Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Know When To Fold 'Em
Or Butt Out

I had to be out on the road yesterday (cue to Willie Nelson), and while I was on the move I popped into a local Tastee Diner for a repast. Welcome to Tastee Diner

Tastee Diner-- Laurel, Maryland

I was told the restaurant was under new management and Michael (management) came by my booth to make sure I knew the new rules. As of Sunday, January 1st, there was no longer any smoking in the restaurant, but amenities were provided outside.

Thank you!

It's interesting to reflect on these cultural changes since Prince George's County used to be one of the largest tobacco growing areas of the world.

Tobacco Drying Barn

If you are down in the lower part of the county, you can still see tobacco drying barns out in the fields, and I re
member being taken out of the city to witness a tobacco auction as a child. It was fascinating.

Auctioning Tobacco

I was sure the manager was going to launch into a diatribe with me about how this ban was going to affect his restaurant, since it's heavily populated with truckers and blue-collar workers, but instead he told me he was glad they had banned smoking as it's "an addiction, and if someone can't make it through a meal without having a cigarette, then they have serious problems." I told him my issue in restaurants was people talking on cell phones and how annoying it was to listen to someone prattling off during digestion. Apparently they haven't banned the use of walkie talkies in restaurants since I was sitting between booths of truckers, and I got to hear all about road diversions and shifting loads and other such fascinating matters.

I would have posted pictures of the food, but I was told the chef was very protective of his cole slaw recipe. Tina the waitress let me know that she thought it was too sweet, preferring a little more vinegar, but I was reassured that it was made fresh "twice a week." There was also a screaming match in the kitchen about a bowl of barbeque sauce being held on reserve for a special customer, so I guess these creative types can get quite touchy.

Directly across the street from the Tastee Diner is one of the last remnants of Western Civilization as we know it: The Little Tavern.

Harry F. Duncan founded the Little Tavern chain in 1927 in Louisville, Kentucky, but in 1928 Harry and his wife Doris moved to Washington, D.C. where they established the first Little Tavern shop at 814 E Street, N.W. Using a Baltimore design group, the Duncan's came up with a design for a hamburger stand based upon traditional Tudor cottage architecture. In 1939, Washington had about 21 Little Tavern Shops with almost 50 located between the Baltimore and Washington corridor. Their motto was "Buy 'em by the bag." If you've never had one, I can tell you my running joke has been in calling them "little gray balls of death."

The Little Gray Ball of Death...and Coffee
Harry F. Duncan

There are three surviving Little Taverns. Two are in B
altimore, and this one shop in Laurel. If you study the picture below, you can see the word "hamburgers" in neon. A friend, when being told of this blog piece, told me an interesting bit of trivia regarding this particular building. The "hamburger" neon for this building is still using the original red glass for the neon, where they fed clear neon through colored glass, rather than the more contemporary method of coloring the gasses through clear glass tubing.

Since 1928. Wowza!

I hit the road to get back into D.C. and almost immediately had to come to a screeching stop. I had to blink. Could it be?

Route 1: A Great American Highway

The last of the Kenny Roger's Roasters in Washington??? I got out to poke around, knowing how The Playaz would love seeing Kenny on America's Number One Highway.
Playaz Ball
Kenny once sang "Something's Burning," but it sure wasn't happening at Roasters. Sorry, Gentlemen Playaz.

Kenny's Is Klosed...And Being
Rennovated Into An El Pollo Loco

Once I was back in Washington on my home turf, I started running some errands before I went to see the film, Munich. Talk about irony:

Former Little Tavern, Now Paolo's
Wisconsin Avenue, Georgetown

Check out the little building to the right, on the corner. Does the shape look familiar? It should. It used to be a Little Tavern.

While I was out and about I passed the Georgetown Post Office, and it made me think of another type of auctioning that used to go on in Washington. This is a piece of Washington history you will never hear from the tour guides.

Post Office, 1215 31st Street, Georgetown

If you are in Georgetown, and you walk by this building, look down at it's base along the front and you will see what is revealed in the picture below. Do you see those black doors? Those doors lead to a cell that housed slaves being held for auction. Every time I pass the post office, I look at those doors in awe and shudder, thinking about a part of Washington's past I am sure it would just as soon forget.


Blogger A Unique Alias said...

"if someone can't make it through a meal without having a cigarette, then they have serious problems."

If someone chooses not to make it through an entire meal without having a cigarette, is that just a serious choice?

12:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aaaaaah. The Club LT. Now THAT was real Coca Cola -- mixed right there. Before there was Paolo's, it was used as by a bucket-flower seller.

