In recent weeks, Heidenberger and his staff have seen a host of familiar faces come into the bar. Former patrons and regulars have stopped by to dine, drink and snap photos. Some brought the spouses they met there or fondly reminisced about their younger, rowdier days; others saw the closing as the end of an era and a signal to move on.
On Sunday, the Front Page is preparing to close its doors and fold up its royal blue patio umbrellas one final time. This past Monday evening marked the start of the bar’s last week of service after 32 years. A company event brought in newcomers with swinging lanyards, regulars leaned over bar snacks to loudly converse and, at the center of it all, senior bartender Teddy Birru poured drinks with a swift flourish.
“Can we play the graduation song?” asked Anita Maina, who is among Birru’s regular Monday evening patrons. (Birru said no.) Swirling a glass of red wine, Maina said she’s treating the closing like a breakup from a deeply emotional three-year relationship. She waved away a question about what’s next, faking distress: “That’s a problem for next week.”
The Front Page has a host of reputations, Heidenberger admits: It’s probably best known as the intern bar (thanks to its $2 Coronas and complimentary tacos on Thursdays), but it also has a loyal bottomless brunch weekend following. The bar’s website and social media accounts boast that it was once voted the best happy hour in the District. Most patrons are sharply dressed in their 20s and 30s, decompressing, schmoozing or networking after work. It’s full of camaraderie, overflowing rail drinks and good grubby eats, but it is the bar’s staff and quirky clientele that draws Maina back.
“Teddy sees me from the Metro stop and by the time I sit down, there’s my drink,” she said. It feels like a homecoming, every Monday or Tuesday night when she sits with the crew of regulars: There’s Ian who casually knocks back Jagerbombs and a guy dubbed “The Ambassador” who consistently orders just two Yuengling beers.
“I think I’ve met people from every continent,” said Birru, who’s worked at the Front Page for 14 years as a side hustle to his IT consulting business. At least once a year, he is tagged in Facebook posts by overseas tourists or international interns. But after more than a decade of fleeting customer interactions, Birru prizes those who come back, week after week.
“It’s a social hub for a lot of people,” said Lissett Gamez, whose first full-time job was as an 18-year-old hostess at the Front Page. She has since moved to Silver Spring and works at Wells Fargo, but once every few months, she stops by to visit old co-workers.
Gamez sits on a bar stool and looks around the half-filled bar before its evening rush, taking it in: “It’s hard to imagine how this space will no longer exist after Sunday.”
That’s a sentiment echoed by the bar’s patrons: You might not have visited the dingy space in the past year. Or maybe it’s been two years, or even five. But the Front Page exists in the corner of your vision, its faded sea-foam-green sign a subtle greeting on the way to the Red Line or Dupont Circle. It carries a fuzzy sense of comfort and nostalgia that, despite the constant change in the District, a familiar, messy refuge still exists.
Heidenberger, whose D.C. Restaurant Group also owns Madhatter, the Bottom Line and Cafe Soleil, is determined to reopen the Front Page; he’s looking to relocate and launch a fresher, more contemporary version in 2020. He has considered locations in Dupont Circle and Mount Vernon Triangle, but for now, nothing is certain — not even the free Thursday night tacos. (“It will depend on the location,” Heidenberger said, of the popular deal’s future.)
But first, there’s the closing party — “the last hurrah” — on Sunday. Then there’s the post-party cleanup, meetings with property owners around town and the logistics that go into opening a bar and restaurant. It’s an ongoing process, but a necessary one to uphold Heidenberger’s promise: “We’re sad to leave this place, but we’re going to be back.”
The Front Page, 1333 New Hampshire Ave. NW. Closing party is Sunday from 6 to 9 p.m.