Only Mr. Kujawski didn’t issue his questions and edicts from a desk at a newspaper or magazine. He served up his opinions from behind the bar at the National Press Club.
For 26 years, he was a curmudgeonly but kindly presence dispensing cocktails and quips at the Press Club’s Reliable Source bar, a private sanctum for Washington’s journalists and newsmakers. He was 71 when he died May 26 of cardiovascular disease at his home in the District.
Mr. Kujawski, who worked the daytime shift in recent years, didn’t talk much about himself. There were only a few things about him that his customers knew: He was a proud son of the hardscrabble coal country of eastern Pennsylvania; he was fond of old movies — especially ones with John Wayne — and kept a television in his bar constantly tuned to Turner Classic Movies; and, even though he hadn’t gone to college, he was an immensely well-read man.
“I would say he was better educated than most of the people who come in here with Ivy League degrees,” longtime club member John Rahming said.
Mr. Kujawski devoured several daily newspapers, subscribed to military history magazines and read a great deal of history, philosophy and literature.
“When Jack was tending the bar, it drove up the average IQ of the place,” said Aram Bakshian Jr., a club member and former White House speechwriter.
Mr. Kujawski didn’t hide his conservative views, and he made it his mission to maintain standards in a world he believed was losing them.
“He strongly believed there was a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things,” Leinwand said. “He did not like flavored martinis. One time, when I asked for something he didn’t approve of, he said, ‘That’s not a very sophisticated drink for a woman like you.’ ”
When Mr. Kujawski arrived at the Press Club in 1985, journalism had lost many of its rough edges from its “Front Page” past. Not too many years before, a few old-timers would start the morning with an eye-opening martini. It took three bartenders to keep up with the thirsty lunchtime crowd.
Presidents and senators used to stop by the club to unwind with journalists — conversations were strictly off the record — but ever-tighter schedules and security put an end to that practice. Out-of-town newspapers cut back on their Washington bureaus, and reporters began to spend more time at the gym than at the bar.
For someone of Mr. Kujawski’s temperament, the changes were not always welcome.
“I think he yearned for the life that journalists used to have,” said Mark Hamrick, president of the Press Club.