The other day I decided to take a walk down Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park and check out the activity at the shops, restaurants, empty buildings and new construction progress. It was early evening, the sun was low in the sky and it was hot. I reached the Sunoco gas station and felt a little dizzy. As I leaned against the Metrobus stop post I heard a voice whisper behind me, “Go the distance.” I turned suddenly, but no one was there. As I turned back, my vision became blurry and I feared I would pass out on the sidewalk. I regained my balance and looked up – something had changed. I glanced at the cars driving up and down the avenue – a boxy two-door Mustang, an ancient Ford LTD sedan model that appeared sparkling new, a Mercury Cougar with yellow rims and a tan vinyl roof covering, a beat-up sky-blue Volkswagen Beetle convertible with rainbow detailing on the trunk. I thought it must be a caravan heading to a 1970’s auto show. I turned back to look down the sidewalk and did not recognize the streetscape. The signs were different, the buildings not quite right.
I looked over at the vacant Surfside restaurant building, but a sign atop the now light blue and red building said Apollo Gourmet Foods. I peeked in to what appeared to be a convenience store mostly stocked to the brim with beer and wine, a small deli counter in the back. A few steps down was the familiar Pearson’s building, called the Plain Old Pearson’s Liquor Annex. I felt grounded again, though the sign and building looked strange. I looked through the window and saw a 40-something man stocking wine on the shelves from a case. Someone inside called “Hey Walter." That must be the owner’s son, I thought. I recognized the man speaking as Steve Silver, the owner's son-in-law, though strangely his hair no longer was silver, it was jet black, including a big black mustache. He must have started working here only a couple of years ago, I thought. Something caught my attention next door. Another 40-something man standing in the doorway greeting guests at Old Europe, a familiar German restaurant though the façade looked a bit more plain with a white sign. He had a shock of light brown hair swept back. I introduced myself and he shook my hand and said, “I’m Mr. Karl.” I knew of the owner Karl Herold. I asked how long he has had the restaurant and he said, “Just a few years now.” I told him that I thought he was going to be there for a long time, and he agreed.
As I walked down the street, I noticed people checking me out up and down, and as I checked them out I wondered if Woodstock had just let out. I expected to see Rockland’s next, but instead there was a store called Bob’s Famous Ice Cream. I knew of Max's Best Ice Cream, though hadn’t heard of Bob, so I stopped in. I met a young man behind the counter who introduced himself as Bob Weiss. He had a bit of a Boston accent. He told me to try the Australian black currant sherbet, and that it would wake me up. He explained how competition was making business difficult in DC but that he was still the king of ice cream here. I looked around at the eclectic interior, painted light blue with giant paintings of fruit. It made me want to try that sherbet. Before I left, I looked down at a stack of local newspapers on a rack by the door, and the top one had a date of 1979. What is going on, I wondered?
I continued walking to see if anyone had begun re-construction of the long-vacant Mason Inn yet, only to find a hopping scene. The windows and door were open, the interior was painted black and lit up. On stage was a moppy-haired, bearded band in bell bottoms, with a female vocalist in a suede vest, a headband around her forehead, and large rose-colored shades. They were singing a Grateful Dead tune to a good-sized crowd, and the smell of stale beer wafted out the window. A T-shaped black and neon sign above said ‘Grog and Tankard’. Just next door, where Slate Wine Bar should be, was a restaurant called the Lotus Inn, with a big neon “EAT” sign above. A sign in the window advertised $5-$6 dinners and a full bar with an extensive drink menu.
I looked left to the vacant Heritage India space up the stairs, knowing that they had moved up the street years ago, but there was a sign that said “Germaine’s” and it was open. When I entered I saw a woman speaking to the host. I recognized her from a photo, though she looked younger. I said “Mrs. Swanson?” I knew that she had immigrated here from Vietnam with her photojournalist husband Dick Swanson years ago during the war and opened her pan-Asian restaurant, which quickly became very popular among the DC elite. She smiled and said, “Call me Germaine. Can we get you a table?” I looked over her shoulder, and I could swear that was Warren Beatty sitting at a corner table with a beautiful woman among the brown and gold décor of the restaurant. I stared too long and he caught my gaze as I looked away. Germaine looked over her shoulder and laughed, “Yes that’s him. He comes here whenever he is in DC. Henry Kissinger is here too, but don’t stare, he doesn’t like it.” I responded that I would love a table but I have a few things to do right now, as I headed out.
I walked past the bustling People’s Drug Store at the Calvert Center, where I expected to see Domino’s, Chipotle and Laliguras. Something across the street caught my eye. It was a pet store! I can remember many people asking when we going to get a pet store in the neighborhood. I sprinted in front of a stylish old tomato-red Chevy Chevelle and came upon The Friendly Beasties of Georgetown, where I remember an ATM was being constructed. Inside, the proprietor introduced himself as Richard, and asked if I wanted to see an interesting acquisition. He showed me a cage behind the counter where he was keeping a lion cub. I asked if he was planning on selling it, he said nah, illegal, probably will go to a zoo, someone turned it in. As I exited, a mysterious woman in a puffy black and white dress was standing in the stairway that led to upstairs. I saw a sign that said “Mrs. Sloan; Palm Reader.” She stopped me and asked if I were in the Navy. I responded that I was not but why would you think that? She said that my hair was so short, thought I must be military. She said, "The soldiers and sailors come here now for that club that opened a couple of years ago a few doors down, you know," as she motioned her head in that direction. I said "Yeah, I know." She asked if I wanted my palm read. I said that would probably reveal some interesting things right now, but I gotta run.
