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Old Ebbitt Grill

The Old Ebbitt Grill, Washington’s oldest, most historic saloon, was founded in 1856. According to legend, innkeeper William E. Ebbitt bought a boarding house at that time, but no one today can pinpoint its exact location. It was most likely on the edge of present-day Chinatown, somewhere near the MCI Center.

 

As a boarding house, the Ebbitt guest list read like a Who’s Who of American History. President McKinley is said to have lived there during his tenure in Congress. Presidents Grant, Andrew Johnson, Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and Harding supposedly refreshed themselves at its stand-around bar.

 

Each table in the Ebbitt was graced by a blue history card that read: "Many other famous statesmen, naval and military heroes, too numerous to mention here, have been guests of the house."

 

Evolving to a higher form, Old Ebbitt became Washington’s first known saloon. And as the years passed, it moved to a number of new locations.

 

By the early 20th century, it had found its way to what is now the National Press Building at 14th and F Streets, N.W. Two saloons co-existed in the Press Building at the time, a Dutch room and an Old English room. During the 1920s, when the Ebbitt moved to a converted haberdashery at 1427 F Street, N.W., the legacies of these Dutch and English bars were combined into a single Old Ebbitt Grill.

 

The F Street location was just two doors away from the Rhodes Tavern, which occupied the northeast corner of F and 15th Streets. Having a considerable history of its own, its bar was reportedly the site where British generals toasted one another as they watched The White House burn during the War of 1812.

 

By 1970, the Old Ebbitt Grill had fallen on hard times and an auction was held to satisfy a federal tax claim. When the auction was announced, Stuart Davidson (1922 - 2001) and John Laytham, owners of a newer Washington institution, Clyde's of Georgetown, expressed an interest in buying the Ebbitt’s collection of antique beer steins to display at Clyde's.

 

But when auction proceeds fell short of the lien on the property, bidding began again, but this time on the entire contents. And suddenly, for $11,200, the two partners unexpectedly found themselves owners of a second saloon, the Old Ebbitt Grill.

 

They got a lot of history and myth for their money.

 

In 1983, the Old Ebbitt Grill was uprooted one last time. The building was razed, and Old Ebbitt moved around the corner to its current location at 675 15th Street, N.W., to the Beaux-Arts building that was once the old B. F. Keith's Theater. Bringing its rich history with it, the "new" Old Ebbitt remains a virtual saloon Smithsonian.

 

The moves and their history have amassed a priceless collection of antiques and memorabilia. Along the way, Old Ebbitt acquired beer steins, animal heads (reputedly bagged by Teddy Roosevelt), and wooden bears said to have been imported by Alexander Hamilton for his private bar. Unfortunately, many artifacts were beyond preserving, unable to weather the 1983 move just around the corner. Said architect John Richards Andrews at the time, "We tried to bring the spirit of the place without some of the old details."

 

Today the Victorian interior evokes Washington saloons at the turn of the century. The antique clock over the revolving door at the entrance is an heirloom from the previous location, and the marble staircase with an iron-spindled rail was salvaged from the old National Metropolitan Bank next door.

 

The mahogany Old Bar is a copy of the bar at the F Street location, which had rotted beyond repair. In an alcove near the bar and foyer, paintings by Kamil Kubik show the Ebbitt at its prior F Street location. The three carved glass panels separating the Old Bar from the Main Dining Room were done by Charles B. Shefts, who carved the mirrors and windows as well. The panels depict the Treasury, the Capitol, and the White House.

 

Around the corner from the Old Bar is the famous Oyster Bar, featuring paintings by marine artist Peter Egeli and Chesapeake Bay watercolorist J. Robert Burnell. The Oyster Bar features an array of exceptional oysters and winning wines from the annual Old Ebbitt Grill International Wines for Oysters Competition.

 

On the left of the foyer and up the fi ve marble stairs is the newest addition to the Ebbitt, the Corner Bar. This federal-style room is reminiscent of a downtown club with spirit of the Chesapeake Bay. Paintings of waterfowl hunting by Richmond, Virginia artist Claiborne D. Gregory, Jr. and a museumquality collection of decoys convey the relaxed and timeless comfort and camaraderie of an Eastern Shore hunt club.

 

Antique gas chandeliers and fixtures light the Main Dining Room. The wooden crossbeams on the 10-foot ceilings are accented by a style of pinstripe stenciling popular at the turn of the century. The chairs in the dining room are copies of antique Victorian bentwood chairs from a New York Central Railroad dining car, replicated by furniture manufacturer Shelby Williams. Paintings by Kamil Kubik on the north wall depict festive, patriotic scenes near The White House and near the Supreme Court and Library of Congress. Also on the north wall opposite the rear booths hangs a large oil painting entitled "Three Bathers" by American artist Howard Chandler Christy.

 

Beyond the English lace curtains at the rear windows is the Atrium Dining Room, where the feeling of outdoor dining can be experienced year-round. The Atrium is adorned with plush leather banquettes and cozy wicker captain's chairs, and decorated with original sculptures by Washington artist John Dreyfuss. Opening into the Atrium is the Ebbitt Express, which offers exceptional carryout fare weekdays until 5 pm.

 

Flanking the other side of the Atrium is Grant’s Bar with its ceiling mural by New Jersey artist Carol Loeb and an artistic rendering by Peter Egeli of the famous Matthew Brady photograph of General Grant. An oil painting behind the bar of a nude reclining near a lily pond was painted about 1900 by Jean-Paul Gervais.

 

In 1994, Clyde's Restaurant Group commissioned Nantucket artist James Harrington - a selftaught, impressionist painter - to capture unofficial Washington. The results of his sojourn in the capital may be seen in paintings throughout the restaurant.

 

No tour of the restaurant is complete without a glimpse into the handsome private dining room downstairs. The Cabinet Room features six paintings of game birds by Robin Hill, one of the world's most distinguished bird painters and artists.

 

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Taken on January 7, 2007