This is a good example of a depressing trend away from the little homey touches that were all around D.C.: the wig and foundation shops around H St downtown, the Tweeds and Things in Friendship Heights, Toast and Strawberries in DuPont: all gone now. And what replaces gems like those? Usually mall-type places: Cheesecake Factory and Ann Taylor Loft.



1:13 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

AUA: Don't shoot the messenger. I was just trying to do a little factual reporting. That was HIS viewpoint. I was sure he was going to be pissed off that it would hurt his business to ban smoking.

Grince: They still make fountain cokes at Little Tavern AND Tastee Diner. Walking through Georgetown last night, I found it disturbing how it's been taken over by these chain corporations, turning Georgetown into this huge outdoor mall.

1:20 PM  
Blogger cuff said...

I'm all for the smoking ban, but I would also accept the alternative of special glass cones like the "Get Smart" cones of silence that could drop down over smokers and contain all their second hand smoke. But that's a side point to a wonderful post about so much history, good bad or just plain ugly, around DC.

The LT in Georgetown was for a time in the early 90's (I think) a sub shop. There's also one at the bus turnaround by the Ellington Bridge on the edge of Adams Morgan. It's been boarded up since I've lived in DC.

And I still remember my days at the Kenny Rogers Roasters up in Cleveland Park. I'm glad to hear El Pollo Loco is coming out here. Maybe In-N-Out Burger will follow.

I never knew that history about the Georgetown PO. Thanks Cube.

1:33 PM  
Blogger I-66 said...

I love being taken on a photographical journey.

1:34 PM  
Blogger Momentary Academic said...

I think that I've heard my parents talk about Little Tavern burgers. Weren't they also like White Castle burgers as well?

2:19 PM  
Blogger I-66 said... I the only one who thinks that "Butt Can" is somewhat redundant?

2:38 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

It is not Kenny's doing, I can assure you. Nathan's Famous Corp. now owns the rights to KRR.

Kenny is working on a concept with Bon where they will roast and serve Bon's fresh kill of the day.

3:02 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Thank you for your wonderful tour through Laurel and Gtown. It's sad how corporations have recreated the same shopping scene everywhere you go. Why both to travel when all you'll find is another Starbucks, another Pottery Barn, another Urban Outfitters? One of the things I loved about Ouray, Colorado is that there is not a single chain store or restaurant in town. Not only that but I didn't see a single soul on a cell phone, not the entire week I was there. How refreshing it was to nip into mom and pop stores, even though they generally didn't have the stuff I've come to expect because I'm as corporatized as anyone else.

4:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done, Cube! I love your commentary and historic knowledge.

4:53 PM  
Blogger playfulinnc said...

Reya said "nip into"...I wonder how that would look.

Great journey...I hope I can post a few of those on the second leg of my trip!

4:56 PM  
Blogger Merujo said...

That was great - and thanks for all the visuals. The Little Tavern in downtown Bethesda (which I think was turned into a "Toddle House" in the interim) is now a great little Chinese carry-out place.

I can't think of Kenny Roger's Roasters without thinking of Kramer on "Seinfeld" and his chicken addiction. "Kenny? Kenny? KENNEEEEEEE!"

The Paolo's in Georgetown plays a small role in one of Anne Rice's overwrought vampire novels, where a hungry creature of the night ends up chowing down on an unsuspecting Paolo's waitress. Dear god, I've just revealed that I've read Anne Rice novels. Shoot me.

"Litte Grey Balls of Death" is a great album title. "Little Tavern" would have to be the band name, of course.

5:29 PM  
Blogger ThaiMex1 said...

The little house at the Duke Ellington Bridge is just that - a litte house. It was there as a waiting area for the DC Transit trolleys when they ran that line. It is used now by the bus operators. Since I used to live three doors down from there (and Mama Ayesha's Calvert Cafe)I can tell you that the bus operators have "necessary" facilities there as well as lounge chairs where they can rest and be fed grapes by scantily-clad women or men depending on their preference.

5:48 PM  
Blogger Stef said...

Another great post, Cube. I love learning about DC-area history through your pictorial tours! I've never been to a Little Tavern, but I'll try to check one out the next time I'm in Laurel or Baltimore.

8:27 PM  
Blogger Velvet said...

You really know a lot of history. I love that you go into restaurants and stores and start asking questions. I have a bunch of those "D.C. Past and Present" books and I really love them.

Thanks for sharing everything you know.

11:56 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Hey Cube, check out this link ...

