A mainstay of the Clarendon bar and restaurant scene celebrates a significant milestone Friday, as Mister Days (3100 Clarendon Blvd) marks its 40th anniversary.
It first opened in an alleyway off Dupont Circle on November 21, 1977 serving prime rib, ham sandwiches, a soup and a salad. And in the years that followed, including a move to 18th Street NW between L and M Streets NW before opening in Arlington in 2000, it gained a strong following.
The bar has served famous guests like movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Washington Redskins greats like Sonny Jurgensen and John Riggins, and had live entertainment from singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter early in her career.
But owner Robert E. Lee said it is the relationships he has built that are most memorable.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Lee said of the anniversary. “You start losing friends, not customers, but friends that you met through business. After you get out of school, you have professional relationships. In the bar business and restaurant business, you meet hundreds of people that become friends.”
Lee said that initially, he was unsure about having televisions showing sports in Mister Days, figuring it would be a distraction from the dancing and food. But when he saw customers leaving to go home and watch “Roots,” a 1970s miniseries, he began to think differently.
Instead of relying on the major network broadcasts, Lee did something new for customers by, as he put it, putting on “all games all the time.”
“We figured out how to do back-channels through satellite dishes, so we got the satellite dishes,” he said. “We started doing all games all the time. Nobody else had it. We weren’t the first sports bar, but I believe we were the first where you could get all the games. You couldn’t buy them.”
Much of Mister Days’ popularity in D.C. came from its “Rally in the Alley,” an outdoor event held in conjunction with other nearby bars that included food, drink and live entertainment and at times hosted 15,000 people.
What began as a party one St. Patrick’s Day morphed into a charity event, just one of the bar’s charitable ventures that also included paying for kids to attend basketball camps and get basketball scholarships to DeMatha Catholic High School and donating food for free Christmas and Thanksgiving meals.
“[Rally in the Alley] became a major event,” Lee said. “That’s like the acorn that became an oak tree. That was just an idea, and that’s what I love to do. You have an idea, and all of a sudden it works.”
But, Lee said, Mister Days left D.C. after a dispute with the landlord over the rent. Lee said that while at the time he felt it was the right decision, he now has some regrets about how he handled the situation, and described some of their exchanges as “foolishness.”
“We were so good and we were in an alley, and [the landlord wanted] to charge us the same as those facing the streets because of our success? That wouldn’t work,” he said. “But it could have worked. I was a little full of myself.”
The closure of the downtown Mister Days in 2001 caused consternation among students at George Washington University. An article at the time in The GW Hatchet, the university’s student newspaper, quoted various alumni and students lamenting the shuttering.
“It was a comfortable setting and you could always have fun,” Jim Quinlan, a GW graduate, said at the time. “You could always could walk in there and see your friends and see people you liked.”
After opening in Arlington in 2000, Mister Days has seen a change in Clarendon’s nightlife. Lee said he recalled only Clarendon Grill and Whitlow’s on Wilson being in the area at that time.
But since then, sports-themed bars have popped up across the neighborhood, including The G.O.A.T, which recently opened nearby.
Lee said he has been thinking about changing things up a bit at Mister Days, although he was coy on what might happen.
“I’m going to be making a decision very soon,” he said. “If I decide to stick around, I will do it. But it’s going to require an investment. There’s a lot of things we could improve on here. Do I want to make that commitment of my time, with how much time is left? I’m 78 years old. Maybe it’s time.”