(Updated a 9:45 p.m.) Mister Days shuttered its doors this weekend, but not before toasting the bar’s 43 years in D.C. and Arlington with a pair of final parties on Friday and Saturday.
Lee told ARLnow that the closing was “bittersweet” and that he plans to focus full-time on resolving some ongoing health issues.
“Hopefully a couple months from now and I get past those issues and then I’ll figure it out,” he said of his future.
The long-time bar celebrated its celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2017 after opening in 1977 in the Dupont Circle area, then moving to Georgetown, and finally settling in Arlington in 2001.
“I used to like to take like an acorn and build an oak tree,” he said. “You get a little idea and it’s kind of crazy but it works.”
Hundreds filled the bar over the course of Friday night to watch a game and drink cold beer from the ice buckets perspiring on the wooden tables. Some flew in from as far as California for last call, and well-wishers from all over the country called Lee several times during this reporter’s interview.
And as the beer flowed through the night, so did the stories.
Carol started as a bartender at Mister Days 34 years ago when she said most of the work women could find in D.C. was for typists. But once she started working for Lee, she said she found friends that made her stick around there ever since.
Mike Rowe bartended at Mister Days’ original D.C. location for 20 years and joked that Lee never fired him even though, “I was late every day. Every day.” Rowe carried in his back pocket a faded, 30-year old thank you letter from Lee’s daughter.
“He’s the only man I know who was successful in an alley,” said Michael Tramonte, of the Tramonte family that owned Georgetown’s Bayou nightclub and currently owns The Italian Store in Lyon Village and Westover.
Mikey Berra, who ran the Kennedy Center backstage, said he used to bring performers to Mister Days and it’s “unbelievable” to think the bar lasted all these years.
“It was a home,” Berra said. “You got to meet so many friends, it was like family. I got to show people our home.”
Every current or former employee who spoke with ARLnow said that Lee had done them a favor, or knew of favors he had done others. Tramonte said he knew the bar owner had helped workers with bills, and rent.
“It was never a loan,” he said. “It was a gift.”
Joe Sweeny also bartended at the D.C. location, a job he said Lee gave him even though he knew was going to leave it within a year.
“Lee is one of the better characters in the business in the last 50 years,” said Sweeney, adding that because of his personality, “They had everyone from Supreme Court justices to homeless people in the bar.”
Jeff Surdyk said he met Lee in the D.C. alley outside Mister Days when he parked his 1948 antique MG and Lee talked a police officer out of ticketing Surdyk.
“He wasn’t warm and fuzzy,” said Surdyk. “But he was all about family. The people who came in were family.”
Lee sold the Clarendon bar’s furniture, fixtures, and some equipment last month to chef Patrick Crump of the Clarendon Grill, which closed in October.
Lee is subletting the space to the new group, and keeping the “Mister Days” brand name in case he wants to launch future projects.
Closer to the crush by the bar, 15-year Mister Days patron Kyle Zinn sat with a group of friends and told ARLnow that it was the simple things that kept him coming back after all these years.
“The beer is cheap. The food is good. People are honest with you,” said Zinn.
“I used to come here all the time so I thought why don’t I work here?” said Zinn’s friend Nick Flynn. Lee hired Flynn as a part-time bouncer while in need of cash as a grad student.
Upstairs where the lights were dimmer, groups of college kids and young professionals gathered in tight groups to chat and look out over the balcony, as similar groups have done over the decades.
Two of them, John and April, leaned against the mirror by the far wall toying with their straws and enjoying a first date during an evening of lasts.
John said Mister Days had a “small place in my heart” from when he and his friends used to stop by every day “happy hour until closing.”
“It’s my first time here,” said April.
“First and last,” John joked.
“Now I’m kind of sad,” she said.
The DJ queued up the Counting Crows as the night wore on, and Adam Duritz’s words followed some departing patrons out into the night rain: “Don’t it always seem to go/That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til its gone.”