Irish bar Flanagan’s Harp & Fiddle in downtown Bethesda is closing

UPDATED: Flanagan’s Harp & Fiddle in Bethesda is closing

Restaurant, which had been open for 35 years, struggled during COVID-19 pandemic

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Photo by Dan Schere

Correction: This story was updated at 2 p.m. on Sept. 2, 2020 to correct Eric Heckman’s title. 

The story was updated again at 4:12 p.m. to add comments from Greenhill Principal Richard Greenberg. This story was also updated at 7:40 p.m. to add additional comments from Richard Rosenblatt.

The Irish bar Flanagan’s Harp & Fiddle in downtown Bethesda is closing. 

Owners Stephen and Jenny Nugent confirmed to WJLA in a segment posted on Wednesday that the restaurant is closing after 35 years due to challenges from the COVID-19 pandemc.

“Obviously, it’s devastating, but everyone’s in the same boat,” Jenny Nugent told WJLA.

Harp & Fiddle has been in Bethesda for 35 years, and in its current location at 4844 Cordell Ave. for the past 15. It describes itself as the “oldest neighborhood bar” in Bethesda on its website and its “premier music venue.”

The restaurant posted the WJLA story on its Facebook page Wednesday, writing that it would have more information later.

Eric Heckman, the director of music at Caddie’s in Bethesda, wrote on Facebook that Harp & Fiddle’s closing was a “sad day.”

“Steve and Jenny, you guys fought the good fight since the pandemic started. You did more than your share for local healthcare providers and first responders, putting your challenges down the list. Not to be forgotten was your support for local musicians,” he wrote.

The restaurant was being sued by its landlord for not paying its rent.

According to the lawsuit, Celtic Connection LLC, the restaurant’s parent company, has breached its lease with Greenhill Companies by failing to pay its monthly rent and late fees. The complaint states that the restaurant owed its landlord $41,580.80 through June, in addition to rent and other charges that accrue in successive months.

Richard Rosenblatt, an attorney for Harp & Fiddle, told Bethesda Beat on Tuesday that the restaurant typically pays about $15,000 a month in rent.

Rosenblatt said the business took a serious financial hit after bars and restaurants were ordered to close on March 16 — reopening for limited outdoor and indoor seating this summer hasn’t brought back the needed revenue.

Greenhill Principal Richard Greenberg told Bethesda Beat Wednesday afternoon that the landlord tried to strike a deal with Harp & Fiddle, which would have included a lease extension, since there are only a few years left on the lease. Greenberg was not sure when the discussions about the possible deal started. 

Greenberg said that last week, Rosenblatt sent Greenhill’s legal counsel an email that said “the revenues do not cover the expenses with the rent at zero.” 

“When somebody tells you ‘even if you make my rent zero, I can’t afford it,’ there’s not much more I can do,” Greenberg said. 

Greenberg said the legal matter is not concluded, but declined to elaborate. 

“It’s an unfortunate situation, but that’s all I have to say at this time,” he said. 

Rosenblatt said in an interview with Bethesda Beat Wednesday evening that Greenhill offered a forbearance, or partial deferment of rent, in April and May. But he said Harp & Fiddle asked for an abatement — an agreement in which the landlord waives rent for a certain period until a tenant can afford to pay again. 

“These people are done,” Rosenblatt said. “They’ve been put out of business because of the pandemic and the government shutdown. There’s nothing that we can do. The only way it would’ve been feasible is if the landlord would’ve agreed to abate the rent and something could’ve been done along those lines.”

Rosenblatt said that last month, he asked for a termination agreement on the lease, and Greenhill responded by offering a five-year lease extension subject to annual increases. Additionally, the landlord would have had the right to demolish the premises and would have retained ownership of all furniture and fixtures. 

Rosenblatt said he emailed Greenhill, explaining further that Harp & Fiddle couldn’t pay its rent due to the effects of the pandemic and that it wouldn’t stay in business even if the rent was $0. The zero figure, he said, might have been “a little bit hyperbolic, but not a lot.” 

“I basically just said that because they weren’t absorbing the dire circumstances here,” he said. 

Rosenblatt said he hopes to get rid of the lawsuit. 

“The business is shut down because they can’t afford the rent. Nobody can afford to have that space and pay 15K a month. It’s not feasible,” he said.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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