The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Post Pub survived D.C.’s ups and downs for 43 years, but it couldn’t survive a pandemic

Owner Bob Beaulieu reminisces in 2015, when The Washington Post was preparing to leave the neighborhood. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Back in the era of hard-drinking lunches, bartenders at the Post Pub used to stir up three-gallon batches of gin and vodka martinis and a two-gallon batch of Manhattans to prepare for the daily crush. And that was just for Mondays.

“I don’t know if we’d go through all of it in one day. It might go into Tuesday,” says owner Bob Beaulieu. “We were selling two or three hundred martinis a day.”

In a city known for preserving history along the Mall, but not along its business corridors, the Post Pub was a rare time capsule from another age. A time when America pounded down a lot of alcohol, less enlightened in many ways, but less precious, too. In the mid-1970s, when Beaulieu assumed control of the pub, neighborhood watering holes were still decades away from barrel-aged cocktails, triple-hopped IPAs, $17 custom-blend hamburgers, 48-hour Buffalo wings or tater tot poutine with foie gras and a duck egg.

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Smoking has been banned in D.C. bars for more than a dozen years now, but when you entered the dark environs of the Post Pub you could almost feel the ghosts of barflies past, hacking their way through a pack of Marlboro Reds and knocking back shots of Jameson (or three vodka martinis, extra dirty). You could sense the eyes of men and women follow you from old photos on the wall, or see yourself in the brand mirrors that passed for decor. You could smirk, or gasp, at what passed as humor in the mid-20th century, with signs that would never find their way into a bar now: “We do not serve women. You must bring your own,” or “If you’re drinking to forget, please pay in advance.”

In June, in a Facebook post, the Post Pub era officially came to an end. It joined a growing list of D.C. bars and saloons that had once given us a portal to a time before avocado toast, including places such as Millie and Al’s, Phase 1, the Childe Harold and Chief Ike’s Mambo Room. “I am sad to inform our customers and friends that due to the covid-19 pandemic and related factors I am forced to close the Post Pub permanently. There’s simply no other option,” Beaulieu wrote on Facebook.

The owner had tried to save the place. He had tried to secure a new owner, to keep the pub's long history alive, but Beaulieu's business had been under siege for years before the pandemic. Pick your poison: changing consumer tastes. Downtown economics that don't favor an old, underperforming neighborhood bar. Relocation of the newspaper after which the pub was named: In late 2015, The Washington Post moved from 15th and L streets NW to just north of Franklin Square. The impact was felt immediately at the Post Pub.

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The move “made a big difference. You have a limited time for lunch. You can’t take that extra 10 minutes to walk around,” Beaulieu tells me. “And you guys, where you’re at now, you got the food trucks. So you guys run out and grab a sandwich there.”

The history of the Post Pub has been one of weathering change. It started even before Beaulieu bought it in September 1976. Under previous owner Boyce Wallace, the bar conducted business under the name of Post House. But because Trailways operated a string of restaurants under the same name at its bus stations, the company struck a deal with Wallace to switch handles to the Post Pub, according to the pub’s own accounting.

The streets around the Post Pub were rough in Beaulieu’s early days. Prostitutes walked the sidewalks. In the 1970s and ’80s, cars would circle the block in the early morning hours, creating traffic jams. For some reason, customers liked to watch the women at work, sometimes interrupting diners who occupied two-tops by the window. So Beaulieu removed the tables and installed a counter to accommodate his more prurient patrons.

For a couple of years, a Russian with a nasty disposition ran a “bar” in the space above the Post Pub. Beaulieu says it was basically a front for prostitution. Fights were common on the block, and Beaulieu remembers breaking up a few.

Prostitution “was a bad problem at one time. I mean, where you got a lot of hookers, you got pimps and you got guys trying to come back and get their money,” the owner remembers. “That’s not a good situation.”

The early-morning sex trade was one reason Beaulieu changed his hours. He used to stay open until 2 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays before he opted to shut down at midnight, no matter the night. Late night, “that’s when all the trouble was,” he recalls.

The pub’s proximity to The Washington Post made it a frequent stop for reporters as well as the pressmen and mailers back when the paper was printed at the old 15th Street location. The pub attracted a cross-section of writers, whether investigative reporter Dana Priest or former Post sports columnist and current ESPN analyst Michael Wilbon. Mailers on their union break would knock back as much as they could in their allotted 15 minutes. The bartenders would have beers and shots ready for them.

“I remember the old crew at The Post,” Beaulieu says. “They did a lot of their stories in the Post Pub. . . . That was before cellphones and all that.”

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Restaurateur Jackie Greenbaum spent many afternoons at the Post Pub with her father when she worked for his real estate company, starting in the late 1980s. It was one of their favorite lunch spots. Greenbaum usually ordered the Reuben and onion rings, the latter sliced, battered and fried in-house, all crispy and irregular. Years earlier, she had frequented the pub with colleagues from Capitol Hill, where she worked as a press secretary to Rep. George Brown Jr., a Democrat from California. They would, she recalls, guzzle pitcher after pitcher of beer while playing drinking games.

“I loved the food there. I was young, so who knows what my taste buds were like,” says Greenbaum, the proprietor behind the Quarry House, Little Coco’s, Bar Charley and El Chucho. “I didn’t even consider it a greasy spoon.”

But like a lot of folks, Greenbaum has adopted a healthier diet. The change in American drinking culture hurt the Post Pub’s bottom line, Beaulieu says. He went from serving hundreds of martinis a day in the 1970s to about a dozen a day when the 1990s rolled around. To make up the difference, he expanded the menu. He introduced a salmon plate and pork chops. A former meat cutter, Beaulieu even ordered beef loins and cut them up for steaks.

“I went from where I was making a good living to where I was just paying the bills,” he says. “I had a little bit left over.”

At age 71, Beaulieu is now retired. He handed over the keys to the landlord with eight years still on his lease. “They didn’t give me anything in writing that I was exonerated” for the remaining years, he adds. “They gave me a receipt that they accepted the keys back.” But he doesn’t think the landlord will hound him for the money.

Beaulieu would have preferred to go out on his own terms, not those dictated by a pandemic. But he’s contented with what he built over the nearly 44 years he operated the Post Pub. He didn’t get rich, he says, but he put two kids through college. He paid for a couple of houses. He has enough to retire on, maybe play a little golf.

His legacy, and that of the Post Pub, are harder to discern. Despite all the time she spent at the pub, Greenbaum isn’t sure it had much influence in her decision to save the Quarry House, the Silver Spring institution that balances a respect for history with a reverence for bottles of good small-batch whiskey. “If so,” Greenbaum says, “it would have been part of what molded my psyche without my being really aware of it.”

The Post Pub’s legacy, it seems, will live on mostly in the memories of those who were moved by it. Like Ben Claassen III, a cartoonist whose work has appeared in Washington City Paper, Washington Post Express and the Chicago Reader. One day, about nine years ago, after a shift at the now-defunct Express, Claassen found himself on a bar stool at the pub for the first time, taking in the history around him.

“When I went to pay the tab,” he wrote to me on Facebook, “I noticed one of my comics had been cut out from the City Paper and taped behind the register. For a cartoonist from New Orleans drinking alone at a bar in D.C. that felt about equivalent to winning an Oscar.”

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