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If Walls Could Talk: Nanny O’Briens

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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, 1952The 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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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