If Walls Could Talk: Nanny O’Briens

Congratulations to our latest “If Walls Could Talk” poll winner, Nanny O’Briens. We’re going to do a little digging into the history of your building at 3319 Connecticut Ave. NW.

Nanny O'Briens
Nanny O’Briens

The Greek restaurant investor

On September 11th, 1952, The Washington Post reported on a funeral mass to be held for Louis Kanakos, who died at the age of 51. The mass was held at Helen Church, 6th and C St. SW and he was buried at Glenwood Cemetery in northeast.

Mr. Kanakos died at Gallinger Hospital after having fallen ill in January of that year (it was an unspecified illness). Louis was originally born in Greece and had come to the United States in 1915, first to New York City and then Savannah, Georgia. Ultimately, he ended up in the District at the age of 38.

He was involved in the local restaurant business, being a kitchen manager and part owner in the Flame Restaurant at 1629 Connecticut Ave. (where Gazuza and Chipotle are today). Prior to this, he was a stockholder in the King of the Sea Restaurant at 3319 Connecticut Ave., Nanny O’Briens current location.

His last residence in the city was at 3755 Jocelyn St. NW, just west of Connecticut and south of Military Rd.

King of the Sea Restaurant

Speaking of King of the Sea … we found a funny little snippet in the newspaper, mentioning a gag sign they had posted in their window. There were numerous complaints by restaurants and local businesses at the time, that people would come asking for handouts or credit. King of the Sea was one of those, and they posted a sign that read “Credit extended only to people over 70 years of age who are accompanied by their parents.” The sign stayed up for a really long time, primarily as a joke. That is, until one night when an elderly couple entered, approached the manager, Jimmy Kanakas [sic] (related to Mr. Kanakos above), and then pointed to an even older couple standing in the background, saying “meet mom and dad.” Jimmy stuck to his word, and the troupe of four really old patrons had dinner on the house.

Jimmy, by the way, lived at 434 Harvard St. NW, in a home that doesn’t appear to be there any longer.

Below is an advertisement for the shops on Connecticut Ave. in Cleveland Park. King of the Sea is listed along with a number of other businesses listed in The Washington Post in 1950.

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Washington Post ad July 1950
Washington Post ad July 1950

Robbery charges

We found an article printed on December 18th, 1956, mentioning the indictment of John B. Harley of 505 G St. SE, who was accused of stealing $385 in cash and property from the new restaurant at 3319 Connecticut Ave., the Steak Ranch. Sounds like a place that belongs in Texas.

Interestingly, another article in The Washington Post, this time from June 3rd, 1952, identified John B. Harley, then 20 years old, living at 2405 Nichols Ave. SE (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave.) as a suspect in a restaurant burglary.  He was walking out of the alley on the 1900 block of R St. NW when he was arrested by two officers. The charge was stealing $43 from the Flame Restaurant at 1629 Connecticut Ave. (i.e., the one also owned by Kanakos, the man mentioned above). He was also in possession of a box of 12 fifths of whiskey.

The cops found the restaurant’s back door in the alley jimmied, the cash register broken into, and a screwdriver was dumped in the trash can. Harley’s excuse was that he needed money to pay for an attorney. There was no mention of why he needed an attorney.

Ed Myles Riviera

At the end of 1950, the restaurant that was located at 3319 Connecticut Ave. was now called Ed Myles Riviera. Unfortunately, there was very little on this restaurant in the newspaper archives. The only thing we could dig up was the advertisement below from Thanksgiving, 1950.

Riviera ad 1950
Riviera ad 1950

Best spaghetti in town

Steak Ranch - Christmas 1958 ad
Steak Ranch – Christmas 1958 ad

You would think that the Steak Ranch is where you go to get steak, right? Well, according to The Washington Post in 1959, Elizabeth Jones’ Steak Ranch was a great place to get some of the best spaghetti in D.C. Not only that, but you would be entertained by wonderful organ music played by Penny Martin if you were there for dinner. She featured Wednesday night through Saturday from 9pm to 1am.

Organ music and spaghetti? Sign me up! Starting in June of 1960, Elizabeth decided to keep her restaurant open seven days a week, but only had Penny Thursday through Saturday by then. It seems like Ms. Martin was fairly popular because she’s featured in multiple ads for entertainment at downtown D.C. restaurants.

Not only that, she was a music teacher who happened to have among her students, the grandchildren of President Eisenhower.

We love Irish pubs

There was surprisingly no mention of the address in the newspapers for the entire decade of the 1960s. Maybe the owners saw no need to advertise?

Anyway, it reappears in the 1970s as Gallagher’s, an Irish pub that I’m sure at least some GoDCers remember. At least those that like to throw back a pint of Guinness. Gallagher’s also had a second location back then at 637 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. That location today holds Remingtons.

Gallagher’s in Cleveland Park was also a good place to go for some live music, especially on Sundays if you were a musician yourself. You could show up yourself by 8pm and play at open mic night.

Gallagher's Pub
Gallagher’s Pub

Source: Flickr user Mike Steele

Gallagher’s and Mary Chapin Carpenter

Mary Chapin Carpenter
Mary Chapin Carpenter

Seriously? This place is connected to Grammy award winning Mary Chapin Carpenter. Trivia like this is why we love digging through old newspapers and learning about this city.

