For Press Club Bartender, It's Last Call After 49 Years

For Press Club Bartender, It's Last Call After 49 Years
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PHOTO BY NOEL ST. JOHN

The National Press Club recognizes members who have been part of the organization for 25 and 50 years or more as Silver Owls and Gold Owls, respectively. On Wednesday, it honored a man who served many of these members for decades by awarding him the esteemed Gold Owl status and a free lifelong membership to the club.

This new member, Richard “Richie” McClary, served as a bartender for 49 years in The Reliable Source, the press club’s 13th floor bar, before retiring on Dec. 31. The club welcomed him into the Gold Owls despite his career falling just short of the 50-year mark. “He was a living tradition, if you will,” NPC President John Hughes said. “I mean, 49 years, think about it -- to imagine what he has seen and the people that he has seen come through the club. He’s a walking and living encyclopedia of the history of the National Press Club in a major way, and that’s why we really salute him.”

McClary has left behind a legacy of class, a legacy that has made the club a better place for all who walk through its doors, Hughes said.

“Richie was here every single day, and his commitment to quality and being such a top-class individual, I think, resulted in the entire Reliable Source becoming such a great place to be — just a real classy, friendly place,” Hughes said.

Raul Mansilla worked as a fellow bartender with McClary for 18 years, which were always a pleasure, he said. The duo never argued or had any problems, and McClary’s easiness to work with was especially appealing. The D.C. resident knew many of the members and their drink preferences, Mansilla said. For some members, he was like family.

William Watson first met McClary when he joined the club 23 years ago, and the two bonded over their shared South Carolina roots, Watson said. Since then he has watched McClary take exceptional care of all the members with his southern hospitality. In an age when bartenders tend to emphasize their efficiency, McClary added the personality cherished by old-school customers.

“He’s a great guy, and I’m gonna miss the hell out of him,” Watson said.

The Reliable Source’s customers were also important to McClary.

“So the members, they were like family to me,” McClary said. “Yeah, that’s why I stayed so long.”

Mesfin Mekonen, manager of The Reliable Source, said some members came to the bar just to visit with the bartender, and have been asking for him since he retired.

“Everybody has been saying they miss him,” Mekonen said. “Richie’s a friend of everybody I can say. Everyone.”

McClary called in sick his last day of work, which upset customers who came to the bar with gifts, such as bottles of scotch and ties, for the longtime server. One man almost had tears in his eyes when he discovered McClary was not there, Mekonen said.

But the manager told members to bring their gifts to the reception the club hosted Wednesday to honor the retiree. “I am missing him already,” Mansilla said. “I lost my partner. It’s going to be very difficult to fill his position. I don’t think there will be another Richie.”

Some members also will miss McClary’s signature chocolate-lovers martini, Mansilla said.

The bonds forged between bartenders at the club and their patrons run deep. About five years ago Jack Kujawski, another beloved bartender at The Reliable Source, passed away. Kujawski preferred to work with old movies playing in the background, Hughes said, and as a tribute, a television in the bar has played old movies ever since.

“That’s an example of the personality of these bartenders staying in the place long after they leave, and I think we will see that with Richard as well,” Hughes said.

For nearly five decades, McClary was behind the bar during all sorts of discussions at The Reliable Source, Hughes said. But he would never gossip about the news he overheard, which speaks to his professionalism. It’s one reason patrons felt so comfortable coming into Richie’s bar.

“I think that’s the mark that he leaves behind, that classiness that we see in that bar even today,” Hughes said. “… I think he sort of helped establish that culture, and that culture will exist in there for many years to come.”

McClary learned much about journalism as he watched reporters scribbling furiously from across the bar, he said. He would then see their bylines in the paper the next day.      

In the meantime, McClary does not have any specific plans for his retirement-- not yet, anyway. A devoted family man who enjoys cooking, he said he is taking things day by day and listening to his wife.

“It’s been a great run and I enjoyed it, you know. I have no regrets,” the father of two said. “It’s been good. And my wife stuck with me.”

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