By Debbie Siegelbaum - 09/26/11 10:43 PM EDT
This week will see the end of an era as a Capitol Hill institution prepares to shut its doors.
The Hawk ‘n’ Dove, a popular watering hole located at 329 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, will close Sunday after more than 40 years in business. The Irish bar became the gathering place for politicos when it first opened in December 1967.
“I figured if I was going to do something foolish, I would do it while I was young because I would have a chance to recover,” he joked.
It wasn’t too much of a risk for the Washington, D.C., native, who had a familiarity with the bar business and whose mother was a builder. Stuart has owned seven businesses in the area, including four in the two blocks surrounding the Hawk.
But the Hawk has always been Stuart’s “baby,” he said, adding that it hurts to think of it closing. Several months ago, the bar owner learned that the lease on the property would be increasing significantly, and maintaining the business would be an impossibility.
“It’s the end of my adult life. I come here every morning and I close every night, seven days a week,” he said. “I was going to try and stay here to celebrate my 50th [anniversary], which would have been six years off.”
Stuart will take with him countless memories of fascinating moments that took place within the Hawk’s dimly lit rooms.
He said multiple episodes of the political drama “The West Wing” were filmed at the Hawk. The bar has also appeared in several novels.
The owner reminisced about the bar being the first-date site of married political pundits Mary Matalin and James Carville.
“Mary Matalin said, ‘I’ve never been in a room with so many Democrats in my entire life,’ ” he joked of the staunch Republican.
“We’ve been here a long, long time. We’ve seen a lot of people,” Stuart said. “I would say half the congressmen up on the Hill … at one time, they were here as customers.”
One such lawmaker is Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who recalled visiting the Capitol Hill spot while he was a congressional staffer.
“I was there right when it first opened up,” he said, adding that he would go there during the early 1970s.
“After a while we don’t even notice [politicians],” Stuart said. “They come and go. We don’t bother them; they don’t bother us.”
That wasn’t always the case, according to longtime patron and one-time employee Peter Waldron. The former Hawk bartender told The Hill that during the Vietnam War era, the bar was mainly a meeting place for liberals.
“We had a policy: If you were a Republican, you didn’t get served,” joked Waldron, who now writes for Hill Rag.
Waldron recalled one GOP congressman coming to the bar every night to watch the Richard Nixon impeachment proceedings on television; not once was he given a drink or food.
The Hawk was so well-known as a politically liberal meeting place during the Vietnam War that even the armed services took an interest.
“We had two waiters that the military had infiltrate the Hawk, because … all the anti-war people came here,” Waldron said, adding that he later saw one of them appear on the news program “60 Minutes.”
“They were both intelligence guys, and they were sent in to keep an eye on what was going on here,” he said. “You know what was going on? We were drinking!”
Bob Schmitz, a retired federal worker and one-time waiter at the Hawk ‘n’ Dove, said the name of the bar itself referred to the Vietnam War. Hawks were people who favored entry into the conflict and wanted to increase military force, while doves wanted troop withdrawal and dispute resolution.
“There literally was the hawk side and the dove side, hence the name,” Schmitz said. “Back then, politics was very polarized. It’s polarized now, too, but it’s mostly the politicians now. Back then it was the people, especially with the Vietnam War.”
There was also a fair share of memorable incidents involving politicians at the Hawk.
Waldron recalled the story of one former senator with a history of drinking, who several years ago pulled his car up on the sidewalk and blocked the front door. He emerged with a “tall, leggy” woman, came into the bar and demanded a drink. Hawk staff called the police, and the lawmaker was quietly escorted out.
In addition to political intrigue, decades-long friendships were formed at the Hawk as employees and customers stayed late into the night drinking and talking.
“I have six employees that have been with me over 35 years — another six have been with me over 25 [years] — and this is in an industry where two years is a long-term stay,” Stuart said.
Mary Hanley, communications director for Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), laughed as she remembered living nearby in her youth and all the fun times she had at the Hawk.
“It’s different times,” she said, acknowledging that things had changed since her frequent visits in the 1960s and ’70s.
Those different times are reflected in the latest plans for the Hawk ‘n’ Dove. New proprietor Xavier Cervera — owner of Capitol Hill eateries Chesapeake Room and Molly Malone’s — has announced plans to renovate the space and turn it into a bistro.
It’s unclear how much of the dark burnished wood, the hodgepodge of local memorabilia covering the walls and the lived-in feel of the original bar will remain.
“This is going to be fancy; it’s going to not be our [thing],” Hanley said. “It’s going to be a very different kind of place, and maybe it’s a kind of place for the times. Maybe [the Hawk ‘n’ Dove] is not, I don’t know.
“It was a place for us,” she said.