Two decades-old Dupont Circle watering holes known for their happy hours and casual vibes will close near the end of August. Buffalo Billiards will shutter after 25 years, while the Front Page will say goodbye after 32 years.
Both businesses occupy the same New Hampshire Avenue building, which will soon be revamped under new ownership—a joint venture between WeWork and the Meridian Group. The bar owners say they would have liked to have stayed in their current spaces but were ultimately not given the opportunity to renew their leases.
“We were hopeful that we’d be able to stay in, I think, as was the Front Page,” says Buffalo Billiards owner Mark Handwerger. “We were trying everything under the sun…. They were hearing none of it.”
The Front Page owner Dick Heidenberger says he’s weathered four different changes in building ownership, all of which have always renewed the lease—until now. He says the new landlord offered the possibility of relocating the restaurant and bar to a space about half the size on the other side of the building, but it was just too small and the rent too high.
“Needless to say, we’re pretty disappointed because originally when we first started speaking to them, we got the impression that there was a possibility that we could renegotiate,” says Heidenberger, who also owns the Bottom Line and the Madhatter. “Their plans changed several times in the last 12 months. But they made it very clear to me that we need to vacate by end of August.”
A representative from Meridian Group has not yet responded to a request for comment.
All the property’s leases end concurrently at the end of August, and the main tenant, law firm Akin Gump, has already moved out. Heidenberger says that’s had a negative effect on business. While the restaurant (and intern hotspot) still does well in the evenings and for brunch, lunches have become “almost nonexistent” and sales overall have dropped 40 percent.
Heidenberger says his understanding is that new landlord plans to reconfigure the retail in the building. Instead of two anchors like the Front Page and Buffalo Billiards, the space will likely get chopped up into four to six spots. “They’re trying to get what they consider market rent in the $60 per square foot range. It’s just too rich for us,” he adds. (The Front Page currently pays about half that.) “If we can find a location where we’re paying about $37 to $40 per square foot, we’d move.”
In fact, both the Front Page and Buffalo Billiards are now looking to relocate. Heidenberger says he’s already talked to several other landlords about staying in the neighborhood or moving east to Shaw or Mount Vernon Triangle. Finding a new home for his staff is a big driver—some employees have been with him up to 26 years.
Handwerger says he’s also on the hunt for new digs for Buffalo Billiards, but he knows he’s not likely to find another 14,000-square-foot space, especially one as unique as the subterranean room he has. In the meantime, he’s planning to move his 50 or so employees to sister bars run by him and his business partners, including Rocket Bar, Atomic Billiards, and Board Room.
The Front Page has not yet finalized its last day, but it will be sometime between August 15 and 31. Buffalo Billiards will serve its last beers on August 19. Stay tuned for farewell promotions, including an auction of Buffalo memorabilia.
“I understand business and all that, but I’m very disappointed, very sad,” Handwerger says.