Three of Capitol Hill’s neighborhood icons have now been gutted by fire in the past five years. How the first two have been resurrected — and what might happen to the third — offer clues about how much the community closest to Congress will evolve in the coming decade.
Eastern Market, spectacularly gutted in 2007, has been restored to almost all of its airy 19th-century Italianate magnificence — with just enough modernized ventilation, circulation and sanitation to assure it will continue to be a prime reason so many young couples make the Hill their home.
More than for the cheese monger, the rival butchers or the “blueberry bucks” on Saturdays, the market looks to have a long life as the Hill’s vibrant town square, where senators and sanitation workers can sample produce and trade small talk without worry the scene will turn political.
The Tune Inn, severely damaged by a smoky kitchen blaze two years ago, got back in business after a somewhat different reconstruction. Opened right after World War II, it became notorious as the top dive bar within walking distance of the Capitol and the best place for aides and interns to wash down a decent patty melt with a shot and a cheap beer.
Some of that vibe, highlighted by its collection of taxidermy, is still there. But so are logo T-shirts and coffee mugs, microbrews, chrome-and-black booths and wood-paneled walls that gleam because of their varnish instead of the old grease. And a segment on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” has only intensified the feeling that the bar has left the old neighborhood to become a beacon of Capitol Hill as tourist destination.
Now the creosote-encrusted husk of Frager’s Hardware — nine blocks out Pennsylvania Avenue from the Tune Inn and a five-minute walk from Eastern Market — has the chance to become a proving ground for whether the Hill of the middle 21st century is more about community or kitsch.