Yesterday was the last day of business for the Venus Restaurant. You won't find it in the guide books or on anyone's list of the top 10 - or even 100 - restaurants. It wasn't that kind of place. Still, in its own way, the Venus was as much a Washington institution as the Sans Souci or the Rive Gauche or Clyde's.
In fact, if you want to look for deeper meanings, the closing of the Venus is all about Washington's homelier past giving way to a chromeplated future where real estate development and the younger generation crowds the older folks out.
For Venus has been sold and soon will be replaced by another of those lively, stylish watering holes that have begun popping up on the eastern edge of Georgetown.
To the end, the Venus was just a nice, quiet little bar at 2523 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, an area now frequently billed as the West End. The decor at the Venus wasn't anything special - half a dozen or so booths with vinyl seats, some of them ripped, some more tables, sepia-toned pictures of saints on the wall next to beer advertisements and Pabst Blue Ribbon lamps. There was a cast iron miniature staute of Venus de Milo at one end of the bar, another at the far end and a mounted brook trout made of plastic behind it on the wall. It was dark inside, maybe even dingy.
The Venus wasn't trendy, chic or a lot of other things - including expensive. You could get a mug of draft beer there for 60 cents and a double shot of Seagram's VO for $1.40.
But, if you were a regular, you could find old friends there, people who had been coming in for years to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner or to have a drink at the bar and talk. The Venus was a bar, but it was also a community center. One regular customer had his Social Security check mailed there because he said he knew it would be safe until he picked it up.
Mary Tierney Fisher, a retired government employe who has lived in the neighborhood for 25 years, came in two or three times a week. "I don't like to drink at home. I don't like to drink alone," she said. "When my son calls me from Houston (where he lives and I'm not home, he calls me here."
There's a story behind the Venus, and it goes like this:
In 1946, a Greek living in Albania named Leo Ikonomou escaped from Albania, which had come under Communist rule in 1945. In 1948, he went back and brought his brother, Harilaos, out in a boat on the Ionian Sea.
Harilaos F. Ikonomou - or Harry as people called him - came to the United States in 1951. He eventually settled in Washington, where he operated a couple of restaurants before moving on to the Venus in 1967. He set up operations in the basement of one of those old brick Victorian town-houses so familiar in Foggy Bottom.
Harry died in 1976, Brother Leo - who joined Harry in the restaurant business in 1955 - sold the place to John Dounis who has operated it since then. Now Dounis has sold to Danile Marshall, a former bartender for Sarsfield's, a tonier place across Pennsylvania Avenue where folks from the Carter Whiter House and young singles hang out. A French restaurant is going to be on one side of the Venus and a fancy new apartment building is going up on the other side. No one at the Venus expects it to stay homely any longer.
So Mary Tierney Fisher will probably have to find another place to pass the time, along with Jim, another regular who likes to feed quarters into the jukebox to play country and western tunes. The gang from the Bureau of National Affairs around the corner, all of them people in their 20s and 30s who come in for lunch and a beer or for a drink after work, will also be looking for a new hangout.
"It's cheap. It's good. And they were nice people and nobody ever hassles you," said Barbara Bowers, who works at BNA. "There are a lot of people in this city who aren't sophisticated or rich. They need places to go just like everybody else. More and more, you have less and less of an option."
Over at the bar, Mary Tierney Fisher asked for another VO and water, "a lot of water." Dounis set it up for her and she looked across the bar at him throught misty eyes. "We hate to see you go, Johnny," she said.