I looked left and saw an old-time coin operated laundromat and barber shop called Scissors of Georgetown, advertising haircuts - $9 for men, $10 for woman. How unequal! No treatments, massages or nails, just a cut. A little further down was the familiar Sushi-Ko, though it appeared to be called Samurai Sushi-ko. The outside looked about the same, though the man wiping down the facade was Kojiro Inoue who started the restaurant in the 1970’s, not the more famous Daisuke Utagawa, who took over ten years later. Inoue told me he had worked in a sushi restaurant in Silver Spring, and decided to open his own in DC just last year. He started with the name Samurai Counter, but thought Sushi-ko sounded more appealing. He said he wished his kids would come eat here, but they preferred hamburgers.
I gazed back across the street at what I thought looked like the old Calvert Theater from the 1930’s, but it was only the façade, I knew the theater had closed years earlier. I sprinted back across the street to the sign, and next to it was a shop called the Calvert Wine and Cheese Shop. It advertised “Cut Rate Liquor” and “Guaranteed to Beat Any Other Price.” I didn’t realized Pearson’s had such cut-throat competition just down the street. The large red brick Sheffield condo that should be standing here was nowhere to be seen. At the corner I realized I couldn’t get a coffee to clear my head because the establishment with the large patio appeared to be a flower shop - Dove Flowers, the sign said. The entire patio was covered by a giant brown awning. A tall middle-aged man out front was bringing flower displays back into the windowed store. He introduced himself as Bill Dove, as I shook his hand and asked him about his business. He had a cigarette in his mouth as he spoke. He told me about how he provided the floral decorations for the Kennedy Center grand opening in 1971 and that Betty Ford had asked him to decorate the White House for Christmas in 1974. That cigarette never left his lips.
I continued downhill past the DeVol Funeral Home. Hmm, looks about the same, I thought. Beyond that where I expected Wingo’s, was an establishment called the St. Regis – not the famous hotel but a restaurant by the same name. A sign in the window explained that the restaurant was named after a 17th century alpine monk, and another sign listed tonight’s specials as shish kebob and filet mignon and attached their extensive liquor selection. Ambrose Ramella greeted me at the door and tried to usher me over to a table as he took my arm. He has an Italian accent, as does his food, I saw, as I looked around at the other tables and smelled the garlic from the kitchen. He told me the ravioli is good tonight. I said I wish I could stay, maybe I’d be back but I had to go for now. He said, “Ahh, come back anytime.”
As I exited the St. Regis, I turned right, and there was an aged man staring at me. He was wearing a dark brown vest and a tweed ivy cap, with his white hair visible on the sides. I stared back and didn’t know what to say.
He said, “Son, you look lost.”
“I think I am very lost,” I responded.
The old man paused a second, then shook his head, “No, you are right where you are supposed to be.”
Just then, I had a wave of recognition. “My god, you are Doc Eisenberg, aren’t you?”
He nodded, “I’m Samuel Eisenberg, and yes, some people still call me Doc.”
I said, “You started Pearson’s Wine and Spirits right here back in the 1930’s during Prohibition, right?”
“Back then it was called Pearson’s Pharmacy. We’ve changed the name a few times.”
I looked around the street, then back to him, “Are you a ghost?” I asked.
He laughed and looked at his hands while turning them over and said, “I don’t feel like one.”
“Do you know how I got here?”
“How does anyone get to where they are?” he asked.
A little perplexed, I responded, “Well, I don’t know.”
“They simply think about where they want to go. Tell the others what you saw, it is important to remember.” Doc then looked at his watch and said “Well, I best be getting back to the store or Sarah will think I’ve got a girlfriend.” With that, he winked at me, slapped me on the upper arm, and started up the hill.
Suddenly, I was hit by another wave of dizziness and my vision blurred. As I recovered, I looked up and there was the Wingo’s sign. I turned and looked up the hill and Doc Eisenberg was gone. The streetscape looked familiar again. There - a Prius; no, three of them. As I walked home I pondered what he said – “they simply think about where they want to go.” Was it that simple?
The Foreign Services Journal, August 1979
"Finding who has D.C.'s Best Ice Cream", Christian Science Monitor, Louise Sweeney Sept 1983
"Ice Cream Competition in DC Nearing Meltdown", Washington Post, Nina Martin, January 1985
"Dining 1980", Washington Post, Phyllis Richman, January 1980
History of the Calvert Theater, Carlton Fletcher. Image re-printed from the Washington Post.
"Washington's Famous Help Germaine's Restaurant Make a Name for Itself", New York Times, Barbara Gamarekian, Feb 1979
Burlieth Citizens' Association Newsletter, 1983
"These Vintage DC Menus Will Make You Sad You Just Paid $14 for a Cocktail", Washingtonian, Jessica Sidman, April 2017
"St. Regis", Washington Post, Tom Siestema, October 1987
"A Spirited Past", WETA Neighborhoods, June 2006
"Florist's Lush Centerpieces Had D.C. Social Scene Abuzz", Washington Post, Louie Estrada, Jan 2003
"To Sushi or Not to Sushi -- A Taste for Raw Talent", Washington Post, Marian Burros, March 1980