21 Nov 2022


Lost Capitol Hill: The End of the Beer Garden

We ended last week with the shocking suicide of saloon-owner John T. Hofmann, and his burial in Congressional cemetery. While he may have been consigned to the grave, his wife, Elisabeth, continued on without him, after having posted a message of thanks to all of those who had offered her condolences. A month and a half after his death, the liquor license was transferred to Elisabeth, and – at least at first – she kept it running under its old name, even after having her husband’s liquor license transferred to her.

However, she did things differently. She and her saloon disappear almost entirely from the records of the day. Other than the yearly license renewal, and her listing in the city directories of the day, Elisabeth does no seem to have advertised much, or certainly not in the same way as her husband had done.

This continued for about 10 years. On February 13, 1907, her 30-year-old son Edward J Hofmann passed away. He was buried a few days later near his father.

This also seems to have been the end of Elisabeth Hofmann’s career as a saloonkeeper, although there is no way to determine whether these were in any way related. Three months later, an ad in the Washington Evening Star announced the opening of “Meehan’s Scenic Summer Garden.” The ad continued:

At a cost of thousands, this cool spot has been turned into a high-class Summer Garden, where everybody takes their wives and sweethearts. Situated in the coolest part of the city, among beautiful trees and shrubbery. Objectionable characters will be excluded.

A brief notice in the Washington Post a few months later indicated that Meehan had not been able to exclude all objectionable characters. One of these broke into his saloon late one Sunday night, opened a safe, and made off with $500.

Meehan himself was also not completely on the straight and narrow, being found guilty of keeping his saloon open after closing hours the following year. He also disappears from the public eye shortly after this, and the premises are taken over first by Walter C. Scott, and then by Jacob F. Ebling.

Ebling found himself in hot water in 1913, being accused of being drunk while on duty. This led to a hearing in regards to the renewal of Ebling’s license, in which policeman Cecil E. Showalter was a witness against him. When asked to point to the miscreant by the attorney opposing the renewal, Albert E. Shoemaker of the Anti-Saloon League, Showalter pointed… to Ebling’s attorney. The bartender was quickly exonerated. Showalter, who can be seen above, later committed suicide after attacking his wife with a blackjack, shortly after having resigned from the police force due to “bad eyesight.”

Unfortunately, Ebling’s return to the taps did not last long. He filed for bankruptcy just a few months later, and everything related to his business was to be sold at auction: “valuable saloon business, summer garden and moving picture garden, including fixtures, stock in trade, equipment and other paraphernalia, together with the retail liquor license, lease and good will.”

Whoever bought the “retail liquor license” does not appear to have made use of it. The old Tunnicliff’s Hotel disappears from the public record as a place to sell alcohol at this point.

Elisabeth Hofmann would die in 1916 and be buried next to her husband at Congressional Cemetery.


Repeal Day is December 5. Come celebrate with us! More details here.

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