A Stroll Down Memory Lane…
By Bob Tagert
A Stroll Down Memory Lane…
As I write this there are 14 days left till 2021. Not being political here, but I cannot wait for 2020 to end. I has been a very difficult year for all of us, however, there is cause to celebrate as the Old Town Crier Regional Magazine will begin its’ 33rd year of printing this January. Much has changed in Alexandria since January of 1988. There are many new businesses, however there are some that are still here that were when we started the publication. We thought that we would take a stroll down memory lane and look at who was here then and what has changed. It has been quite a ride.
We happened to look at our second issue printed in February of 1988 and noticed some of the advertisers who are still around today and some that advertised with us then and now. In that Issue Landini Brothers Restaurant advertised as did the Fish Market and the Warehouse. Back in those days, Gordon King had brought his successful D.C. restaurant Bullfeathers concept to Old Town. Gordon was one of the first D.C. operators to venture into Virginia…but others followed. Back in 1988 you could get a Maine Lobster Dinner or Prime Rib for $9.95. Early Bird dinners were $7.95. Today, Daniel O’Connell’s Irish Pub occupies that space. Two other D.C. talents came across the river to west Alexandria; Tom Jackson and Mike Anderson opened Shooter Mcgee’s and then Eastport Raw Bar. Today Mike has a number of restaurants in Carlyle and Del Ray and although Tom is semi-retired, his partner Stephen Mann runs their four restaurants. Another quality addition to west Alexandria was Tempo Restaurant opened by Wendy and Serge Albert. Somewhat like the Inn at Little Washington, they converted an old gas station into a very affordable dining establishment featuring California and European cuisine.
When I came to town in 1977, Franco Landini owned Pelicano Restaurant at 100 King Street – now Mia’s Italian – and by the time we started the publication he had moved across the street and changed the name to Landini Brothers. Bryan “Bugsy” Watson opened an Armand’s Pizza franchise on King Street and today is known as Bugsy’s. The late “Mr. Ray” Giovannoni anchored the 100 block of King Street with the Fish Market at one end and Il Porto at the other. Back then, the Fish Market occupied the current space and also the space stretching all the way to the corner of Union Street.
Mike Kirby and Tom Russo were two other D.C. transplants when they brought their Chadwicks concept to Old Town. The waterfront was scary in those days but Moe still mans the gate at the parking lot on the Strand to this day. Where the new Robinson Landing is getting the finishing touches, it will house two new restaurant concepts of Alexandria Restaurant Partners. Look for openings in spring.
Also on Union Street is Windsor Salon and the Gentlemen’s Quarters…they advertised in our first issue. Owners Donna Windsor and her son Stephen have quite a story to tell and it involves some of the best music ever performed! Union Street Public House, also on, duh, Union Street didn’t advertise with us in the beginning because it may have still been King’s Landing…Frank Sinatra’s favorite restaurant when he came to D.C. After Jay Test built out Union Street it was instantly one of the new go-to places in Old Town.
These are the kind of people who built Old Town Alexandria…always supporting each other and always looking to grow. It took time.
Back in 1977 Old Town pretty much ended at Washington Street and most of the action was near the River. The other side of Washington Street was, well…pretty scary. There were a few hit or miss shops until you got to Hard Times Chili when the late Fred Parker took his homemade chili recipe to the masses. Tiffany Tavern was another oasis back in the day. Every Friday and Saturday night there were lines to get into the venues. We had music. The late Roger Henderson would pack them (me) into the Seaport Inn at the corner of Union and King Streets (Starbucks, etc. today). Upstairs at the Wharf there was a stage with a huge bar and Sammy T. ran that show. Some of the best live music ever…Eva Cassidy, Mary Blankemeier Band, Al Williams, Lenny Williams, Mary Ann Redmon and others. IT ROCKED! Mr. Ray had piano music at both of his restaurants including the Trotta brothers with dueling pianos and Buck Kelly on the second floor on banjo. If you wanted a little classic, there was Daryll Ott wailing away on his piano.
In 1977 Dan and Susan Geller purchased the business they were leasing…John Crouch Tobaconnist. This is the same year I arrived in Old Town and became friends with the shop and employees. They were located at 128 King Street when I met them but moved to their current location in the 200 block of King Street. The shop has been a mainstay for all these years taking care of their customers. Before I smoked cigars I remember going to John Crouch and buying a Macanudo Portofino in a white tube for $2.10 and taking it to Dave Jenkins, our bartender at Landini Brothers.
In the 600 block of King Street Brad Bradford had a long pony tail and was selling jewelry at Kings Jewelry. Today Brad and his wife Cathy own Kings and it is a mainstay of the retail business of Old Town. They are not only good business people but they know how to have fun and have been great partners of our publication. It is pretty remarkable how many employees have come to take over businesses in Old Town.
It is also remarkable the new owners who opened and then the pandemic hit. Bill Gross is one of those who opened Village Brauhaus across the street from Murphy’s. Although he had a great contact with butchers in New York City for his meats, the virus still created problems. As it is with all, he has done his best and the business is moving forward. It is a great place for a hot brat and a Bavarian beer on a cold winter day.
Today it is a lot different (excluding the virus). As the population has grown and folks discovered Old Town…it began to grow. Tom Mooney opened Murphy’s and Old Town crossed Washington Street. As more restaurants opened, the shops followed. Carol Supplee bought her first store on King Street – Fiber Designs (now Sweet Green). After a few years she changed the name to Imagine Artwear since she was handling one of a kind artisan creations. Today her store is located at 1124 King Street and be sure to check out the side bar to this article about the mural on the side of her building. Other restaurants and shops began to appear as new office buildings were built. When the Metro came to King Street at the train station that whole end of town exploded as did Eisenhower Valley. Old Town Alexandria now extended from the Potomac River to the Metro Rail.
Even though all our lives changed in 2020, what hasn’t changed is the cooperation of the players in Alexandria, in fact, the Coronavirus has put cooperation under a microscope and brought about a sense of urgency. With a push from the Old Town Business Association and Charlotte Hall, the city and merchants were brought together on how to make a bad situation better. Streets were closed, parking places sacrificed for outdoor dining and merchant venues. Everyone gave some to get some. Nothing is ever perfect but it became better.
Now comes the vaccine. As my old waterman friend Mopey used to say…”ain’t nothin but a thang”! He is right. The vaccine is here but it will be a matter of months before some get inoculated and maybe some, never. Therefore due diligence is still necessary for eradication of the virus. What a great horror story you can tell your grandchildren, instead of the old story, “I had to walk two miles uphill to school and two miles back home uphill!”
We at the Old Town Crier lost half of our revenue as our advertising model and issue was based on hospitality and tourism. We WANT to be the publication to show you what you can do and where to go enjoy your life, whether it be four hours away or around the corner. In the process we continue to support verbally or in writing the patronizing of all businesses. They need our help. Having said that, I want to take the time to thank our ongoing supporters who have never failed. I am not going to name them because they are in this publication that you hold. I am also mindful of the fact that there are reasons that others have had to drop out but I also know that they are and will be supporters again. It has been a pretty shitty year!
I hope you have enjoyed this trip down memory lane. Some of you remember those days, for the others…You Really Missed It!
Shop Local, Eat Out Once A Week and take advantage of the curbside service. December 22nd was the shortest day of the year. Now every day gets longer and brighter. Happy 2021!