Posts Tagged ‘Washington DC’
So, you’re sitting in the bar with your friends and you start to think about ordering food. A good steak usually satisfies, but you are not that hungry. Chicken tenders and wings have become old hat, and nachos or chili go in easy and exit violently. What to order? What? Then the hot waitress or waiter you’ve been ogling and hoping may find you appealing, suggests sliders.
It’s not surprising because they’ve been appearing in scores of bars, taverns and restaurants lately, and now’s your chance to check them out. Hell, even Burger King is advertising them these days, but theirs are called “Burger Shots.” As if you stuff one in a small glass and gulp it down with a beer.
They’re nothing new, even though they seem to be all the rage. The tiny burgers (sliders) originated with White Castle restaurants in 1921; the true beginning of the fast food hamburger trade. Then in 1928 Harry Duncan relocated from Louisville, KY to Washington, DC and opened the Little Tavern at 814 E Street, NW. The onslaught of “deathballs” in the Washington – Baltimore area began, and by 1939 there were 50 locations.
Devotees of Little Tavern affectionately called it “Club LT,” and referred to the mini-burgers as “deathballs,” which was a reference to how they were cooked. The “chef” would line the grill with little balls of meat, with chopped onions and fry a bunch, then place them on the small buns along with a pickle, and store them covered by a damp towel in a drawer under the grill.
I didn’t really frequent Club LT when I was a kid. As a teenager riding around in cars and drinking beer with my friends, we usually stopped at Eddie Leonard’s for a sub when the munchies set in. It wasn’t until about 1973, while driving a cab, that my gourmet habits developed. You see, I always worked the night shift and Little Tavern was open 24 hours. The only other place open was 7-11 and at that time their food just wasn’t very tasty. They carried the Stewart sandwiches that needed to be heated in their toaster ovens (microwaves weren’t available), so my late night meals were three LT deathballs and a cup of coffee. I’m not one who usually goes for coffee with anything other than breakfast. It just sort of says, “I’m an old fart and don’t care any more.” Coffee with dinner just doesn’t seem right. But, at Club LT the coffee was delicious, served in the thick mugs that somehow made it better. Not to mention, I needed the caffeine buzz to continue working.
After relocating from the Marlow Heights territory to the Hyattsville driving zone, my favorite cab stand was the College Park Little Tavern, referred to by the cab company as “The Ritz.” Since this location was right across the street from the Rendezvous Inn, I’m sure they had many visits by drunken U of MD students when the bar closed. Like all Little Taverns, this place had a few stools (a large LT had about a dozen). The sit-down crowd was certainly welcome, but “Buy ’em by the bag” was the slogan. When Harry started the business, burgers were a nickle, so walking out with a bag full was a pretty easy task. You could feed the whole family.
In 1981 at age 82, Harry sold the chain to an attorney, Gerald Wedren, and moved to Florida. The business had dwindled to 30 locations at this point, caused primarily by the proliferation of fast food burger chains in the area. McDonald’s, Burger King, Red Barn, Wendy’s and others had been tapping into the profits of LT for quite some time, and Harry decided to let go. The imminent demise was on the horizon, as Wedren tried to “class up” the joints and extract some profit by competing with the big guys. Dress codes were implemented, and the menu was changed by adding more items. They even opened a fancy diner named appropriately, “Club LT.” But, the flavor of Little Tavern was lost and in 1988 Wedren sold the enterprise to Atlantic Restaurant Ventures, Inc., a firm that held the local Fuddruckers franchise. The writing was on the wall.
After only three years, ARV sued Wedren for fraud, accusing him of misrepresenting the value of the business. Shortly thereafter foreclosures of the various properties began and four of them hung on, being temporarily rescued by Al Wroy of Belair, who had joined the company during the Wedren reign. He tried to keep it going, but the last Little Tavern, located in Dundalk, closed on April 29, 2008.
Well, that’s the story of the deathball; gone from our area forever, but living on in its evolved form. The next time you’re at the Green Turtle, Burger King, Chili’s or any place advertising sliders, think of Harry Duncan as you bite into your order. They’re no longer a nickle, and probably not as good, but three deathballs and coffee always hit the spot.
