Pharmacy Bar sold, farewell party planned for Wednesday night

A mural of one-time Pharmacy Bar employee Dan Searing (now the owner of Room 11) covers the wall at Pharmacy Bar. (Photo by Fritz Hahn/The Washington Post)
A mural of one-time Pharmacy Bar employee Dan Searing (now the owner of Room 11) covers the wall at Pharmacy Bar. (Photo by Fritz Hahn/The Washington Post)

Pharmacy Bar, which recently celebrated its 16th anniversary in Adams Morgan, has been sold by founder Kristaps Kreslins, and new owners Frank Hankins and Reggie Elliott will take over the bar later this week. The two have a strong coffee background: Haskins owned Sova on H Street NE and is currently handling the coffee side of things at the forthcoming Brookland's Finest, while Elliott worked at Murky Coffee and Big Bear before moving to Sweden and spending the last six years there.

"This has all happened in the last eight weeks," Hankins told me today. "Reggie is moving back from Sweden this week. It's 99 percent done, but until we sign the documents, it's not official-official."

Tomorrow night, longtime staff and regulars are throwing a "send-off" for the bar, with music and plenty of whiskey shots. (The Facebook invitation advises guests to "bring tissues.")

While regulars are worried about changes, the new owners are going out of their way to assure customers that the place will be in good hands. With its incredible jukebox, cheap cans of beer and tables inlaid with pills, Pharmacy Bar always exuded a different atmosphere in a neighborhood known for drunken debauchery. The vibe has always been more akin to the Black Cat's old Red Room, where you'd probably sit next to someone with a beard and tattoos instead of a bro with a popped-collar and khakis, but the crowd was frequently mixed.

Hankins said that neighborhood feeling is the reason the partners bought Pharmacy. "I just love the vibe there, though I haven't gone as often as I used to. And it's a place Reggie goes to when he's back in town. That's something we feel strongest about. We want to do the best we can to keep it authentic. We don't want it to be douchey."

The ultimate goal, Hankins said, is to redo the interior, begin opening during the day to sell coffee, and refurbish the kitchen to sell food. Expect to see coffee and food in about six weeks if all goes well, Hankins says, though he doesn't want to reveal which roasters they've been speaking to. They plan to apply for a permit to offer outdoor seating, though Hankins says there's "a zoning issue" with the stairs that needs to be taken care of first.

Of course, customers will notice other impacts from the sale, with some coming sooner than others. Three big points:

• Most of the staff has decided to leave. "It's not our choice," Hankins said. We wanted to keep the staff, but … they decided among themselves that they wanted to leave."

• The business probably won't be called Pharmacy Bar for long. "We think it's important for both parties," Hankins said. "If we're trying to create something different in the space, it deserves a new trade name. Pharmacy Bar should live on in history as a great bar space. It wouldn't be fair to do something different but keep the name."

• Finally, and most notably, they may get rid of the famous jukebox, which many – including me – consider one of the best in D.C. "The music is important," Hankins explained. "It's a big part of what created the culture there. Every review talked about the jukebox and the eclectic music."

But there's a problem: "We were told a lot of what's in the jukebox belongs to the staff," Hankins said. "It's theirs, so we'd have to change it or replace it anyway. We've talked about a Northern Soul and funk vibe, with some local D.C. music mixed in."

If they don't keep the jukebox, "we'll make playlists, similar to what Tony [Tomelden] does at the Pug. We wanted to have a DJ night, but the bar doesn't have an entertainment endorsement, so we can't do that."

The important thing about their plans for Pharmacy Bar, Hankins stresses, is that most details are subject to change. "There's a lot we've discussed, but it's all changing. Until we settle, it's putting the cart before the horse."

Pharmacy Bar Send-Off, Wednesday at 9 p.m. 2337 18th St. NW.

Fritz Hahn has covered bars, drinks and nightlife for the Washington Post Weekend Section since 2003, but he also writes about everything from Civil War battlefields to sailing classes. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.
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