The ceiling lamps, Tiffany, of course. The brass fixtures and mirrors, from a Parisian bistro. Carved solid oak benches, ceiling panels and stained glass windows, from Our Lady of Mercy Church.
Exactly. A quick tour through Georgetown and Capitol Hill bars and restaurants is sure to turn up dozens of church pews, some tattered and scratched, others in stately residence, and all solidly embarked on second careers that began up to 25 years ago.
So it is that benches, which once served men and women as they talked to God, now serve others in conversations that tend more to hopes than prayers.
Patrons of "1789" in Georgetown, for example, might be surprised to learn that monks once sat in silent meditation on a pew where an array of whiskey bottles and a cash register now perch. The handsome back bar dates to the 14th or 15th century and was probably salvaged from a monastery in Ireland, according to Richard McCooey, who owns the restaurant.
Some customers at Mr. Henry's on Capitol Hill not only sit on pews rescued from the original downtown National Presbyterian Church, but also bask in the pastel rays that dance throgh stained glass windows purchased 15 years ago by owner Henry Yaffe from the same church for $20 apiece.
The four pews used to seat patrons at the Tabard Inn on N Street come from a storefront church on Capitol Hill that went under about four years ago.
Vestiges of churches, synagogues, monasteries and elaborate chapels in private mansions that changed hands or crumbled under a wrecking ball, the stained glass windows, paneling and especially pews have become almost standard trappings in chic Washington restaurants and bars. Other public establishments have made use of altars, altar railings and church doors, according to designers.
The finely carved oak, polished to a sheen, can blend into almost any motif from the saloon look at Clyde's to the understated elegance at Bistro Francais on M Street and the "ma and pa" image of Armand's Chicago Pizzeria on Wisconsin Avenue. Customers at Hawk and Dove, Runyon's, Nathan's and Baker Brown quench their thirst and still their hunger atop pews.
"I never noticed them before," a waitress at Bistro Francais squealed when she learned she was sitting on a church pew. "I'll have to remember not to curse anymore."
Pews are attractive and economical -- costing as little as $25 each while benches of similar quality can cost as much as $1,000. They're also sturdy and fairly comfortable -- but not so comfortably that customers are tempted to stay too long. "You don't want people sitting with one drink all night," said Paul Enten, the Georgetown designer who recycled much of the church furniture found in area bars and restaurants. "The whole idea of a bar is to turn over your seats."
Pews are not without their problems, according to Richard Banchoff, who owns Marshall's West End on M Street. "They're too hard for some people. oMaybe it brings back bad childhood memories."
"In a way they've become an in thing over the past five year," said Banchoff. "They're nice looking . . . but they fill you in corners. And where two pews come together you have the arms. They're not always space efficient."
Pews are easy to come by, available by the score in country antique shops, according to decorators. But designers like Enten who use quantities of antiques and church furniture generally buy the contents of entire estates, buildings and churches before wreckers arrive, storing the goodies for future use with at least a 100 percent markup, according to Enten.
These pews may also represent the last of a dying trade, according to Vic Polloc, coowner of J.P. Redington and Co., a church furniture manufacturer in Scranton, Pa., which supplies several area churches.
Unlike the old days, wood carvers simply do not work for long hours and low wages over each detail of pew arms, said Pollock. Instead, the benches are machine made.
"Ever since World War II, when architects began designing more modern churches and synagogues, people wanted simpler pews," said Pollock. "Of course I'm sure the cost is a factor. Not many churches can afford hand-carved pews anymore."
Customers now prefer lighter more natural wood tones over darker stains that were popular before World War II, according to Pollock, and more churches request pew cushions. Fewer Portestant churches order kneelers these days, said Pollock.
"Another major difference in modern pews is their backs, which manufacturers now slant, according to Pollock, who said, "That makes a great difference in comfort."
As people have grown, pews have been made deeper. "Pews used to be the most uncomfortable thing in the world," said Pollock. "Now I'd say they're very comfortable."
The combination of comfort and newfound chic can have a drawback, however, as the Rev. Jack Woodard of St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church discovered. About a year ago he walked into his 16th Street church and found a dozen pews had been unbolted from the floor and stolen. CAPTION: Picture 1, This is the fancy bar area at the "1789" Restaurant. Formerly it was a monk's pew.; Picture 2, Rhett Weiss and Alison John at Clyde's Georgetown. She sits on a former church pew.; Picture 3, Mr. Henry's on Capitol Hill makes judicious use of former church pew, locating it near window of stained glass.; Picture 4, Detail of the bar area at the "1789" in Georgetown. Photos by Douglas Chevalier -- The Washington Post