Bake My Fish
The last time we got together I mentioned something about trying to sell Ecko Hope Chests on the streets of Washington, DC. Don’t try it, it doesn’t work. It didn’t work in 1973, and it won’t work in 2008.
My first job after being discharged from the service was selling pots and pans. Our “product” included glassware, china and silverware, but the meat of the sale was Ecko waterless cookware. The ensemble was touted as the answer to the dreams of all “single working girls,” and the job was to essentially accost young females on the streets of Washington during their hurried lunch break, and convince them to allow me to bring a free gift (plastic “rain bonnet”) to their premises some evening, to hear my pitch about what they might need for their future domestication. If you are following me, you know this won’t work.
My “supervisor” was a really cool fellow. He was charged with training me to get the necessary number of appointments to make a living. His name escapes me (since I knew him all of 15 business days, 35 years ago), but I do recall he was cool. I’ll give him the name Freeburg, not for any particular reason, but it’s silly, and that’s my purpose in life.
Freeburg had long blonde hair, a hip mustache (not necessarily a Fu Manchu, but long) and he wore sunglasses. He was a Hippie in a suit. Now, my interest was in providing for my family, but Freeburg was there to get lucky. And he did. Quite a few times (it was the era of free love). The ladies of the time liked the look, he was intelligent and spoke very well, and he was always stoned, so his mellowness apparently was a draw.
I wanted to learn my trade, and quite honestly I really sucked at it. Freeburg often disappeared into the nearby alley to toke on a small pipe. Once he was sufficiently high, he would direct me how to talk, but somehow it wasn’t particularly intelligible. My animated, freakish mumbling at the women who walked by seemed more like Quasimodo communicating with Esmeralda.
Picture this. It’s 1973, and everyone had long hair. I, on the other hand, had short, closely cropped bangs (think Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber); being out of the military for just over three weeks. Combine that sight with my pencil-thin mustache, which looked more like groomed nostril hairs and you have a pretty good idea of my handicap. Take your pick; the contemporary, handsome, long blonde-haired guy, stoned and mellow, with sunglasses and a cool mustache, or the jittery dork, with the sneaky-looking nose hairs, wearing a polyester suit and platform shoes, desperately seeking a dollar, who looks like he just fell off the lettuce truck. As you can guess, there weren’t many appointments in my future.
I did get one. She probably felt sorry for me. Either that, or she really needed a rain hat. That evening, I went to Debbie’s (I remembered her name) apartment in Wheaton and knocked on the door. During my last few months in Taiwan, I had several suits tailored (very cheaply) in the finest polyester double-knit fabric available. My duds were proudly displayed on my slim body. That particular day, I was wearing my rust-colored, maxi-patterned, plaid suit (similar to the picture). The shirt was beige; accented with a fine, matching non-silk tie. In my left hand dangled the handle of my sample case. One of her roommates came to the door and fingered my lapel and said, “Really nice,” in as sarcastic a way as he could. But, he invited me in. This was the opening scene in Death of a Salesman.
He immediately and proudly showed me the marijuana plant growing in the hall closet. “I suspect you don’t know the purpose of my visit,” I thought. So I nodded and said, “It looks very healthy (as if I knew).” But, I was thinking, “I need a sale.” Debbie walked out of the kitchen to greet me, and two other female roommates came out of the bedroom to say hello. The Botanist was the only male living with three women, all very cute. Then they asked if I wanted to party. Tempting as it was, I had to leave. There was no way a sale would be made among this group, and it didn’t really matter why my prospect agreed to allow me to come by (even though it was intriguing). I pulled the packaged rain hat out of my suit pocket and gave it to Debbie, but Botany Man grabbed it, peeled off the wrapper, and put it on his head. “Really nice,” I said in as sarcastic a way as I could, politely thanked everyone for their time, and left.
That was my first and last appointment. As ridiculous as it was, I had fun in a weird sort of way; however, that was not the job for me.
Still, I always wondered if the waterless cookware really worked.
Bake My Fish