Perspective | Post Pub got a rare second chance, but in the end, it wasn’t enough (2024)

Jeremy Wladis was stopped at a Wawa somewhere in Delaware, where he was trying to polish off a turkey hoagie while explaining why his attempt to give the historic Post Pub in Washington a second life never really stood a chance.

It wasn’t just the high price of doing business in 2024 or a landlord apparently unwilling to cut him a break, Wladis said between mouthfuls. It was the pandemic, which had hollowed out the buildings downtown and cut off the supply of available office drones willing to stretch the limits of their stomachs with a Black Angus burger and side of onion rings, hand-battered and unbeatable by any competitor within a three-mile radius.

“By the time I got there, it was very, very, very quiet,” Wladis said about his revitalized Post Pub, which he reopened in 2021. “We kept thinking, ‘It’s going to turn, it’s going to turn, it’s going to turn.’ And it just never turned.”

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Post Pub officially closed its doors on Friday — four years after the dive bar first went belly up. Not long after previous owner Bob Beaulieu pulled the plug on the L Street NW pub in 2020, Wladis came calling. A New York restaurateur who once pushed pies in D.C. via his Fuel Pizza outlets, Wladis thought he could revive the good name of Post Pub. His decision wasn’t based in nostalgia or charity. He was never a regular, never the guy sitting there at 3 p.m., three beers into a lazy Saturday afternoon with a college game humming overhead on a flat-screen.

But Wladis had a reputation for saving restaurants. He had pulled several from the brink in New York, he told me in 2022 when I first wrote about the next-gen Post Pub. “I partnered with all three of the different owners and kept them alive when they weren’t going to stay alive for various different reasons,” Wladis said about establishments such as Fred’s and Good Enough to Eat.

His mission would be different this time around. Wladis was trying to revive a bar after its obituary had been written. He was also trying to relaunch a pub during the pandemic, when downtown Washington remained largely a ghost town. It was probably a long shot from the start, but Wladis brought on Beaulieu as a consultant, if mostly in name only. Beaulieu bought the place in 1976 and had run it for nearly 44 years. “He didn’t take a lot of my advice,” Beaulieu told me in 2022. “Everybody runs it their own way. That’s just kind of the way it is.”

Wladis stripped the bar of its sticky, mid-century, VFW hall vibe. He ripped out the wall-to-wall carpeting, its fibers no doubt still reeking of Camels inhaled a generation ago. He ditched the wood-paneling and painted the walls white. He decluttered, allowing for a meditative white space between the mirrored beer signs, many of them holdovers from Beaulieu’s era. The changes had their desired effect: Post Pub no longer had that dark, semi-seedy, claustrophobic ambiance that could make patrons feel like vegetables packed in a root cellar. Countless old-timers hated it.

Much has been written about America and its capacity to grant second chances. Our country is littered with stories about athletes, business leaders and politicians who found life after failure, injury or disgrace. Chances are good you might have your own second-chance tale, too: a second career that was more successful than the first? A second marriage that learned from the first? A second chance to own a home after your first was foreclosed upon? Fill in your story here.

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But you know what rarely gets a second chance? Restaurants. Once you see a “closed for repairs” sign affixed to the window — or whatever optimistic message that tries to explain a locked door — odds are good you’ll never see that restaurant open again. Which is why Wladis’s effort to resurrect Post Pub, no matter how flawed or doomed, deserves a special asterisk. Wladis tried to prolong the life of an institution that, for more than half a century, was connected at the hip to The Washington Post — even if that relationship was greatly fractured after the paper moved a couple of blocks away to One Franklin Square in 2015. Back in the day, the pub was a place where reporters and pressmen alike would seek refuge from the deadline drudgery of daily newspapering. It was a watering hole to help with writer’s block or create it.

I find honor in Wladis’s attempt to save the joint.

Yet, for any second chance to succeed, almost everyone involved has to agree to a kind of collective amnesia: No one will talk about the old times. Everyone will focus on the present. I’m not convinced Washingtonians were always willing to let go of the past when it came to Post Pub, and the present is almost always going to lose when it goes up against memory, especially a memory molded out of alcohol, grease and youth. The pandemic may be the No. 1 reason Post Pub died, again. But nostalgia didn’t help, either.

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Wladis seemed to be taking the closure in stride. It stopped the financial bleeding at least: Wladis said he lost more than $100,000 on the venture. But that’s not what was bothering him during our call. He was fretting about his inability to continue Beaulieu’s legacy.

“He was a gentleman and a scholar. Sorry for him that we couldn’t keep this great place he built and created alive,” Wladis said. “I gave it a try. I feel very proud to be, at one time, part of this legendary place that Bob built.”

Perspective | Post Pub got a rare second chance, but in the end, it wasn’t enough (2024)

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