Monday, April 06, 2009

Georgetown by David Arnson

I always loved Georgetown. I remember going for the first time with my parents when I was about 8 or 9 years old and marveling at the hippies. Boys and girls strolling down the sidewalks with their bare feet and guitars, the lava lamps in the gift store windows, and the psychedelic poster shops. I still have my "White Rabbit" poster from the East Totem West Company! Georgetown was such a hip and fascinating place. In junior high and high school, I would take the bus down Wisconsin Avenue on weekends. I might eat an amazing sandwich at The French Market atop the hill across from Dumbarton Oaks, and then stroll down to the bookstores at Wisconsin and P or the one down by the brick Canal Street mall, between M street and the river, to search for science fiction and Conan books.

I would always check out the record stores, the one on Wisconsin above P had, to my teen eyes,  the unnerving poster of John and Yoko nude, but my fave was Orpheus Records on M street. I remember (I'd read reviews in Rolling Stone or Crawdaddy) asking the bearded hippie hipster behind the counter whether I should buy the new LP by Bob Weir or Blue Oyster Cult. He started to mock me by loudly chanting (his coworkers chimed in) "Blue Oyster Cult! Blue Oyster Cult! Blue Oyster Cult!" which to them clearly seemed like a joke band. I went home with Blue Oyster Cult, and damned if I didn't like it! So what if it wasn't hippie music? Orpheus would host cool Halloween parties, and the most eccentric people would show up, my fave being the striking blond with the albino lil ' ferret climbing around her neck. I remember me and my buddy buying Mott the Hoople's Mott and Johnny Winter's Still Alive and Well on Halloween night 1973. I think I was in 10th grade?

We all knew it was uncool to hang out at Blimpie's on the corner of Wisconsin and M, because "that's where the narcs hang out." Ikaros Pizza on M (where I learned what a gyro was) around the corner was way cooler. Also on M you could see cool arty movies at the Biograph and at the Cerberus with its cool art deco neon numbers 1/2/3 in its window. Also notable was the always amazing Key theater that would screen Rocky Horror Picture Show and Eraserhead. Both were among the best of midnight movies in town.

We were barely (actually maybe not really) old enough to go see Patti Smith at the Cellar Door in 1975, but she was like no other performer I'd seen before: cracking jokes, spitting, arching her back upside down on all fours while doing a yoga bridge on Ain't it Strange.

Across M street from the Cellar Door was Desperados, a great club that mainly featured roots music, but later hosted lots of new wave acts like us Insect Surfers. Next door was a multi level army surplus store where I kept myself attired in Italian and Belgian army jackets. If you walked further west, you could find the famous Exorcist stairwell that the priest tumbles down in the movie. And let's not forget The Bayou, at the end of Wisconsin where it hit the Potomac, had some of the best club shows in DC.

(photo by David Nuttycombe)

WGTB, broadcasting from Georgetown University, was the absolute coolest station, and I remember attending a rally (unsuccessfully) to keep it on the air. (The Jesuit administration evidently didn't like them running an ad for a clinic that sponsored abortions.) I got turned on to such a wide array of music from WGTB. Georgetown U. had the most beautiful campus with its medieval looking buildings and courtyards. In between college semesters, I worked at the university hospital while punk rock was slowly taking the city by storm. You could go to Haagen-Dasz Ice Cream and talk to a slightly goofy Henry Garfield behind the scoop counter before he joined Black Flag as "Henry Rollins" to became a professional angry guy. (photo by Alan Kresse)

I still miss the old Little Tavern Hamburgers ("Buy 'em by the bag!") on the east side of Wisconsin and P, with its white and green 40s style architecture and teeny burgers with oniony lumps o' meat. The Little Tavern chain was a late-night mainstay for me, and I sadly saw them slowly disappear from D.C., then Bethesda, Wheaton, and finally, the last store in College Park.

Also let's not forget: The Brickskellar, a great student haven for a myriad of beer varieties and the sadly mundane tasting buffalo burgers. Commander Salamander- the shop where the punk world clashed with the poser fashion world. AND Kemp Mill Records, The Crazy Horse, Poseurs, Olssen's Record and Tape Exchange, Blues Alley, Up Against the Wall-I know I'll think of more later! All of these places have stories.

I drove through Georgetown recently, and it seemed to have become a lot more upscale and definitely less interesting, but I will always have great memories of its vibrant pop-cultural past. BCC High School Yearbook 1976


  1. As a fellow native, thanks for the walk down memory lane. Some of the same things were true during the 1980s which was my decade of Georgetown cool.

    I thoroughly agree, it is not nearly as interesting these days.

  2. being a decade younger I experienced a slightly different world...

    also graduating from B-CC... only in '85
    also loving the Little Tavern Burgers
    also being amused by the record snobs at Orpheus... always preferring Choice Cuts in Bethesda... or Yesterday and Today in Rockville

    good stuff...

    not a bad place or time to grow up

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  4. Thanks for the memories!

  5. this brings back great memories...I especially remember the movie theaters in Gtown. I saw Just a Gigolo starring David Bowie and Marlene Dietrich at the Cerberus 1/2/3 and how about the historic Georgetown Theater playing the film forever.

  6. Thanks for memories.
    I lived in DC during the 80's, went to Corcoran School of Art (as it was known then), worked at Crazy Horse and Urban Outfitters. I remember so many places there. Pall Mall, Trincus Deli, Library Lounge, The Bayou, Annies, Poseurs, Blues Alley, Fish Market (aka the Meat Market), Winstons...Then there were the places downtown like Rumors, Pier St Annex, Kramer Books & Afterwards, & Dupont Circle had Cagney's (with their little curtained booths) Thanks for the post.

    1. Hey, did you by chance know a student at the Corcoran named Scott Saylor?

  7. I was searching the Internet for the club Desperados and hit your website David. I recall going to Georgetown with my girlfriend and brothers regularly from about 1972 to 1978.

    At Desperados, I saw Danny Gatton play and was awestruck at his exceptional guitar playing that included rock, blues, country and jazz.

    I spent much more time in the '70s at The Cellar Door, where I saw Linda Ronstadt, Robert Palmer, Proctor and Bergman (Firesign Theatre) and Larry Coryell and others acts I've forgotten.

    I loved seeing old black and white at the Biograph (I may have seen Casablanca there or a Marx Bros. movie). I saw more movies, however, at the American Film Institute when its theater was at The Kennedy Center.

    And yes, I saw a few music acts at the Bayou, though I can only recall one group, Tragically Hip, who played there in the early 1980s.

    Kemp Mill Records, near Wheaton, Md., was a great place to buy LPs. I recall the store periodically had sales and sold all records at the discount price of $3.99 a piece (If I'm remembering correctly). My brother, Nick, who was probably only 9 or 10 years old at the time, talked briefly on-air with WHFS (102.3) disc jockey "Weasil," when DJ did a remote broadcast from the record store.

    And who could forget Little Tavern Hamburger? I remember Little Tavern best when it was in College Park, Md. My dad took me there as a kid, and later I ate there occasionally while attending University of Maryland.

  8. keith you might like the site dc rocks, too if you are still in the area.

    my other blog-

  9. David, thanks for taking the time to reminisce, ...reminded me of some of the places I used to go to. Good times!

  10. DAMN! did i dream it all?

  11. Thanks for the great memories & your take on the old D.C. scene. And OMG - the Little Tavern!I have a poem that talks about eating there after a show, that I used to juxtapose with live licks from 'Wild Thing'...