Neale H. Bladen, 71, a bartender and tavern owner on Pennsylvania Avenue SE for 40 years, died of a cerebral hemorrhage Tuesday at D.C. General Hospital.
Mr. Bladen owned and operated Neale's Imperial Tavern at 637 Pennsylvania Ave. SE for the past two years. He had owned and tended bar at the Imperial Resturant on the same block for 27 years before opening the tavern.
Born in Washington, he was later orphaned, and lived with an aunt in New Jersey until he was 21. Mr. Bladen returned to Washington and spent his early years pouring whiskey in area speakeasies during Prohibition.
He once said in an interview that he liked those days, and like everyone else did a little bootlegging. Speaking of those early bars, Mr. Bladen said, "There was never trouble in those places, never at all. They knew they had to have a place to go, so they kept things down."
There was not much trouble at the Imperial Tavern either. "I like this business. I like the people," Mr. Bladen said. He described his customers as quiet and contented to be in this kind of place. I sell a lot of beer and some whiskey; no fancy drinks. I'd have to keep too many bottles up there."
There was a television set for Redskins games in his bar but few customers really watched the game. Mr. Bladen and many of his friends and customers were indifferent to football but were great fight fans. He had a large collection of autographed boxing photos in a drawer at the bar, and way melways meaning to get them framed."
The bar was open from about noon to around 1 a.m. and closed only three days a year. Mr. Bladen was the only employe. He presided behind the bar, wearing the large, traditional, wraparound white apron.
The bar boasted the usual juke box, but it carried selections his patrons enjoyed, such as "Beer Barrel Polka," "The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" by the Andrews Sisters, and Nat King Cole records.
Mr. Bladen once said he never took a vacation. He said he usually arrived home about 2 a.m., had a light meal, bath, and about four hours' sleep before returning to work.
"That tavern and its customers were his clubs and church rolled into one," explained his daughter, Mary Jane Smith.
Mr. Bladen was tending bar at about 11 p.m. on Jan. 16 when he suffered a stroke that led to his death.
Although he loved his bar, he himself had not taken a drink in years. He had distinct feelings about food. Speaking of his wife of more than 37 years, and "Italian girl," he once said, "Jean's a honey. I don't like Italian food so she doesn't cook it."
Mr. Bladen is survived by his wife Jean B. of the home in Washington; a daughter Mary Jane Smith of Lexington, Ky.; a brother Carlton of Alexandria; a sister Aline McCarthy of Arlington, and five grandchildren.