July 9, 2015

Mr. Henry's in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Henry's bar

A sign paying homage to the Roberta Flack Trio, one of the first groups to perform at Mr. Henry’s, still hangs above the bar.

As any District resident will tell you, Capitol Hill isn’t all C-SPAN and suits. Once you venture beyond the iconic dome and staid office buildings into the surrounding neighborhood populated by restaurants, shops and row houses, you’ll find plenty of eclectic charm, not to mention a historic bar or two. Mr. Henry’s is one of the oldest and most beloved of these establishments.

Operating continuously in the same location since 1966, the watering hole is well-known for its rich jazz history and its place in the city's LGBTQ heritage, as well as its friendly atmosphere and weekend brunch buffet (which, sadly, was discontinued earlier this year under new management.) The walls of the first floor are lined with Victorian-inspired paintings and art that have remained largely untouched over the years.

Mr. Henry's exterior window

Mr. Henry’s has inhabited the same building on Capitol Hill since 1966.

Mr. Henry's exterior patio

Mr. Henry’s (or "Mr. Henry's Victorian Pub," as the sign on the window reads) originally made a name for itself by bringing exceptional jazz performances to the Hill. In 1968, founding owner Henry Jaffe, the eponymous “Mr. Henry," hired local schoolteacher Roberta Flack to perform on the bar’s second floor three nights a week, a gig that allowed her to quit her day job. Flack would eventually go on to win four Grammys for the songs “Killing Me Softly” and “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face.”

Other noteworthy guests that graced the stage during this time included Woody Allen, Eddie Harris, Ramsey Lewis, Johnny Mathis, and Burt Bacharach. Mr. Henry’s was also known for attracting a diverse crowd that included white, African-American, and gay patrons, an unusual mix in the 1960s.

After decades of operating a dive bar, the management at Mr. Henry’s recently realized they would need to implement some changes if they wanted to compete with the more upscale dining scene that was becoming the norm on the block that the bar inhabits. In August of 2014, General Manager Mark Steele took the reigns, switching up Mr. Henry’s traditional pub fare in favor of some healthier options.

“People were shocked that we put fresh veggies on the menu,” Steele told the Washington Post earlier this year.

Mr. Henry's artwork

Much of the decor at Mr. Henry’s has remained unchanged over the years.

Steele also oversaw a renovation and restoration of the bar’s second floor. The wood-panel walls, originally constructed from materials salvaged from the former Grace Dodge Hotel near Washington’s Union Station, were refurbished, and new carpets and new furniture were installed.

Steele also decided to bring live jazz back to Mr. Henry’s after former owner Alvin Ross had let the bar’s reputation as a live music venue slide. A rotating cast of musicians play in the second floor space on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights.

So if you find yourself in our nation's capital and want to know where the locals go, head to Mr. Henry's. Here's what you need to know before you get there:

Location: 601 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Washington, D.C. 20003

Hours: 11:15 a.m.-12 a.m. Monday-Friday, Saturday 11 a.m.-12 a.m., Sunday 10:30 a.m.-12 a.m.

Don't Miss: Half-price burgers on Mondays. A steal.

What You're Having: A Dark and Stormy with made-in-house ginger beer.

Best Yelp Review: "Mr. Henry's is no frills, good, honest food. I'll go back to try out some of the other specials or if I'm in the mood for comfort food. It's a fun atmosphere!"

Katherine Flynn is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores, and uncovering the stories behind historic places.

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