Meredith Wells always thought that someday she would bring her grandchildren to Old Glory, a bar on M Street NW in Georgetown. She’d quiet the children and point to a brass plaque on the wall, just inside the door, engraved with her name and “2010,” the year she completed her year-long quest to do a shot of every different bourbon in the place.
“Look what Grandma did,” she’d say.
And then last month Old Glory closed suddenly, and it looked like Meredith’s plaque and some 700 or so other shiny monuments to spirited and single-minded stick-to-itiveness would be lost forever.
But Tim Buckley, a bartender at Old Glory from 1993 to 2016, was not going to let that happen. Last week, as workers for the previous owner, Capital Restaurant Concepts, were packing up inventory, Tim went in and unscrewed and pried from the wall as many plaques as he could get to, about 500. And on Saturday afternoon he had spread them out on tables in a sunny, wood-paneled room upstairs at another Capital Restaurants eatery in Georgetown, J. Paul’s. Word had gone out on Facebook that you could pick up your plaque.
“We were known for bourbon and barbecue. That was our thing,” Tim said of Old Glory, which opened in 1991. “We used to get guys — big bourbon drinkers — who would sit at the bar and just go down the line pointing at bottles and ordering. . . . A couple of us who worked there, we said, ‘You know, we should make this like a contest.’ ”
And thus was born the Old Glory Bourbon Club: taste every one — a number that fluctuated at any one time from 60 to 100 — and you’d earn a plaque, a baseball cap and a $50 gift card.
The first to complete it was Mathew Cortright, in 1996. He was, Tim remembered, a newspaper distributor who would get up early, do his job, then come to Old Glory in the early afternoon. He’d drink a Lone Star and order bourbon.
Meredith came in every Wednesday at 7 p.m. with a group of friends. They’d all order two — sometimes three — shots. She was 26 at the time, a transplant from Wilmington, N.C., and the ritual gave some shape to her week.
“It was the best year of my life,” she said. “I don’t know if I learned as much about bourbon as I should have.”
Some people would start with great enthusiasm but peter out, which is why Tim had to periodically cull the box of laminated forms that tracked each participant’s progress, like a big coffee shop loyalty card.
Boston native John Castle earned his plaque in 2000. On Saturday, he’d come to J. Paul’s with his wife, Julie, and their children, Alexandra, 13, and Jason, 9.
“My daughter said, ‘Daddy, did you get that plaque for drinking too much?’ ” John said.
Not exactly, John explained. It was for drinking in moderation.
“I earned it,” John said. “A lot of blood, sweat and bourbon went into this plaque.”
The J. Paul’s gathering was a bit like a wake. Along with the Old Glory regulars, a few ex-employees had come. Georgetown was different now, they all said. People who wanted to barhop favored other neighborhoods. Familiar Georgetown watering holes had vanished.
Old Glory is going to be the new home of José Andrés’s America Eats Tavern — nice, but not exactly a place you can nurse your rye.
Some plaques didn’t have names on them, but nicknames. They were redolent of boozy inside jokes: Heart Attack Paul, Fat Gordy, One Hot Disaster, Sexual Chocolate . . .
“Who was that?” someone asked of Sexual Chocolate (2003).
“Was that Peanut?” someone else said. (They decided it was Peanut, who used to tend bar at Old Glory.)
Kim Adams had driven in from Kent Island on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to pick up a plaque engraved “Gregory Savoie — 1998.” Kim worked at the Georgetown Timberland store with Savoie. After his untimely death, she and other friends decided to complete the bourbon list in his honor.
“He was right behind the bar,” Kim said. Savoie’s friends could look at his name and raise a toast in his memory. Kim held the scratched and tarnished plaque. “A lot of bartenders’ butts rubbed up against this.”
Tim is a high school counselor in Northern Virginia, a job that, when you think of it, isn’t that much different from being a bartender, except without the booze. He noticed one unclaimed plaque, engraved “David Tyler Cropp — 1997.”
Tim remembered that it wasn’t David who completed the Old Glory Bourbon Challenge. It was two guys whose friend had just become a father. When they completed the list they decided to memorialize his newborn son.
“He’s 21 now,” said Tim, doing the math. “I don’t even know if this kid knew he had a plaque.”
Wherever David is, he’s old enough to do a shot of bourbon.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/people/john-kelly.