By Cindy Brookshire
Inside the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, near U.S. Marine Corps Base Quantico, Tun Tavern restaurant is a living replica of a historic moment.
There you will find a beloved touchstone: the Philadelphia public house of the same name where, legend has it, the first Marines were recruited on Nov. 10, 1775.
“Marines joke about being born in a bar, but in those days, public houses were meeting places for John Adams and the rest of the founding fathers,” explained retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Robert Blackman, president and CEO of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation. The foundation oversees the museum and contracts American professional services provider Aramark to manage its concessions, including Tun Tavern and the base’s cafeteria-style mess hall. It also handles the foundation’s catering services for tour groups, reunions and business and social events.
“We get a little over 500,000 visitors a year at the museum and many of them take the opportunity to come here at lunch … perhaps for a beer or a glass of wine and get a feel for what that very historic tavern might have looked like,” said Blackman.
The tavern, which is cozy and dark, seats about 30 people at wooden tables and booths. “This is a great atmosphere for a Basic School class reunion, or a farewell dinner,” said Blackman. “We can open the tavern for drinks, go next door [to the mess hall]for a sit-down dinner or down to the [museum’s] Leatherneck Gallery for a catered event.”
Faces of Famous Marines
Tun Tavern’s focal point, however, is not the bar, but a mural that depicts famous Marines through the ages.
“I have always loved history,” said bartender Robert LaChance, who dons colonial attire daily at the restaurant, but has never worn a U.S. Marine uniform. LaChance, who was previously employed as a mechanical engineer, said he has logged more than 1,000 hours in his spare time as a volunteer docent at the museum. He gives lively presentations, whenever his daily 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. restaurant shift allows, about the 22 faces featured in the mural, painted by former Stafford resident Robbie McCord (now in St. Louis).
“The artist didn’t want to show generals and commandants as dock workers and merchant seamen. So everyone is dressed as gentlemen,” LaChance explained. Among those he pointed out in the painting: Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller, one of the most (if not the most) decorated U.S. Marines in the corps’ history; John Glenn, retired U.S. Marine Corps pilot, astronaut and U.S. senator, and “Pappy” Boyington, the highly decorated “Black Sheep” squadron leader and World War II flying ace.
“About seven years ago, one of the figures [painted]walked in the tavern and pointed himself out [in the mural],” said LaChance. It was Rodney “Rocky” Sickmann, who, in 1979 as a Marine sergeant, was held captive for 444 days during the Iran Hostage Crisis, depicted in the 2012 Academy Award-winning film, “Argo.”
Doubles as Exhibit
The mural is among numerous historical tributes the tavern displays. According to LaChance, Tun Tavern is only the second restaurant in the U.S. to double as an exhibit inside a museum. The other is the Cubi Bar Cafe inside the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla., he said. It mirrors the Officers’ Club at now closed Naval Base Subic Bay in the Philippines.
Members of the Masons of Pennsylvania presented the National Museum of the Marine Corps with a miniature replica, displayed over Tun Tavern’s bar, of the original tavern, considered Masonic Lodge #1 because the Freemasons first met there in 1732. A much larger replica in the hall at Tun Tavern’s entrance commemorates the U.S. Marine Corps’ 230th birthday, on Nov. 10, 2005. Marine Lt. Col. Jeffery Johnson built and donated it, along with its handmade display case.
A print of an oil painting that Marine Corps veteran Marjorie Alexander, of Denver, Colo., painted three years ago at the age of 87 also hangs on a wall in the restaurant. The Women Marines Association donated the print to the museum in honor of the association’s 50th anniversary. On another wall, a framed print of the painting “Happy Hour,” by U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Bill Cody, depicts Marines, in historically accurate uniforms from all eras, gathered in camaraderie in a tavern.
Would You Like Beef and Brew with that History?
The “Bill of Fare,” Tun Tavern’s menu, is workingman simple.
“There are people who are absolutely devoted to certain menu items,” said Blackman. “One of our board members claims to come down from D.C. to see me, but I suspect he comes for the Devil Dog Chili.”
The “Philly Steak and Cheese” sandwich is also popular, as is the “Yorktown Chicken Salad” sandwich. Chef Kris Sandbakken added a “New York-style Reuben” to this year’s menu, and continues to flame-broil half-pound Black Angus burgers.
Sides range from corn bread or sweet potato fries to Old Bay potato chips.
“The Tavern features Virginia ham, and we try to source our vegetables locally when our purveyor has them to offer,” said Aramark General Manager Gene McKnight. Two other entrées are roast turkey with pan gravy and a fish and chips platter.
“Our biggest ‘bell’ would be our special events. The wine dinners and beer dinners have really resonated with our patrons,” added McKnight.
He asked LaChance to pour a glass of “Jarhead Red,” produced “by Marines for Marines” at Firestone Family’s Curtis Winery in California. Net proceeds from the wine’s sales support the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, which provides educational assistance to children of U.S. Marines, with special consideration given to families of fallen Marines. The tavern also serves wines from Ingleside Vineyards, located outside Fredericksburg, and offers Anheuser-Busch beers.
For desserts, Chef Sandbakken tops warm plates of bread pudding, apple cobbler or chocolate brownie with scoops of vanilla ice cream, drizzled with caramel or chocolate sauce.
Tun Tavern’s service and atmosphere is friendly. “We’re like family here. I love going around and talking to everybody,” LaChance said.
In 2015, construction will begin on the museum’s expansion. Besides additional exhibit and educational space, a giant-screen theater and an art gallery, more room is planned for Tun Tavern.
That space is needed; as pilgrimages to the restaurant increase, so do historical tributes, stated Blackman, who also encouraged local tourism, saying that weekend traffic into Washington, D.C., can be worse than weekday rush hour. “The museum is such a great place that’s largely traffic-free for the citizens of Stafford and Prince William and Fairfax,” he said.
For more information about Tun Tavern, visit www.marinemuseumdining.com or call 703-649-2369.
Manassas resident Cindy Brookshire is a frequent contributor to Prince William Living. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.