17 Oct 2022


Lost Capitol Hill: A New Navy Yard Beer Garden

John Philip Sousa

When we ended our look at the old Tunnicliff’s place a few weeks ago, Bertram “I ride with sauerkraut” Leins had just had the place sold out from under him. It would take some ten years for the beer garden to be reopened, but on April 8, 1884, the Washington Post reported that a John Toense had received a liquor license for 409 9th Street southeast – the old Tunnicliff’s.

Toense did not last long there: Lless than two years later, Rudolph Thiele announced that he would now be in charge of the place. However, Thiele does not seem to have had much better luck, as by 1887, there are new owners: John T. And Elizabeth Hofmann. These two finally brought some stability to the business, though there were some hiccups along the way.

While Hoffmann was born in Berlin, she was born Elizabeth Schafer in Prussia––at least according to the 1880 census, which seems to ignore the fact that Berlin was in Prussia. At the time of the census he was a baker, but he was, according to his obituary in the Washington Evening Star, “of large build and jovial disposition,” so the beer business seems to have more suited him.

Not that there weren’t hiccups along the way: On the very day that the Hofmann’s first advertised their new venture (“formerly Leins’ Garden”) in the German press of the day, the Washington Critic noted that officer Edward Stahl of the D.C. police had arrested Thomas Ellis, a local worker, for assaulting the Hofmanns. According to the article, Ellis had refused to leave the beer garden when asked to by John, and when the request became more forceful, Ellis resorted to violence, earning him a trip to the local police station.

Advertisement for Hofmann’s new garden in the Washington Journal of August 2, 1887. (LOC)

In spite of this, Hofmann celebrated his 39th birthday a week later by inviting all his “friends and acquaintances” to join him at his beer garden, and concerts featuring the Marine Band, which was, at the time, under the baton of John Philip Sousa, seen above. These concerts were a weekly occurrence.

While situations like the one involving Thomas Ellis are pretty much par for the course, the Hofmanns also had to deal with other problems. One day, James C. Callan, a local musician, entered Hofmann’s establishment and said that Hofmann had hired “scab” musicians. Hofmann strongly denied this, and Callan went away, only to return with two further men to demand that an upcoming picnic for the Citizens’ Protective Organization not hire non-union musicians, and that they had “60,000 men to back them.”

It turned out that this contretemps was simply a sideshow to a larger fight between musicians as to who was, and who was not, in a certain union. It ended up with Hofmann having to testify in court as to what had happened. Once his evidence was given, he was free to return to his main love: Selling beer.

Next week: Selling beer.

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