Harvey Fry, a Texan transplanted to DC, has been a Capitol Hill staffer, artist, cab driver, gambler, and more. Among his obsessions are 20th-century classical music, online poker, and single-malt Scotch whisky. Part of his collection helps stock Jack Rose, a new bar/restaurant in DC's Adams Morgan that is the area's definitive repository of spirits. Photographs by Sean McCormick.
Harvey Fry was not his usual cantankerous self when I called not long ago to ask if he’d care to join me for lunch. His words came out thickly. Worried that I’d awakened him, I glanced at my cell phone: It was a little before noon. There’s almost always a story with Fry, 73, and there was indeed an explanation for his grogginess.
Some people like to read a chapter of a book before dropping off to sleep at night. Harvey Fry prefers to play online poker for an hour or two before bed. He usually gives up when he starts losing too much. On this night, however, he was on a hot streak. He kept winning, so he kept going—and going. Into the morning he played, and into the next day, then into the next evening and night. Somewhere around hour number 32, his wife told him, “You can’t keep doing this—you’re crazy. You better eat something and go to bed.”
Finally, he did—36 hours after he began.
“I’m an obsessive,” Fry admits.
Online poker is just one of Fry’s passions. Another is music. Fry’s interest is 20th-century classical music. Twentieth-century classical is often regarded as the ugly stepdaughter of the genre, derided for its atonality and angularity. But to hear Fry speak on the subject, you might think there were no other music worth the time, attention, and investment.
He owned some 11,000 CDs before selling off most of his collection—though the buyer made copies of the disks for him. He keeps a running list of the greatest living composers, ranked from 1 to 140. Ask Fry his opinion of the American minimalists John Adams and Philip Glass. They don’t even make the top 30. The current number one: Per Nørgård.
An 11,000-CD collection and nightly online poker would be more than enough to occupy most obsessives, but consider Fry’s most consuming obsession: single-malt Scotch. Fry amassed a collection of nearly 5,000 bottles. Kevin Kosar, who wrote Whiskey: A Global History and runs a blog called AlcoholReviews.com, called it “the most incredible collection of Scotch I’ve ever seen” on the title page of Fry’s copy of the book.
Four rooms of Fry’s three-story brownstone in DC’s Mount Pleasant house the collection. A friend of Fry’s estimates its worth at $650,000 to $900,000.
The idea that I might put those figures into print is distressing to Fry, who is almost as obsessive a worrier as he is a collector. What if someone reads it and decides to break into his home? What if the neighbors start to complain about deliveries? What if the tax man starts keeping watch?
Next: A look into the 1,400 spirits at Jack Rose