Last night, I stopped in for a drink with a friend at Dan’s Café, a bar tucked into the corner of 18th & Kalorama. I hear Dan’s is packed shoulder-to-shoulder on weekends; on a Wednesday, the place looks boarded-up closed from the outside, save for the small, red notice on the door: Open.
Most people would peg Dan’s as a dive. I’d call it a throwback. The place has been owned and operated by the same family since 1965, and it looks pretty much preserved. A neon Pabst Blue Ribbon sign flickers above the bar, which does not sell Pabst Blue Ribbon. A stopped clock is nailed above the pool table; one of the owners calls it his “homeless clock.” He found it in a ditch on the side of the road, replaced its battery, and gave it a home. It has never worked.
Besides the family that owns Dan’s, my friends and I are the only ones in the bar. I order a beer; it is frozen and cheap. My friend starts up a game of pool with the “homeless clock” guy. When my friend misses his final shot, an easy go at the 8-ball, they leave the ball on the table and forget about it. It doesn’t seem to matter.
The bartender, Terry, is 42 but looks 10 years younger. He says he stays that way by avoiding too much smoking and drinking—-you know, bar stuff. Terry, the youngest of nine kids, grew up in the bar. His father, Dickie, bought Dan’s Cafe when Terry was 4 months old, and since then, his family has run the place on top of their day jobs. By day, Terry works construction. Last night, Terry poured drinks. His brothers drank them. Dickie sat behind the bar playing solitaire.
“So, who’s Dan?” I ask.
Terry leans his elbows on the bar and frowns. “Dan’s dead.”