A couple outside of Capitol Lounge on its last night in business
Eric Shepherd and Hollis Gurley mourn the closing of Capitol Lounge. Credit: Ruben Castaneda

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Midnight was closing in, which meant it was almost time to flick off the lights at Capitol Lounge for the last time. Inside the 26-year-old bar, bartender Sam Everret got everyone’s attention Sunday night to deliver a requiem for the lounge, another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bartender reminisced about the good times so many people have had at Cap Lounge, as regulars affectionately called it, particularly in the last few days and nights, as the final last call loomed. “It’s been a lot of drinking and a lot of lost memories,” he said. “I do feel this is a home for a lot of people. I hope this isn’t the end.”

Trying to strike an optimistic note, the bartender said maybe the bar could come back someday as “Cap Lounge 2.0.”

He thanked the Cap Lounge’s loyal customers and its staff. “I’ve met the greatest people here,” he said. “Truly wonderful people.”

“Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!” the crowd responded, a chant in support of the Cap Lounge, not any political candidate. 

In fact, the bar was known as an oasis from partisan political bickering. Located in a prime location on Pennsylvania Avenue SE, just two blocks from the Capitol, the bar was a popular gathering spot for Democratic and Republican staffers. One side of the bar is decorated with vintage Richard Nixon campaign memorabilia and the other has a couple of Democratic-themed items.

Patrons went to the Cap Lounge to meet friends, unwind, and watch sports on one of the numerous TVs suspended throughout the bar, not to argue. For some of the patrons who showed up for the Cap Lounge’s last night, the bar was a comforting hangout where they met their first set of post-college friends and, in some cases, romantic partners.

Hollis Gurley, 30, fought back tears as she walked out of the bar around midnight. In her 20s, when she worked at various times as a staff member on Capitol Hill, Gurley, who now lives in Texas, frequented the Cap Lounge. On Saturday, she took four flights to get from South Padre Island, Texas, to D.C. just to be there for the bar’s closing act.

“(I met) my first friends here at the Cap Lounge,” she said. “My first bar was the Cap Lounge. The bartenders and the wait staff, we were all family.”

Gurley also met her boyfriend, Eric Shepherd, 30, who still lives in D.C. and accompanied her to the Cap Lounge Sunday.

“We all took this place for granted,” he lamented. Among other things, Shepherd liked the fact the Cap Lounge was a demilitarized zone when it came to politics. 

“‘No politics, no Miller Lite was truly a mantra to live by,” he said.

As midnight came and went, patrons hugged the bar staff and made their way out. 

In the room with Democratic memorabilia, a handful of Cap Lounge staffers sat quietly. 

One of them, Andre Hinds, 33, noted a sad and growing number of D.C. nightlife establishments have fallen victim to the economic ruin caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s sad to see some D.C. pillars go down in this moment,” he said.