Rudi and friend James sharing breakfast and Capitol Hill stories, May 2014. Photo by María Helena Carey
One of the great stories of Capitol Hill came to its inevitable conclusion this morning. Rudi Appl, longtime bartender at Mr. Henry’s Capitol Hill, passed today at about 10:15 am. He was with a good friend at his side, and had just finished a pleasant phone chat with another.
I came to know Rudi from our family’s weekly trip to Mr. Henry’s kids’ night. By the time I had hustled my kids upstairs, Rudi would have my beer ready to go. It would often beat me to my usual table. Most nights, the crush of kids would keep my interaction with Rudi to a minimum. I’d be in the grown-up section, boisterously discussing the week’s events with other Hill parents. Rudi would be behind the bar, serenely smiling as the latest crop of children sat entranced by an animated film. Even the din of thirty kids emerging from their stupor at the end of the movie could not knock the smile off his face.
But some nights, when it was a little slow or I came early or stayed late, Rudi and I could have a bit of a chat. He had a fascinating history. As a child, he fled war-time Czechoslovakia, and eventually settled with his parents in Canada. He had a variety of adventures before arriving in Washington, DC– amongst them, a stretch in the Canadian Navy. As a Navy vet myself, I enjoyed sharing sea stories. I never caught him out in any lies, and I don’t think he caught mine either, but we enjoyed swapping them.
We saw less and less of Rudi this year as he struggled with health issues, but it was with great delight we saw that the Washington City Paper published a cover story on him this May. We knew we had shared only a small portion of his life, regrettably only toward the end, and I’m glad his friend, longtime businessman and bar owner, Joe Englert was able to fill in the gaps for us. It came as no shock that he was beloved by generations of Hill residents. I was particularly pleased to discover that Rudi shared my dislike of TVs in bars. Apparently, once someone brought a TV to Mr. Henry’s and Rudi “bounced the thing across the sidewalk into an oncoming WMATA bus.”
Physically, it was hard to imagine the old and frail gentleman I knew doing that, but the spirit didn’t surprise me in the least. Well done, Rudi.
Rudi is survived by a nephew and his family in Germany. No word yet on funeral arrangements.