This week, friend of GM and fellow Georgetown blogger, Carol Joynt, published her first book. It’s a memoir of her life, particularly her life after her husband, Howard Joynt, died and left her in serious trouble with the IRS.
At the center of the book is the story of Nathans. And GM’s going to take this chance to look back on his coverage of the demise of that neighborhood institution. After getting some of your memories stoked, go out and pick up a copy of Carol’s book.
GM wasn’t around Georgetown for Nathan’s glory days, but a couple years ago he dug up an odd little snippet of those days:
Canadian Club hid a case of its liquor somewhere in the District. Where was it?
Start at a place that was named for America’s most important city. See where a bark takes you. From there, go to what you can’t miss. When you have arrived, face in the direction of a past scandal that was uncovered and made public. Turn in the opposite direction and make tracks for a nearby Metro station. Ride three stops.
Come up and then find the way to a famous ending. Continue in the most obvious direction, when you know the time is right. Before it’s too late, head for the nearest bridge that can take you over water. If it becomes impossible to continue in a straight line, go toward a body of water and find a spot with three banks. From the highest bank, go in the direction of a bridge. When you’ve reach it, walk back 100 paces and you’ll be right over the hidden treasure: a whole case of Canadian Club.
It’s all yours if you’re first to find the person in charge and say, “C.C. please” with feeling.
So where was that case of Canadian Club?
While most people remember Nathans for its days as a nightspot, GM was way more fond of the place for being somewhere he could stroll in on a weekend, sit at the bar, get a good breakfast, and probably meet someone new. It’s that Nathans that GM praised in 2009 when he named Nathans the fourth best thing he liked about the neighborhood:
Nathans is not the nicest restaurant in Georgetown. It’s not the oldest restaurant in Georgetown. And it’s not the most popular restaurant in Georgetown. But what it is is the most improbable restaurant in Georgetown.
Why improbable? It’s sitting on one of the most expensive and sought after corners in Georgetown. It’s constantly surrounded by tourists and suburbanite teens out shopping at stores they could probably find in the suburbs.
Yet despite all of that, it still continues as a quiet and peaceful refuge and a local favorite. Saddle up the the bar on a Sunday and you’ll eventually see someone you recognize come through the doors. Better yet, come to a Q & A Cafe and you’ll probably recognize your fellow diners from the neighborhood and the guest from TV (and perhaps also from the neighborhood).
Unfortunately, a just a few months later, that improbability ran out and GM found himself writing an obituary for the dearly departed Nathans:
Reading up for this piece, GM glanced through the Washington Post archives for mentions of Nathans. He came across one article in particular that caught his eye from 1985. It told the story of one weekend night in Ronald Reagan’s Georgetown. Apparently parking along M and Wisconsin was severely restricted at the time and MPD was towing cars and giving out jaywalking tickets (they even set up a temporary police station in the Riggs Bank parking lot). ABRA and DCRA were also out giving citations for alcohol and health code violations, respectively. The effort was an attempt to dull Georgetown’s rowdy reputation.
What caught GM’s eye was how the article rattled off old names no longer around like Swenson’s, Annie’s, Friends of Georgetown and the Key Theater.
And now Nathans.
GM took one final trip to Nathans that weekend. The place was lively than he had seen it in years, and it was heartbreaking to realize that it was all about to end: