National Press Club

Club bartender Richard McClary hangs up the bar towel

January 6, 2016 | By Ferdous Al-Faruque | alfaruque@gmail.com

Longtime National Press Club night bartender Richard McClary retired in December after 49 years at the Club.

Longtime National Press Club night bartender Richard McClary retired in December after 49 years at the Club.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

On Fridays when I log off from work, I often tell my editor I'm signing off to dig into some National Press Club tacos and get some much needed R&R -- Richard McClary and Raul Mansilla, the Club’s night bartenders. Unfortunately for me and many Club members, McClary has decided it's time to hang up the bar towel and get some R&R of his own.

After 49 years at the Club, McClary, better known as “Rich” or “Richie” to Club members, retired on Dec. 31. The Club is hosting a reception to honor McClary at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13, in the First Amendment Lounge. The event is open to Club members only.

Over the decades, everybody at the Club has treated him well and he's gotten to know many members like family, McClary said.

"It's been a good run really, and that's why I stayed this long," he said. "It wasn't like coming to work; it was different."

Before starting on the Club staff as a 21-year-old bar-back in 1967, Richard worked for Thomasville Furniture in North Carolina.

"The area I worked in, they called it the rough end," he said. "It’s the area where they glued and snapped all the wood together and sawed them [into shape]."

But then McClary said all the jobs moved to China, and he decided to stay with family in Maryland, while he worked in Washington. Eventually, he moved in with a friend from South Carolina before finding his own apartment on 15th St., N.W.

"Back then [rent] wasn't so bad, and it was convenient, too," he said.

Initially, McClary had no plans to stay in Washington and intended to move back to North Carolina. But he eventually came to feel at home in the nation's capital and decided to put down roots.

McClary worked for more than five years as a full-time bar-back, covering other people's shifts when they were sick or on vacation while also working banquets. When another bartender moved on, he seized the opportunity to become a full-time bartender and has held that position for 44 years.

Despite all the years of experience in the business, McClary doesn't have a very discriminating palate. He doesn't care too much for bourbon or gin. He occasionally drinks vodka but generally prefers to stick with beer or scotch.

"If I go to a bar, I'll just order regular Scotch,” he said. “But if I'm going to buy some, I'll get some Dewar's White Label."

Over the years, McClary has seen presidents, politicians, sports personalities and other celebrities come and go through the Club, but they don't usually come up to the bar. The celebrity he would have liked to meet was David Letterman.

"I used to watch him every night before I went to bed, but now when the news goes off I turn off the TV," he added. "I liked old grumpy."

Richard has also been an eyewitness to some of the most critical moments in Washington’s and the country's history. He watched journalists diligently carry on with their duties, such as in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the Washington riots following Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination.

"I guess being a private club, there was no commotion here, it was kind of normal," he said. "But outside it was kind of tense."

McClary has two daughters, one of whom lives with him and his wife of 42 years, Loraine. He also has a sister in Philadelphia, another in Maryland and a brother near Florence, N.C. When he told his family he planned to retire, they were all surprised because they couldn't believe he would ever leave the Club.

A few years ago, when another beloved Club bartender, Jack Kujawski, passed away, McClary said it made him start thinking about retiring. He couldn't find the right time until now. When asked if he would have stayed if Kujawski were still around, McClary said he may have remained another year.

As for retirement, McClary has no concrete plans. For now, he will watch a little TV and try stay active.

"I don't want to be a couch potato, I'll find something to do," McClary said.