L's Inner Circle

Sandy Irwin at the Bar of Stoney's Restaurant
Sandy Irvin has worked at Stoney's for 20 years, tending bar, cooking, whatever's needed. The L Street oasis, its building sold, will soon close. (Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 29, 2005

Everything is glass and concrete. Hard to find a cranny anymore, a hole to duck into, out of the glare and the grind. Nowhere to dive.

But for every white and blue collar aching for reprieve, for every drunk spouting jeremiads about the good ol' days, for anyone searching for the nexus of good times and good food, there was always a blessed one-word refrain:


The narrow neighborhood bar -- dim, familiar, tactile -- no longer resembles its neighbors, the colorless hotels and banks, the beige headquarters of the National Association of Whatever, the new 254,000-square-foot, office-space leviathan next door, all the Quiznos, the Cosis, the Blimpies.

The prostitutes, bogys from a bygone era of porn shops and disrepute, still work L Street at night. Everything around them has been reduced to the common rubble of banality except Stoney's, the great provider of a beer in one hand, a burger in the other, and two talkers at each shoulder.

It is closing.

Maybe not this week, maybe not next, but soon. By the end of the year, surely, its owner, Tony Harris, says -- even though business is better now than during any of its previous 37 years. Barring a stay of execution, Stoney's must relocate or vanish. The building is now owned by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, which, according to property records, paid nearly $21 million last year for a cluster of buildings on the block. The contract said Stoney's had to be out by the end of August; NAEYC did not return calls asking for comment about the restaurant's closing date.

Thirty-seven years . The embers of the 1968 riots were still glowing when Harris and his then-business partner, Steve Papageorge, meshed their first names at 1307 L St. NW.

Back then, there were more dives: Matt Kane's on 13th. The Grotto on 15th. Yogi's off Thomas Circle. The Den around the corner. The Post Pub remains two blocks west, but it's not open as much as Stoney's, which has never closed on any holiday except Thanksgiving 1970, the last time it made major renovations.

Stoney's, by the strictest definition (open more than it is closed, hazed by smoke and grit, sopping with lore), is the last true dive downtown, a time capsule untouched. The regulars call it, by turns, their living room, their treehouse, their clubhouse, their kitchen. It's the place where everyone is family, where everyone knows your name -- at least your first name. "It's the Addams Family in an eating establishment," says waitress Tonya Vaughn.

The cast features lobbyists, lawyers, ladies of the night, raconteurs, air-traffic controllers and not a few Washington Post staffers. A lot of tourists show up, too, sent by their hotel concierges, or stumbling in because of its proximity to the Washington youth hostel and the convention center.

Soon there will be one less place to come as you are, and one more rocky crater downtown, one more construction crane where once there was the foundation of a neighborhood.

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