If Walls Could Talk: Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar

Sonoma interior
Sonoma interior

Last week’s winner of the “If Walls Could Talk” poll was Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar. They altered the look and feel of the tavern-heavy block of Pennsylvania between 2nd and 3rd St. SE and have been satisfying discerning palates with sophisticated wine and charcuterie since the fall of 2005.

I’m excited to branch out to a different neighborhood for this next IWCT and judging by the popularity of this place, I’m hoping this will be a well-liked post.

Need the Baltimore Sun?

In February of 1870, 223 Pennsylvania Ave. SE was the location of a bookstore owned by A. R. Williams. If you wanted to have the paper delivered to your home by reliable carriers daily, you would leave your name with Williams and set it up. Back then, the Baltimore Sun was a very reputable, if not more reputable paper than those in Washington.

The Baltimore Sun
The Baltimore Sun

Fire! … again!

The first and oldest thing that I came across looking into the building’s history is a bit about an arson. This was from the October 30th, 1886 Washington  Post.

Frederick Selby, the tinner charged with having set fire to the stove and tin store of Mr. William B. Marche, No. 223 Pennsylvania avenue southeast, last Monday night, was held for the action of the grand jury. The evidence was to the effect that Selby, having been discharged by Mr. Marche, had made incendiary threats and was seen at the store just after the first started. The defence [sic] claims an alibi.

Going back a few months, I found another article about a fire at Marche’s location. It seems they were out of town in August when a fire broke out in his store, causing $100 worth of damage (a lot of money back then).

Stop that horse!

On March 29th, 1897, a short article made mention of a local doctor and some acquaintances being injured in a horse and carriage accident. This is not unlike the story about the runaway horse I posted a few weeks ago — the one about Big Bear Cafe.

Dr. Joseph Mudd, of 125 Third street northeast, and Joseph Waltemeyer, of 223 Pennsylvania avenue southeast, while driving on G street southeast yesterday had their horse to run away and both received painful injuries. The cause of the runaway was the breaking of a shaft bolt. The horse became frightened and unmanageable. After running several squares the carriage was upset and Mr. Waltemeyer, the doctor, and the two boys who were riding with them were thrown to the pavement. Dr. Mudd was injured about the should and legs, but it is thought no bones were broken. Mr. Waltemeyer was hurt, but not seriously. A boy named Kirby had one arm injured.

Wait a minute! A Dr. Mudd? There was another famous Dr. Mudd (i.e., Dr. Samuel Mudd) that was convicted in the conspiracy to assassinate President Lincoln. I did a little digging, and sadly, these two were not related.

Dude, this is not your house

Here’s an odd story of breaking and entering. This is from August 22nd, 1900.

Joseph Tinsey, a negro, twenty-two years of age, said to live near First and D streets northwest, was arrested by Policeman Payne and locked up in the Sixth Precinct station about 11 o’clock last night on a charge of housebreaking. He was taken into custody at 223 Pennsylvania avenue, occupied on the first floor by Max Schawkowiz, a shoemaker. Schawkowiz was asleep in a rear room shortly before 11 o’clock, when he heard some one in his room. In the darkness he caught the outline of a man crawling about on his hands and knees. He sprang suddenly from his bed and grappled with the intruder, who proved to be Tinsey.

Policeman Payne was attracted to the house by an alarm set up by the shoemaker, and took charge of Tinsey. The negro said he made a mistake entering the house. He would not have thought he was a burglar. He simply got into the wrong house, he claimed, while looking for his wife. He was unable to explain why he forced a rear window.

I usually entered through my rear kitchen window too, so I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Also, let me add that Payne is no where near as cool as Officer Sprinkle.

Woman struck by automobile dies of injuries

On occasion, we still have pedestrians and bikers being hit by vehicles. But, 70 to 80 years ago, it almost seemed like an epidemic. I’ve had probably no less than three posts which talk about people being struck and killed by cars, trucks or streetcars. This one is one of those from January 10th, 1938.

Mary Clement, 59, of 223 Pennsylvania avenue southeast, died in Providence Hospital yesterday of injuries received when struck by an automobile. She was the second traffic victim this year.

Miss Clement was knocked down at Thirteenth and D streets northeast Saturday morning. She was taken to Gallinger hospital by George H. Hughes, 21, 622 Morton place northeast, driver of the car that struck her.

After receiving treatment for a fractured hip and shock, Miss Clement was transferred to Providence Hospital, where she once was employed.

The second death in 10 days? … and how crazy is it that the man that hit her with his car takes her to the hospital. Then, she’s taken to the former hospital where she worked, and dies. Both crazy and sad.

Doorman struck by streetcar and killed

Streamlined street car passing Washington Monument (1938)
Streamlined street car passing Washington Monument (1938)

I told you, it was an epidemic. Washington was a dangerous place (and still is sometimes) to be a pedestrian. Here is yet another tragic death listed in the paper. This one is from October 5th, 1948.

