Capitol Lounge, a longtime favorite for happy hours, sports, and trivia, will pour its last beers on Sunday, September 20 after 26 years.
The bar has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Co-owner Jimmy Silk says the business regularly averaged $45,000 to $50,000 per week in sales. Over the last couple months, though, that dropped to around $5,000 per week—not enough to cover payroll, rent, and all the other operating expenses. The bar’s configuration—with very little outdoor seating and three bars it can’t currently occupy—made it particularly hard to continue operating.
“It’s just not tenable,” he says. “It honestly costs more to stay open than it does to close.”
Despite its “no politics” motto, the Capitol Hill joint was a go-to gathering spot for the political set, including many generations of interns. The bar regularly offered political specials, including cocktails themed around the impeachment hearings or government shutdown (think the “Nothing Really Mattis” or the “Stephen Miller’s Hair Affair”).
At the start of the pandemic, Capitol Lounge did its best to get by with takeout and delivery (including gallon jugs of jungle juice) plus virtual happy hours. In phase two, it reopened its four patio tables plus a handful of indoor tables. During the racial justice protests in June, staff handed out snacks, water, and first-aid supplies to protesters.
The closing announcement comes shortly after the death of Capitol Lounge founder Joe Englert, who’s responsible for dozens of unpretentious and quirkily themed bars across the city. A New Orleans-style second line funeral will take place Saturday, September 12 at 11 AM—it starts at Audi Field and ends at Bardo Beer Garden.
“Capitol Lounge was Joe’s best work,” Silk says. “It was a bit over-the-top but warm and welcoming to all walks of life, where it be a celebrity or intern. Joe took immense pride in the institution that the Lounge became.”
Silk was Englert’s son’s baseball coach when he was an undergrad at George Washington University more than a decade ago. Englert wanted help bringing young people to his new H Street Northeast bars, like Argonaut and Rock & Roll Hotel, and so Silk started hosting college events there. When Englert later needed help operating Capitol Lounge, Silk quit his job at Lockheed Martin and came on as a co-owner.
Silk says he plans to keep all the artwork and political memorabilia at Capitol Lounge for a possible comeback… someday.
“We’re going to wait until the world finds its equilibrium again. And at some point, we’ll poke our head out and gauge the temperature on opening in a new location,” he says. “When that will be? Who knows.”
This story has been updated with comment from owner Jimmy Silk.