There's a pic there of The White Tower on Monroe St. in B'mo where I used to wait for the 51 bus to take me to where I could transfer to the 8 Catonsville trolley to get me out to St. Joe... thanks for the trip down memory lane

1:12 AM  
Blogger Megarita said...

CUBE! I've lived in DC for close to 10 years and I didn't know any of this! BRAVA! Particularly for the Paolos-as-little-tavern and the Post Office doors. Holy toledo...

8:40 AM  
Blogger cupcakegrrl said...

I would have loved to have heard the argument about the "reserved" barbeque sauce. Just the thought of that happening makes me smile?

Did you write it down?

12:28 PM  
Blogger Johnny said...

I saw Amistead and the slavery scenes on the boat disturbed me, so I had to switch channels.

NCAA Cheerleading. Much better.

1:39 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Mass: I don't smoke, but having smokers around me never bothered me, for some reason. Maybe because I go to dives and it's a given. ;) I have known people who become foam-at-the-mouth righteous indignant on the issue.

I-66 I loved that "Butt Can." There were several outside, actually, but I went for the obvious one in the picture.

Momentary: Little Tavern is very similar in concept and practice to White Castle. Small burgers at a cheap price, usually with onions to mask the poor quality of the meat. There are a lot of those little chains around the country, I think, with the same idea. I was reading in the Food Section of the WaPo that small bites are a current trend for 2006, so I guess we can start calling them "sliders" like everyone else.

Phil: I knew the chain had been sold, which is why I was amazed to see the shop/sign so prominently displayed out there by the road. In another week or two (since they are busy morphing into something else) it will all be gone.

Reya: Having grown up in Washington, it's sad for me to witness how Georgetown has changed from such a unique section of the city (which it still is to some extent) into this Gap/Banana Republic world. Where the Banana Republic is? That used to be a exclusive restaurant called Rive Gauche where JFK would lunch with the men of power of his generation. Ouray, Colorado sounds a lot like the descriptions my friend gives me of Charleston, South Carolina with unique shops, etc., although she told me recently that it is becoming much more corporate in the past few years.

Chase: Thanks, and I'm waiting for you to become the voice of Metro/WMATA.

Playful: I've been following your journey with interest since you've been back out on the road, showing me parts of the country I've never been to.

Merujo: I didn't know about the Paolo's/Anne Rice connection, but then I haven't read much of her beyond the vampire novels and sex books. Now that she's on a religious bent (and getting crap reviews), I'm wondering where her readership will go.

Thai: I know you must miss aspects of your old turf, but you've still got Mama's to hang out in and all of those new places on Capitol Hill to learn about.

Stef: Feel free to check out Little Tavern, but one caveat...the food is HORRIBLE. The best thing about them is the fountain cokes.

Velvet: I have fun walking around the city and listening to people, adding in tidbits as they come to me.

Dave: Missing Pigtown are ya? I will have to do a piece on Pigtown, with your help and memories. I've done so much on Baltimore lately, I felt like I needed to focus back into D.C. for a while.

Megarita: Thanks. Those doors are part of Washington's dirty little secrets...of which there are many.

Cupcake: I don't take notes, I just have a very good memory for detail and for conversations. I actually overheard the barbeque sauce fight, so I asked my waitress about it, and she filled me in on the details.

1:40 PM  
Blogger melissa said...

that was really interesting stuff. I've never been to the Laurel Tastee, though it seems a bit more unpolished than the other two.

Didn't know that bit about Little Tavern either. Walking through Georgetown is depressing, both for its past and its future.

6:02 PM  
Blogger Miss Scarlet said...

Now Im hungry.

Fun learning about the history with pictures though:)

4:14 PM  
Blogger mysterygirl! said...

Great pics. I totally have been to that Tastee Diner in Laurel before. I just can't believe 1) that Kenny Rogers' Roasters closed and that 2) Paolo's was once an LT. Excellent field reporting!

6:13 PM  
Blogger Uneasy Rider said...

I went to Georgetown University in the late 1970's and I have fond memories of The Little Tavern that used to be on M Street. Home to many a homeless person, with a couple of pay phones outside the tavern, I can remember calling those pay phones from the dorms to talk to the patrons of The Little Tavern. I can also remember calling The Little Tavern and speaking with the guy behind the counter and asking him how many burgers came in a bag. Best of all, though, is the warm memory of the mystery-meat hamburger hangover that produced a 24-hour stomach ache from a late-night run to The Little Tavern for nourishment when all else was closed. It's a pity that one is no longer there. I miss that Littel Tavern almost as much as that dive bar, Old Mac's, which I believe was at the corner of.... was it 34th & M.

3:42 PM  

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