Martin’s Tavern, the oldest family-owned and operated restaurant in D.C., marks its 90th anniversary this month, and will bring back dishes from its original 1933 menu for a few days, along with the original prices.
Martin’s Tavern has been at its prominent spot at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and N Street in Northwest since it opened.
It’s currently helmed by Billy Martin, the fourth-generation owner of the restaurant, who spent nearly two decades as a bartender at Martin’s before he and wife Gina Martin took over ownership. The transition was not entirely expected.
“I came to work here in 1982 and I got right behind the bar, and I ended up bartending here for 18 years. In 2001, in February my parents returned from Florida and said they were going to put the restaurant up for sale. That kind of caught me off guard and I was not prepared for that. But I did make it happen,” Martin said.
Martin’s was founded by William Solomon Martin and his son William Gloyd “Billy” Martin, a former Major League Baseball player, just as Prohibition ended.
Over the years, Martin’s Tavern has seen its share of politicians, celebrities and professional athletes. One of its best-known pieces of history happened in 1953 when John F. Kennedy proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier in one of the restaurant’s booths. That booth is now called the Proposal Booth. The restaurant springs for a bottle of Champagne for couples who get engaged in the booth.
People may come for the history, but they also come for the food. The Martin’s Tavern dinner menu alone has more than 50 items on it.
“I started doing specials after I took over and all the regulars started saying these are so good, they gotta get on the menu, they’ve gotta get onto the menu. And the kitchen is no bigger than a matchbox, so my hat’s off to the crew for being able to pull the menu off,” Martin said.
The menu is eclectic, from crab cakes and clam chowder to French onion soup, pot roast and calves’ liver. One of the bestsellers is Martin’s version of the Hot Brown, a dish created at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. Martin’s Delight is roasted turkey on toast, topped with tomatoes, bacon and a rarebit sauce.
“I have to tell you it was one of Madeleine Albright’s favorite dishes. Especially when she was Secretary of State … She would come in and that was one of her favorite winter comfort foods,” Martin said.
Martin’s will briefly dust off its 1930s menu. From Oct. 2 through Oct. 5, the Martin’s lunch menu will include choices like clam chowder for 20 cents, ham and egg, ham and cheese, bacon and egg or corn beef sandwiches for 20 cents, fried oysters with coleslaw and French fries for 35 cents, and Chicken a la King for 85 cents.
Starting Sept. 12 and through the end of 2023, the bar will serve three 90th anniversary cocktails based on Prohibition Era favorites, including the French 75, the Sidecar and the Last Word. Martin’s will donate 100% of the proceeds from the cocktail sales to the Georgetown Ministry Center.
Do you have a Martin’s Tavern memory? Share it with the restaurant by Sept. 5. Fifteen names will be randomly drawn from submissions, who will be invited to a private anniversary event.
Read more about the history of Martin’s Tavern here.