Stetson’s Manager Shares Decade of Memories Ahead of Bar’s Closing

by Tim Regan September 18, 2015 at 3:00 pm 1,784 0

Stetson's neon

A landmark U Street bar is going away for good. Stetson’s, which has existed at 1610 U St. NW since 1980, will close its doors on Oct. 31, said assistant general manager Tommy Osborne.

Osborne, a D.C. native, has worked at the bar since 2005. In just a decade, Osborne has seen it all. “There’s a ton of memories,” said Osborne. “I’ve been the assistant general manager here on and off since 2005.”

Some of the memories, like the time Osborne found a vintage liquor bottle label affixed behind an old refrigerator in the basement, are charming reminders of a bygone era.

“I was pulling out this old fridge from the ’40s, and on a support post behind it was a whiskey label for John Morris rye whiskey, and it had our address on it dated 1914,” said Osborne. “I was so excited, I ran upstairs and said, ‘Guys, guys, look what I found.'”

Other memories he likes to share are a little unbelievable.

“Some years later, in 2011, I was contacted by a couple who had been vacationing in the Mojave Desert,” Osborne said. “They saw a bottle sticking up out of the sand and pulled it up and brushed it off, and it was another John Morris bottle with the year and our address on it. Talk about total kismet.”

The couple mailed the bottle to Osborne, who stashed it away in a safe.

“The next year, I had commissioned a friend of mine to do a mural of the bottle on our back patio,” said Osborne. “He pulls it out of the box and says he’ll get to work, and he literally has it in his hands for 30 seconds and it slips out and breaks.”

Needless to say, Osborne’s friend gave him a discount on the mural.

Osborne also likes to tell the tale of how his bar has a penchant for getting politicians in trouble.

“Over the years, we used to be a big Democrat bar,” he said. “This was the place where they could come and be incognito. Several people whose names don’t want to be mentioned publicly used to hang out here and get tore up.”

“Like, they throw down like five one hundred dollar bills to let them stay until you have to pour them into a cab,” Osborne added.

And then, there’s the infamous bit about the Bush twins.

“At one point the Bush daughters went [underage] bar hopping, and this is one of the places they came,” Osborne said. “We got into all kinds of hot water. We were threatened with being shut down for good, but I think they didn’t want to make it a big thing.”

Osborne could go on all day. Chuck Brown once played an impromptu show at the bar. A murder-mystery reality show filmed an episode there. There are actual bullets in the ceiling. It’s memories like these that gives Stetson’s its status as a primo neighborhood hangout, Osborne said.

But memories alone couldn’t keep the business afloat. Osborne said the bar was sold to developer Douglas Development this summer after losing money for years.

“I don’t really know what’s going to happen,” said Osborne. “It could end up gutted. At least the historical society will make them keep the facade.”

Still, Osborne isn’t optimistic about the bar’s future. “It most likely will be a piece of D.C. history that’s just going to float off into the ether just like so many other places have before.”

Those wishing to say goodbye or pay tribute can do so two ways: Osborne says the bar will have a blowout goodbye DJ night on Oct. 29. He’s also selling pieces of the bar’s history — mementos and tokens yanked from the walls themselves.

“All the stuff on the wall is up for sale,” Osborne said. “I’m using the money to give a last hurrah to the staff.”

Osborne said he’d like former patrons to stop in for one last drink before the bar changes hands.

“We want everyone to come in and have one last hurrah.”


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