For years the owners of the Sheppard knew its Dupont Circle days were numbered because of an incoming hotel project, but now the speakeasy has a definitive closing date: Friday, January 25.
Upon opening in 2014, the intimate second-story hideaway at 1337 Connecticut Avenue NW slowly became a word-of-mouth place to step back in time — handwritten cocktail menus, a lack of food, an old-timey soundtrack, and flickering candles all created a dark bordello vibe.
But it will soon be time to say goodbye to the tiny throwback bar — for now.
“Our time in Dupont has come to a close,” co-owner David Strauss confirmed to Eater via email on Tuesday.
In 2016, The Sheppard received news a hotel group was taking over their building, and they’d be asked to leave once renovations started. After playing a waiting game with the building management for over two years, the notice to vacate finally arrived this month.
The Sheppard doesn’t have a new home locked down yet, but the team is circling in on a handful of sites in the West End, Truxton Circle, and Shaw for the new location. Strauss says he hopes to open the Sheppard 2.0 in six months.
“With all the expansion in D.C., previously unthought of neighborhoods are open to us now,” he says.
The new Sheppard will likely stay at around 40 seats — “the compact size and intimate space is part of its charm,” Strauss notes — and sport the same 1920s-era look.
“We are removing, storing, and reusing as many of the fixtures as possible to have a sense of continuity in the look and design of new Sheppard,” he says.
True to speakeasy form, the Sheppard has no signage or windows, and patrons accessed the mystery bar via a rickety elevator. For the final night, Sheppard will take reservations for three different seatings, followed by a standing room-only open bar until last call. Invitations are expected to go live on social media this week.
Those looking for a continued taste of the Sheppard can head to 1-year-old sister bar Morris inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, a twice-as-large glamorous destination for cocktails with modernized in-house ice production (1020 Seventh Street NW).
The bars’ combined names are an ironic ode to Morris Sheppard, the Texas senator who penned the Prohibition amendment. Both are backed by celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn, who befriended Strauss during his Culinary Institute days in New York, as well as business partner Vinoda Basnayake.
Mendelsohn originally ran the Sheppard and handed the keys and operation over to Strauss in 2016 to shift attention to Morris. Strauss originally took over the Sheppard as a “Band-Aid” bar until Morris arrived, but later opted to keep Sheppard alive as long as possible and let both co-exist.
“It is very bittersweet for me and the staff, but all good things must end, and recreating the Sheppard is my next endeavor,” Strauss says.
Strauss, who’s worked on bar programs at Petworth Citizen and Le Diplomate, says he plans to revive a handwritten daily menu of a few simple staff suggestions at the new Sheppard.