way from WV to see this place that my dad had told me about was all I had on my mind. Seeing both their picture on the wall I can see the resemblance. I will be back in 07. Thanks Joe Nardelli, Clarksburg,WV

aarva said...

Those aren't shift-workers, dude. hee.