Tune Inn Fire: Capitol Hill Bar Burns

WASHINGTON -- The Tune Inn, a legendary dive bar on Capitol Hill, has sustained damage from a fire Wednesday morning, Twitter has been reporting.

The extent of the damage was initially reported as catastrophic by distraught fans of the bar, but the front of the establishment remains largely undamaged. A grease fire was contained to the kitchen, staff told The Huffington Post.

Pete Piringer, chief spokesperson and interim director of public information for the District of Columbia Fire and EMS Department, said the Fire Dept. received a call from staff at around 7:15 a.m., and the department sent 75 firefighters to put out the blaze.

"We got there and there was heavy smoke coming from the kitchen area," Piringer told The Huffington Post. "The fire appeared to extend along the duct work along the roof area. There was smoke in the adjoining businesses. It took about 10 or 15 minutes to contain the fire."

There have been conflicting reports on Tune Inn's plans to reopen. Staff told HuffPost the bar could be open within two weeks, but D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells (D) tweeted that the bar would reopen "in couple months," adding in another tweet that the "kitchen [was a] total loss but staff alertly shut door to bar containing fire and saving the rest." Wells also shared a photo of the scene.

D.C. Fire Department said the cause of the fire was accidental and put the damage at $75,000. There were no injuries, according to the department. Some of the firemen who put the fire out are Tune Inn regulars.

The bar occupies a unique space outside the standard orbit of Washington's power center, playing host to locals and politicians alike who are more interested in boozing than schmoozing. It was recently the subject of a Food Network program and is regularly named one of the best bars in America by Esquire.

Carl Hulse, a congressional reporter for The New York Times and perhaps the Tune Inn's most frequent attendee, told HuffPost:

I actually saw it as the fire trucks were arriving this a.m. as I was on my way to a softball practice. I think my heart stopped. It is a dark day on Capitol Hill when the Tune Inn is out of commission even temporarily. It is as least as important an institution as the Supreme Court. There are some irreplaceable artifacts in there so I hope those are okay. But I am sure it will rise again – you can’t burn the character – or the characters – out of a place like that.

The night that Democrats finally passed health care reform in the spring of 2010, a large portion of the caucus walked down Pennsylvania Avenue to celebrate at the Tune Inn, a scene captured in HuffPost's coverage of the reform fight:

Raul Grijalva is sitting quietly with a few of his staffers at one end of the bar, a bottle of Bud and a shot of whiskey in front of him, while his fellow Democratic members of the House of Representatives roar in celebration at the other end. It's 1 a.m. Less than two hours earlier, after a 14-month battle, Congress approved comprehensive health care reform.

Joe Crowley, ascendant leader of the New Democrat Coalition, stands behind the bar, passing out beers to his colleagues -- Bart Stupak, Melissa Bean, Steve Driehaus, John Larson. Crowley owns the place, his six-foot-four frame and Tyrannosaurus head towering over the crush of members, staffers, reporters and regulars.

Grijalva is a regular. So much so that for weeks, a cartoon caricature of him hung on a wall by the front door: a shirtless Grijalva, at the beach, admiring a sandcastle he has built with Lynn Woolsey and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. None of them see the menacing gang of senators marching their way. In the unsubtle tradition of political cartoons, the sandcastle spells out PUBLIC OPTION. The cartoon, fittingly, has been taken down before tonight. "We're commiserating and celebrating," says Grijalva, whose mood is leaning heavily toward the former.

Former Republican National Committee Communications Director Doug Heye, who would frequent the Tune Inn during Michael Steele's tenure at the RNC, said in an email:

In the summer of 1991, my brother took my father and I there the day before my first internship. My father went to see what songs he could play on the jukebox, which then played mostly country music 45s. As waitress barked at him that he was taking up the entire aisle, I thought, "This is a good place."

Bill Burton, former Obama Deputy Press Secretary and another frequenter of the Tune Inn, said in an email:

I was there with Kirstin Brost and Katie Sieben after attending a counter-protest at the Naval Observatory for Vice President Gore when news came that the Supreme Court had ultimately made its determination about the 2000 election. But even on that terrible day, despite my heartburn, the burgers were still as perfect as ever.

Several politicians and prominent Washington figures also weighed in on Twitter Wednesday.

The Huffington Post held its 2010 Washington holiday party at the Tune Inn.

Sam Stein, Dave Jamieson, Jason Cherkis and Arthur Delaney contributed to this report.