Hear ye! Hear ye! Beowulf, one of the city's most popular downtown saloons, is moving after 15 years at 1112 20th St. NW. The old doors will close Oct. 31.
But shed not a tear, thou dearest downtowners. The proprietor, Robert Van Fossan, is negotiating for a new address and he promises the bar will relocate in the same area with no interruption of business.
British developer Brian Ashby has purchased Beowulf and neighboring businesses at the northwest corner of 20th and L streets NW and will build a high-rise office building on the site beginning in November, said Coldwell Banker's Hal Bowles, who handled the transaction. Ashby is also the owner of a new office building at Connecticut Avenue and M Street NW.
The Beowulf staff has come up with a slogan, "The Legend Moves On," in keeping with the spirit of the name. "Beowulf" is an Old English epic poem, written by an unknown author around 700, about a hero who slays a monster, a water troll and a dragon.
While it would be difficult to top the drama of the original story, the Beowulf saloon will not let its temporary closing go by without some theatrics. For its last night the staff is planning a "Black Tie and Bulldozer" party, where formally dressed patrons will gather at midnight to watch a bulldozer ram into their bar. Staff members and patrons will march with lit candles from the present location to the new address.
The Beowulf has built its reputation on such offbeat promotions as well as on more traditional events. "Anything that's an excuse to have a good time," said Van Fossan, a native Washingtonian. "We have parties for almost everything.
Beowulf puts on celebrations for Columbus Day and Veterans Day. And on St. Patrick's Day, people line up on the sidewalk, waiting to join the festivities and to buy drinks for 17 cents apiece. The bar regularly sponsors bus trips to Redskins home games, and there have been bus trips to ski resorts and sailboat shows and even "Magic Bus Rides," where riders do not know their destination until they reach it.
Almost every Wednesday is "Guest Bartender Night," when someone -- a patron or a celebrity -- mixes drinks and customers give large tips to be donated to the bartender's favorite charity.
Beowulf customers can opt to sit in the saloon where the decor is rustic, with dark-paneled walls and dim lights, or they can eat in the light-filled, glass-enclosed room that faces busy 20th Street.
Employes of Downtown businesses have become regulars at the saloon, giving the Beowulf the ambiance of a neighborhood bar. On a recent Friday, the club held its traditional "TGIF" (Thank Goodness It's Friday) celebration with balloons and free hors d'oeuvres, and the saloon was packed. The golden oldies playing on the jukebox were barely audible over the chatter of customers.
"This is the closest thing to a Downtown club with no restrictions on getting in, other than being nice," said Mac McDaniel, a middle-aged computer systems designer at AT & T Communications and a longtime Beowulf patron. "It's the friendships that I have started here that keep me coming back."
"You can have surprisingly rare conversations with people here," said Howard Patton, a government worker in his forties and another Beowulf regular. "You meet people of different age groups and vocational backgrounds here. But it's one of the few places I've been where you can walk in and if you don't know anybody people will start introducing themselves."
A lot of the people who frequent Beowulf were regular customers at the Summer House Restaurant and Bar, a club in Rehoboth Beach, Del., that Van Fossan sold earlier this year.
"If I had to typecast the Beowulf, I'd say our customers are everyone from children to senior citizens," Van Fossan said. "We get a broad cross-section of people. Over the years, the two largest groups have been the hotel and association people" and people who were regulars at the Summer House in Rehoboth, professionals 20 to 40 years old.
The restaurant sells about 300 lunches between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m, the owner said. Dinner business is a little slower. On weekends the place jumps, and on most Fridays there's a line of people waiting to get in.
"It's a fun place to work," said Stan Julbe, the Friday-night bartender who also is a mortgage banker. "A lot of people come in and they end up being your friends instead of just customers. I've seen the same people coming in during the nine years I've worked here."
"The reason Beowulf has succeeded," said Van Fossan, "is because we have never had just one segment of the population. We were never the hottest bar, but we are probably the most consistent."