Not So Long Ago: Wisconsin and Blues Alley

This week for Not So Long Ago, GM dips below M St. for the first time to check out Wisconsin just south of Blues Alley.

Nowadays it hosts the clothing store slash restaurant Rugby Cafe. It is part of Ralph Lauren and is part of the store’s attempt to target the college-crowd. It must be successful since it seems like Brooks Brothers is trying to cater to that crowd too.

In 1993, it hosted the long-lasting Houston’s restaurant. Houston’s was part of a Phoenix-based national chain, that still has locations across the country, including Bethesda.

It was opened at this location in 19931983. It stayed open until 2001. A representative told the Washington Business Journal that “the company was willing to ‘basically bulldoze’ the property and make a $2 million to $4 million investment to start over. Problems ranged from a shaky staircase to plumbing problems. But after two years of ‘vigorously’ negotiating for an extension, the property owners couldn’t commit to a long-term deal.”

Next door is Filomena. They’ve been open since 1983, so no change there.


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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Not So Long Ago: Wisconsin and Blues Alley

  1. Houston’s was a busy place at lunch time and dinner time. When they closed it left a big void for a long time on this stretch of Wisconsin Avenue. Thank God for Filomena’s……Bill Clinton’s favorite D.C. restaurant, and a big hit around the holidays for locals. Check out their Halloween decorations……always a delight. Also along this block back then was a wonderful toy store operated by Bob and Linda Joy.

  2. George M

    To the extent that your entry is meant to suggest that Houston’s first opened in 1993, that is not correct. I believe it opened around 1982-83. Despite being a chain, it fit in well in the neighborhood and is missed by many locals. That wine bar which originally replaced it was one of the worst restaurants…ever.

  3. Topher

    You’re right George. That was a typo. It should say it was opened in 1983.

  4. I had a friend who was a waiter at Houston’s, and when he quit he threw a party and burned his uniform in the fireplace. (I think they had to wear light blue shirts and khaki pants.) The toy store was The Red Balloon, and Mr. and Mrs. Joy were lovely people. He died in a helicopter crash in 1987 here in D.C. The shop went on for a bit, but then closed. They had such interesting items for sale. I still have some Russian pressed tin wind-up toys I bought there.

  5. Mark

    Yes, the Red Balloon was amazing. I bought a huge number of toys and kaleidoscopes there… and introduced Linda and Bob to a sound kaleidoscope called Stardust, created by Reinhold Marxhausen. They liked it so much they called “Marx” that morning, carried these in this and their newer store over in Tyson’s called…. Stardust. Wonderful people. I was in touch with Linda briefly after Bob’s untimely death.

  6. Mark, I have a Stardust. Thanks for providing the name of the creator. It is still a marvelous object.

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