Open mic night at Gallagher’s was hosted for many years by Carpenter, until she went on to become a very famous and successful musician. It was a mainstay in the amateur music community here in D.C. for more than two decades. The open mic night ended in 1995, a couple years after the place was sold.

Gallagher’s faded into a dank, dingy place when it was purchased to become Nanny O’Briens. Today, it has the great feel of a neighborhood Irish pub and hopefully will stick around for many, many years.

Finally, take a look at the map below. This is from 1909, well before the time when Nanny O’Briens building was built. The west side of Connecticut was fairly developed with nice, large homes. The east side was still barren land, owned by the Chevy Chase Land Company. Although, it looks like the land on which Nanny’s was built was part of John Sherman’s trust (at least that’s what I assume John Sherman Tr. stands for).

Also, if you look closely enough, you’ll see the neighborhood to the west, where Newark St. runs, was called Connecticut Avenue Highlands.

1909 map of Cleveland Park
1909 map of Cleveland Park

Source: Library of Congress

Here are some photos we took on our recent visit to Nanny O’Briens.

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old King of the Sea sign is still there
old King of the Sea sign is still there
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Gallagher's "G" still in the floor
Gallagher’s “G” still in the floor
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Nanny O'Briens
Nanny O’Briens
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Nanny O'Briens
Nanny O’Briens

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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  • Gigs

    Interesting article, but what about the last 26 years?

    It was bought in 1997 by an Irish family, Willie and Gerri Lyons. Their kids (Sharon, Kathleen and Patrick) all worked at the pub named after their grandmother, Nanny O’Brien. They had comedy nights, lots of live Irish music, a really great trivia night, a weekly “seisiún” (session) where amateur musicians could come and play together, and they were well-known for having the best Guinness pour in town!

    A few years ago, they sold to the Bedrock company, who decided to keep the “Nanny’s” feel, but they upgraded the TVs and made it a place to go for sports as well. They have a large selection of craft beers and they still have the best burger in town!

  • luckybiker

    In the fifties, Nanny O”Brians was called “The Steak Ranch” and had a cowboy motife. It featured booths on both sides, tables in the middle with the bar in the same space it is now.

  • Hamster Grandma

    I am trying to learn more about the pub before it was sold as mentioned below by Gigs. I believe the pub, when it was Gallagher’s was owned by a man named Ed Gallagher and his wife, who was from Ireland (Ed was a native of Philadelphia). He was a boyhood friend of my Dad’s. We often wondered what happened to Ed and if he is, perhaps, still around. Do you know anything of what may have became of him after he/his kin sold the pub?

  • Old-Timer

    Oh, man, was I in love with MCC back in the open mike days at Gallagher’s . . . without the nerve to do anything about it. I even knew somebody she knew from Brown . . .

  • ET

    The 1937 and 1938 Washington City Directory 3319 Connecticut had at this address a restaurant with the name that says “Nahme Lee Y.” He or a relative may have also had a place either another business or their home on 2938 14th. The 1939 directory indicated a restaurant run by: “Wen Geo Y.” I assume his name was George. His wife was Ruth and the lived at 1231 Trinidad NE. The 1930 directory had a Sanitary Grocery Co. at the location (with a Piggly Wiggly at 3313).

  • Mike Woods

    I knew this place VERY well in the 70s-80s. The owners were Conan and Ginny Gallagher and Greg Rufe. The open mike was originally run by Alan Weinburg. Mary-Chapin Carpenter was the host much later. In fact, as best as I know, her earliest appearances were as a guest at Gallagher’s open mike night. Just like all the rest of us, she started from zero. And she wasn’t far off zero when she started at open mike, with singing partner Ruben Musgrave. Of course, she worked hard, she learned, she got to be good. There was an incredible array of talent that was drawn to that open mike, too many for me to mention or even remember them all. The food was simple, but good, and affordable. And God bless Dan McCoubrey (if you were there, you know.)

  • Mike Woods

    Oh, and the other Gallagher’s locations! There was Gallagher’s III in Gaithersburg. I played music there, hosted open mike there, and was sometimes a waiter there. My ex was a bartender there for quite a while.

    • Kami888

      Did you play music at the Conn Ave location? I was there about 3 nights a week during that time period. Lived just up the block.

      • Mike Woods

        Yes. Lots of open mike, a few paying gigs, and I was often a regular at the end of the bar.

        • Kami888

          Wow, I’m sure we’ve come across each other. I worked in the Senate and our softball team always came there after games. As a separate thing, we’d pop in to hear Sheepshead Bay. I loved that place. It was my “Cheers”.

  • Kami888

    I googled this after seeing Mary Chapin Carpenter on the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame with Joan Baez. I remember doing Gallagher’s open mike and singing Diamonds and Rust. Even more, I also took guitar lessons from a guy in Sheepshead Bay, which was a mainstay on a week night (Wed?). This was all in the late 70s/early 80s and that band was epic!

    Oh, and Conan made killer beef stew, lol.

  • Paul Wahler

    For those of you who remember Sheepshead Bay performing at Gallagher’s in the early ’70s it truly was like Cheers, with music. I have a cassette tape of Sheepheads Bay’s last performance at Gallaghers. Listening to it reallt brings back some great memories.