31 Dec

Lost Capitol Hill: Brinkley's Bar

Brinkley-tnWith the end of the year upon us, and most of us more concerned with making plans for New Year’s Eve than reading about Hill history, I offer another rerun from earlier in this year. The story is – partly – related in my book, but seems appropriate with the debauchery expected of one for ringing in the New Year. I promise to return with new nuggets in 2013.

Prohibition had a great effect on American drinking habits all across the country – and Capitol Hill was no exception. One place that was immediately effected was a bar at 533 8th Street. Before Prohibition, it sold mainly beer, though there was one incident when the owner, one Louis Schnabel, suffered burns when he tried to light the interior of an alcohol cask – with a match. The explosion was immediate and quite painful, though possibly more to his ego than his actual person.

When all alcohol sales were banned in 1917, all mentions of this operation cease, and is only 16 years later that it reappears, this time under the name Brinkley’s. The first mention in the Post is not exactly positive: Apparently, two ‘stage performers,’ named Gwynn Stratford and Linn Mayberry, had decided that the following exchange was funny enough to merit inclusion in their stage show:

“Where have you been?”

“Down to the Bucket of Blood.”

“Where is that?”

“Brinkley’s.”

What, exactly, was the humor value in these words is not explained, but they did cause the owner of Brinkley’s, one Jimmy Crandall, to file a $25,000 slander suit against the two women. What came of this suit is unclear, though this appearance on local stage seems to have not been repeated by Stratford and Mayberry.

Who or what Brinkley was is unclear, but the ads that ran throughout the 1930s make clear what type of entertainment was offered there: “tempting foods at all times…the best of better drinks, skillfully mixed…dancing to tunes by Brinkley’s Aces.”

That the ads were not boasting is made clear by the repeated mentioning of this establishment in various “what’s going on around town” columns throughout the 1930s.

Ad for Brinkley's that ran in the Washington Post.

Ad for Brinkley’s that ran in the Washington Post.

With the advent of the 1940s, times changed at the Brinkley. Now owned by Theodore J. Sheve and William J. Schaefer, the press that it received was of the distinctly negative sort. In 1949, they had a run-in with the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, which insisted that they were making the majority of their money from booze, and not food, and thus were in danger of their losing their liquor license. It did not help at all that Scheve had recently been convicted on a gambling charge, and was only out because he was appealing his sentence.

Brinkley’s most famous patron was none other than George C. Scott. While stationed at the Marine Barracks, he would often head across the street to drink away his sorrows at this bar. Late in the evening, then, a sergeant who was moonlighting as a bouncer at the establishment would then be forced to call up Scott’s long-suffering (and tee-totaling) friend Robert “Mo” Morrissey. Morrissey would then have to collect his friend, and listen to his ranting on how he would soon become “a goddamned great actor.”

What happened to Brinkley’s bar thereafter is unclear. All that can be said for certain is that the space is today occupied by the eminently respectable Duron Paint Store.

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