It’s Monday afternoon, and I’m seated at the end of the bar at Post Pub, the downtown dive left for dead in the first months of the pandemic. As best as I can tell, I’m the only person at the bar knocking back a glass of water with lunch. The rest of the crew are day drinkers, the kind that fueled this place for decades, back in the era when a couple of martinis at noon marked you as a red-blooded American, not some slacker looking to nap away the afternoon in a comfortable chair.
Elton John and Dua Lipa’s “Cold Heart,” with its “Rocket Man” riff, plays on the sound system, which is almost too on the nose for a historic pub that has been dragged into the modern age, one with a distinctly electronic pulse. The Post Pub’s new owner, Jeremy Wladis, is a New Yorker who wanted to give the place a second life. He wasn’t a regular at the pub. You wouldn’t have found him perched on a bar stool on a random Saturday, watching the game with a cold pint in hand. He’s too busy. He has pizzerias, taverns and neighborhood restaurants to run, in three cities, including Washington and Charlotte.
But Wladis has a history of saving restaurants that have hit their golden years, unsure whether they’re still viable to a younger generation. He entered the picture too late to save the Post Pub before its previous owner, Bob Beaulieu, turned in his keys to the landlord. But as soon as he signed a lease for the L Street NW space, Wladis reached out to Beaulieu, hoping to resurrect the pub’s good name. Wladis went through an intermediary, the Budweiser rep for the Post Pub, which is just so perfect.
Wladis bought the company from Beaulieu and brought the former owner on as a consultant, even if the New Yorker had his own ideas on how to run the pub. The first thing Wladis did was rip up the wall-to-wall carpeting, probably still damp from all the spilled beer. He decluttered the walls and painted them white, which has effectively stripped the pub of its man-cave ambiance, circa 1971. He has even installed an international beer can collection on narrow shelves that circle parts of the dining room. The cans were collected over many decades by his father-in-law, the late Bob Seefeldt, husband to Kathy, a former chair of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors.
The new owner has revamped the menu, too. He’s added an organic brick chicken, a tuna steak and kimchi sandwich, and a Beyond Burger. He’s installed a Wow Bao ghost kitchen, which packages pot stickers, bao buns and bowls for delivery but allows sit-down diners to order the dishes, too. There’s a QR code on the menu cover, in the space where you once gazed at an illustration of a Victorian gentleman posing with his penny-farthing.
The changes have an odd effect: The name of the place remains the same, and you can still feel the presence of old dive-bar ghosts, smoker’s hack and all, hovering just beneath the surface of these efforts to class up the joint. There’s a tension that remains unresolved with the new Post Pub. It hangs onto the past and embraces the future, seemingly unsure of which one is the best path forward.
I’m sympathetic. One universal truth to aging, whether person or place, is that you adapt or die. The behaviors that worked when you were young don’t necessarily do the trick in your later years. The pandemic killed Beaulieu’s business. It did something different to me: It killed my desire to drink. I haven’t had a beer or cocktail since November 2020, after I recovered from covid. My mind sometimes aches for the free, unfettered highs fueled by alcohol, but my body knows better. I listen to my body.
I mention this because of a fear that haunts me as much as any ghost from dive bars past: that it’s impossible to enjoy a dive without booze. This is very meta, but I wondered not only if I would like the changes at the Post Pub, but whether I would like the changes in myself at the Post Pub. Or would it all just make me yearn for a past that’s no longer attainable?
As much as I believe a good IPA pairs well with a burger, its bitter edge slicing through the grease, I was more than content with my Stella Artois Liberté (0 percent alcohol) to wash down the Len Hochberg burger, a juicy patty topped with blue cheese and a dark mass of sauteed mushrooms. It’s worth noting that most of the sandwiches here are named for columnists, editors and reporters (emphasis on the sports beat) who once toiled at The Washington Post.
The standard-issue burger is named for — who else? — Tom Hamburger, the investigative journalist who might want to suss out what happened to the seasoning on his patty. The Shirley Povich fried chicken sandwich is as tasty as the time the sportswriter mocked Washington’s all-White home team by noting that “Jim Brown, born ineligible to play for the Redskins, integrated their end zone three times yesterday.” The pedestrian Ben Bradlee burger features a Beyond Meat patty, which must be a cosmic joke on the legendary editor whose favorite dish was chopped steak at Nora’s.
The organic lemon-thyme brick chicken looks the part, its exterior a succulent shade of golden brown, but the meat suffers from the same lack of seasoning that affected the Tom Hamburger. A similar absent-mindedness seeps into the Wow Bao dishes, too: My anemic, possibly freezer-burned chicken-and-vegetable pot stickers were served without a dipping sauce, and my spicy kung pao chicken bowl had no peanuts and only trace amounts of the star protein. I had to content myself with the Post Pub’s hand-battered onion rings, as poundable as ever.
As I sat in the pub one afternoon, talking to bartender Adam Stinelli about his affection for George Pelecanos novels, I realized that you can seek shelter in a dive bar without the assistance of alcohol. You can get lost in the people and their stories. This may take time with the new Post Pub: Its staff includes no holdovers from the first incarnation, and its owner makes infrequent appearances, unlike Beaulieu, who was a daily presence at his bar.
But as Stinelli explains the lawless U Street vibe of “The Sweet Forever” while I sip on ginger ale, I see perhaps the real purpose of neighborhood pubs, dives or otherwise: to foster connection with a fellow traveler, if only for a few minutes. Alcohol often makes those connections easier, but it’s not necessary. And neither is a space tied to another era. With luck, the new Post Pub will find its own audience, one that won’t be able to live without it in 40 years.
1422 L St. NW, 202-990-7782; postpubdc.com.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Nearest Metro: Farragut Square or McPherson Square, with a short walk to the pub.
Prices: $5.99 to $29 for all items on the menu.