A coroner’s inquest will be held at 11;30 a. m. today in the traffic death of Edward S. Walls, 76, of 223 Pennsylvania ave. nw. [sic]

Walls, a House of Representatives doorman, was killed Sunday night, when he was struck at 12th st. and Pennsylvania ave. nw., by a streetcar operated by Leon D. Richeson, 27, of 2123 I st. nw. His was the District’s 52d traffic fatality this year.

The address is a misprint placing it in the northwest quadrant, because the one listed is in the middle of a parking lot, unless there were homes there in the late 1940s. Subsequent articles about this accident properly place the address in southeast.

Poor Mr. Walls had been working in the Capitol for seven years and prior to that was a traveling salesman on Maryland’s Eastern Shore for a rubber company. He was struck by the car and violently pinned under the front of the car, dying instantly. He left behind a wife and grown son.

Leon Richeson was exonerated after a coroner’s inquest, ruling the death accidental.

Anyone remember the 70s?

I doubt there are a lot of folks out there that remember the Hill in the 70s, but back in 1978 this place was a nice place to grab a drink. Yolanda’s of Campidoglio served both lunch and dinner daily with prices ranging from $2.50 to $7.50 for a dinner entrée (cheaper than Chipotle!).

Apparently it had tall arched windows, exposed brick walls, reflecting chrome chairs and an open kitchen to see how your meal was being prepared.

The spot was simultaneously occupied by Jenkins Hill Saloon (Yolanda’s was above Jenkins Hill), a bar with nine beers on tap. That’s kind of a big deal for the 70s, unless that consisted of four types of Miller, four Budweiser and one Coors (or maybe PBR). From the descriptions and reviews in the paper, it sounded like a regular bar where you’d grab a burger and beer. Occasionally, you could catch some live music here as well.

Anybody remember these places?

The rooftop burglars

Back in February of 1985, D.C. had a rash of restaurant burglaries. All of these had forced entries through roofs, with the burglars cutting telephone wires and alarms to get into buildings.

These burglars would enter the restaurants, and seemed to be quite familiar with the layouts. Cash would be taken from registers and safes, but everything else would be left untouched. Police theorized that this was the modus operandi of a team of professionals rather than a gang of youths. The building at 223 Pennsylvania was targeted multiple times but on two of the three break-ins, nothing was taken.

Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar. Photo credit: Jennifer Kolansky
Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar. Photo credit: Jennifer Kolansky

Well, that’s all the history I could dig up for the building. I really had high hopes for the Dr. Mudd connection, but alas … no luck.

If you enjoyed this post, why not check out Sonoma on Facebook or Twitter, and while you’re poking around on social networks, follow @GhostsofDC. Are you psyched that it’s Monday … or do you have a case of the Mondays?

About Tom

Tom founded Ghosts of DC on January 4th, 2012 as a blog to uncover the lost and untold history of Washington, D.C. He has lived in the city for over a decade and loves exploring every corner of the District.

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  • You doubt people remember the 79s? Ouch! I remember Jenkins Hill, though I don’t remember ever going inside.

  • Elliot Carlin

    I found somewhere that it was something called the Neptune Grill in 1970. At some point the downstairs became Jenkins Hill and upstairs Yolanda’s. In maybe the mid-’80s the upstairs became a decent French place called Le Mistral. I remember that era. Jenkins Hill held on for a while, but then the downstairs was a more casual French place, Bistro le Monde. Then came the Italian invasion, with the well-regarded Barolo upstairs and the casual local mini-chain Il Radicchio downstairs.

  • Popeye D. Saylorman

    So looks like Joe Waltmeyer from the first article lived at 223 Pa ave se. And from the 3rd. article Mary Clement, 59, also live at 223 Pennsylvania avenue southeast. Either its a coincidence or they were shacking up. Or maybe that address just brings bad luck.

  • Publius Washingtoniensis

    Congratulations to Elliot Carlin for remembering the Neptune Grill and his accurate accounting of the places that followed it! I started work on the Hill in 1971 and dined at almost all the restaurants between Second and Fourth Streets SE “On the Avenue.” There were also a great greasy spoon, “Jimmy’s Cafe” at 209 1/2 Pennsylvania (not Jimmy T’s), and “Mike Palm’s Congressional Relaxatorium,” the closest thing on the Hill to a family restaurant at 231 Pennsylvania. Mike, the owner, was a retired NFL player and Penn State football hero who ran the bar with a steady hand. Mrs. Palm (Lillian?) was the hostess, and two sons grew up in the business. Mike started in the block now occupied by the Library of Congress Madison Building — the greasy spoons that lined Independence Avenue between First and Second Streets, SE, were known collectively as “Ptomaine Row,” and they were all demolished to build the Madison. Of course, the Hawk and Dove was the Dean of the new “pub” style places on the Hill, although I can’t remember whether it opened before Mr. Henry’s at 6th and Penn. Another watering hole of that period was Greg Schneiders’s “Whitby’s,” which had a big and very tangled history.