There’s a new destination on U Street for smoked meat and booze.
Exiles, the tavern taking over the former Stetson’s space at 1610 U St. NW, officially opened to the public over the weekend, according to co-owner Brian Hillery.
The bar’s food menu includes smoked chicken wings and beef brisket, barbecue pulled pork and an all-day breakfast sandwich made with pork sausage, bacon, cheddar and a fried egg. At the bar, patrons can order local beers, wine and cocktails like the “Bourbon Smash,” a 19th-century concoction made with Bulleit bourbon, mint leaves, lemon and simple syrup.
The bar will hold a grand opening ceremony later this month when it installs its new neon sign, Hillery said.
Opening night image via Facebook / Exiles
(Updated at 7:06 p.m.) Locals will once again be able to gather for a drink in the building that once held landmark U Street bar Stetson’s. Or at least, that’s the current plan.
A new tavern called “Exiles” is in the works at 1610 U St. NW, said a representative from TeemNow, LLC, the company behind the forthcoming bar.
A half-dozen people lined up early in front of U Street bar Stetson’s on Halloween over the weekend. But the crowd — dressed in a mix of knit beanies, Carhartt jackets and acid wash jeans — wasn’t there to celebrate the holiday. They were there to say goodbye.
“We just want to know if there’s any beer left,” longtime regular Sarah Bieber said while waiting.
Sarah Bieber, her husband Bruce and two of her oldest friends were regulars during Stetson’s first years as one of U Street’s only neighborhood bars in the ’80s.
For 35 years, the hangout was a melting pot for the neighborhood and served as a haven for some of the area’s well-known characters.
“There was a bartender named Chilly who was anything but,” Bruce Bieber said before uncorking anecdotes about Chilly’s fondness for giving his pals leftover margaritas.
Bruce Bieber said the bar, which once got in hot water for serving the underage Bush twins and purportedly still has bullets in the ceiling, has not changed one bit since it opened in 1980.
That unwillingness to change may have given the bar its character, but it may have also contributed to its demise. The bar was sold to developer Douglas Development over summer after losing money for years, said assistant general manager Tommy Osborne in September.
“Tell you what, they didn’t put a dime in it since then,” Bruce Bieber said.
At 5:30 p.m., the bar’s big oak door under the Stetson’s Alehouse awning swung open, and a man in a Superman costume beckoned everyone inside.
Superman, whose secret identity is Stetson’s employee Jelani Wills, said he’s done almost everything under the sun at the bar. Four years ago, he worked the bar’s doors, then as a bartender, manager and even started Stetson’s comedy shows. Wills said U Street won’t have dive bar like Stetson’s, at least not for a while.
“Dive bars aren’t really popular like they once were,” Wills said. “People do appreciate neighborhood bars, but there’s a shift in the neighborhood. Right now, people want wine bars.”
While Wills refrained from saying the G word, Bruce Bieber was quick to lament the increase of trendy bars and restaurants he thinks are pushing places like Stetson’s out.
For Bruce Bieber and his friends, nostalgia and authenticity was always Stetson’s main draw. He added that’s what prompted the group of friends to revisit their old stomping ground one for one final round of beers.
“We wanted to be the first to be last,” Bruce Bieber said.
The bar, which has existed at 1610 U St. NW since 1980, will shut down on Oct. 31, said assistant general manager Tommy Osborne last month. Patrons wishing to throw back one last drink can sidle up to the bar any time before Sunday to pay their respects.
The bar will celebrate its 35-year run with a big bash Osborne describes as “lots of old school community celebrating the closing of [one of the] great places of the past” this Thursday at 9:30 pm.
Osborne added that he will be working behind the bar during the party and will be available to share memories from his time working there.
What kind of memories, you ask?
“This was the place where [Democracts] could come and be incognito,” Osborne told us last month. “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.”
Chuck Brown also once played an impromptu show at the bar. A murder-mystery reality show filmed was filmed there once. There are actual bullets in the ceiling.
So what happens after Stetson’s closes? “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,” Osborne said.
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.”
A crowd of strangers will sing in unison this Thursday evening at Stetson’s on U Street, but it won’t be a sporadic event.
Instead, the sing-along is organized by A People’s Choir DC, a monthly meetup group devoted to hosting public singing sessions.
“A People’s Choir DC is a casual sing-along,” reads the event’s Facebook page. “It isn’t a performance; it’s a group effort.”
The idea works like this: People get together at a bar, order drinks and sing loudly over popular songs. And, well, that’s about it.
Each month, the group belts out tunes related to a specific theme. This month’s sing-along is an ode to D.C. weather, and as such, the group will sing along with such songs as Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby,” AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” and “California Dreamin'” by the Mamas and the Papas.
Attendees will receive a lineup of the night’s songs and a printout of the lyrics at the door.
Though you might be skittish singing in front of people you don’t know, People’s Choir D.C. founder Jenny Koch says it’s really not a big deal. If you don’t know a song, make up the words. If you want to sit one out and chat, that’s okay too. And newcomers are always welcome.
“Although we have a bunch of people who come regularly, we also get lots of new people every time,” she says.
The singing begins at 8 p.m. at Stetson’s, located at 1610 U Street NW.
Photo via Facebook.com/APeoplesChoirDC; This post features reporting by contributor Octavia Silva