Rudi Appl, a bartender at Mr. Henry’s in Capitol Hill for nearly five decades, died early this morning. He was “just sitting in his chair,” says Mr. Henry’s owner Alvin Ross. “He really had not been well. He had a pacemaker and had heart issues.” Appl worked his last shift about a month ago to celebrate his 80th birthday.
Appl was the subject of a recent City Paper cover story written by local bar and real estate owner Joe Englert, which is worth a reread. Even long before he became a local institution, Appl had a life worthy of a Hollywood script: Born in Czechoslovakia, Appl escaped World War II after a family friend drove him all the way to Beirut, Lebanon, when he was 9 years old. (His father feared for his youngest son in the war, even though the family was Catholic.) After the war, his family reconvened in Frankfurt, Germany, then headed to the Canadian Rockies, where Appl worked in oil fields as a young man. Eventually, he traveled to Nassau in the Bahamas to work for Paradise Island, a resort catering to the rich and famous which was owned by A&P supermarket heir and filmmaker Huntington Hartford. Appl became Hartford’s drinking buddy and assistant during the off months, which, after a trip to Hollywood, led him to work as a stand-in for Marlon Brando and Robert Stack. “But these were the days of the studio system,” Appl told Englert. “I didn’t want the contracts or the obligations.” He permanently settled in D.C. in 1966.
“So disarming and friendly, Rudi sucks you in,” Englert wrote in his cover story. “You want to be cast in his little Mitteleuropäischer drama. He immediately transports you into a more civilized world and time.”
Ross says he doesn’t have any information about a memorial service yet, but he hopes to do something at Mr. Henry’s to remember Appl.
If you have any memories of Appl you’d like to share, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE: Englert shared some more thoughts on Appl after hearing the news of his passing:
“Rudi truly exuded two things: smoothness and Old World elegance. But while he was polished and refined, he didn’t have a whiff of pretentiousness about him. Rudi knew how to connect to people no matter their race, creed or station in life. Truly this was a man comfortable in his own skin who never stopped an unquenchable yearning to learn more about other people and how they ticked.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery