Martin’s Tavern!

Martin’s Tavern!

Photo credit: Janet Donovan

“My grandfather was a very stocky, good looking Irishman with blond hair and I was told at one point that when they were bringing a caravan of whiskey down from up north, there was a scene almost out of Elliott Ness, if you will. The convoy was stopped in the dark of night, a line of headlights went on, stopped the caravan, a voice told everybody to get out of the cars that were bringing the caravan down and had them all line up out front of the headlights. A voice did holler out at that time and said, ‘The stocky guy with the blond hair, you stand over to the side.’ With that, everybody else lost their life. They took these tommy guns and they shot everybody and confiscated and/or stole the whiskey but let my grandfather go. A lot of people asked why do you think or ‘Why was your grandfather spared?’  I think it probably was because Sam Rayburn was one of his best friends and he was very good friends with Lyndon Johnson. I think that just with his connections, to keep from getting any backlash, they let my grandfather go.”  Excerpted from a one on one interview with Billy Martin by Hollywood on the Potomac.  And so began Billy Martin’s Tavern.

Martin’s Tavern

Located in the heart of Georgetown at the corner of Wisconsin and N Street in DC, Billy says: “Martin’s Tavern has been here for 85 years continuously: The same family, the same location, same corner.  What more could we ask for? Martin’s is one of the few Washington, D.C. establishments at the heart of the city since the Great Depression. This is the best party in the city. We like it in February because nobody has anything to do. So what are we doing tonight? This is the customer and employee appreciation party in February, the coldest week ever.  Free food, free drinks.”  And, the staff was off for the night to mingle with their customers.

Georgetowners Council-member Jack Evans and Chip Dent

“First off, let me just welcome everybody here this evening, and thank you for being here for our customer appreciation and employee appreciation party,” Martin told a relaxed crowd.  “I thought I would do this a little early because some people have to get home to their kids and all that good stuff. I have so much to say and I could always speak all night long, but I won’t bore you all because the food’s too good and the drinks are free, so why not get back to that? I’m just glad to have you all here. I also wanted to kind of address the decorations in here, Christmas decorations.Who did those was myself, my wife and Alejandro this year. We left them up because a lot of people wanted us to leave them up, and I’ve even had some very strong requests over here by booth one saying leave them up all year long. Anyway, just wanted to keep you all festive and in the spirit too, just to make you feel good.”  You’ve gotta love a place that leaves their Christmas decorations up!

“Maybe it will snow later tonight and that would be great too. What really makes Martin special is all of you, but it’s also the staff.  I can take and add up the years collectively and I think we’re going to be somewhere close to like almost 500 years of service, so that’s a lot of years. I also want to thank the employees that are working here tonight. They are not my employees, they just come from other places, so that my employees can enjoy themselves this evening.  Georgetown certainly has gone through a lot of different phases over the years and I think if we take a look around the neighborhood now, it’s a little disheartening to see some of the places that have come and see other places that are struggling. It hurts me a little bit to see that because that’s what makes Georgetown so special is to have a lot of the quaint little restaurants, stores and shops and everything. I sit on a couple different boards, as well as the restaurant association. I know they did a big survey recently which was interesting that most of the people said they’d like to see a lot more Martin’s Taverns in Georgetown. So good, casual restaurants. But not WaWa. We got lots of wawa here.”

Linda Roth and Billy Martin

“There’s one other thing that I want to address and I don’t want to get too political, but you know in the city council, I’m all in favor of minimum wage for employees, but they want to do away with tip credit for servers. I don’t know how many people are aware of that, so in other words they want all the servers to go to $15 an hour and they won’t get tips anymore. I think that’s not a good thing, and I just want to bring that to everybody’s attention because I think it will be on a ballot here at some point, and I hope everybody votes no. If you ask my servers, none of them, none of them want to be paid $15 an hour. They want their tips.” Tips, tips, tips chanted the crowd. $15 plus tips.

Martin’s Tavern has served every president from Harry S. Truman (Booth 6) to George W. Bush (Table 12). George H.W. Bush came here many times in the 1970’s when he was CIA Director.  On page 73 of Bill Clinton’s book, My Life, he writes of going to Martin’s as a Georgetown University student. The Proposal Booth is where Senator John F. Kennedy proposed to Miss Jacqueline Lee Bouvier on Wednesday, June 24, 1953.  Ambassador Marion Smoak was here that evening and has told us, “After the Senator proposed, and she accepted, the news ran through the restaurant. That night we didn’t know his future and what it would bring. In hindsight it was great fun to witness a part of history.

Martin’s Tavern’s history as told by Billy Martin, Jr.

A look back at The Proclamation by Mayor Vincent Gray: