Carol Joynt / Nathan’s of Georgetown
Nathan’s was a well-known and well-frequented tavern established in 1969 by Howard Joynt and two partners. It sat in the heart of Georgetown at the corner of M & Wisconsin. Mr. Joynt quickly bought out his partners and built Nathan’s into the go-to place for Washington celebrities. It’s been described as an up-scale Cheers where the rich, famous, and fun-loving folks of Washington society once came to hob-nob on any given night. Along with Clyde’s Restaurant, just down the street, Nathan’s helped put Georgetown on the map. When Mr. Joynt died suddenly in 1997, his stunned and grieving widow Carol, then a newly single mother of a five-year-old son, learned that the tavern owned millions of dollars in back taxes. She quit her job as a successful network news producer (she won an Emmy for a Charlie Rose prison interview with Charles Manson) and took on the job as tavern owner. Twelve years later, reluctantly, she closed Nathan’s.
In this interview with Linda Greenan, Ms. Joynt talks about the impact of Nathan’s on Georgetown and what Georgetown was like in the 1970s, 80s and 90s and the times she faced as a proprietor of one of the city’s most notable watering holes.
JOYNT, Carol. July 9, 2016
The Georgetown Club: Wisconsin Ave.
Interviewers: Linda Greenan and Cathy Farrell
Linda Greenan: We’re talking to Carol Joynt, who in 1977 married Howard Joynt, who at the time was the owner of a well‑known bar called Nathan’s, very successful, very famous, which sat on the most prominent corner of Georgetown, Wisconsin and M.
We want to talk to Carol about what she recalls about those times, how Georgetown was then, how Georgetown is now, because she’s continued to live here. Talk too about Nathan’s, and how it was in those times, what impact, and how it worked with the rest of the community, and how it contributed to the Georgetown scene.
Nearly now, 40 years later…
Linda…how you survived…
Carol: That’s true. [laughs]
Linda: …how you survived the heartbreak of losing Howard, after only 20 years of marriage. He was very young and helping to raise your young son, five years old at the time, and how you got through that, and what Georgetown has meant to you in getting through it all.
Carol: Georgetown played a large part in getting me through it.
Since this is an oral history and is about accuracy, I should say, I met Howard in 1977. I started living with him in 1977, in Georgetown. We didn’t marry till ’81. When you start living with somebody, it’s basically a marriage. That’s one little detail. It may not matter to you. For the ease of conversations, I just always say, “Yeah, we were together since 1977.”
Let me take you back just a moment though. I think it’s relevant, because it’s about Georgetown. I grew up out by Mount Vernon.
Carol: Yeah, Mount Vernon, Virginia. I went to public high school near Mount Vernon.
My greatest joy, as a teenage girl, was with my best girlfriend Karen. She drove, I didn’t. We would come into Georgetown on a Friday night, not to go to the bars. We loved to walk around once the sunset because then we could look in people’s windows at the gorgeous decors. We loved Georgetown. We just were fascinated by Georgetown.
I think my first memory of coming to Georgetown with other than my parents…Because my father’s secretary lived in Georgetown, so she had us over…I can’t remember what street it was, but it was a steep street, so it may have been over by the university. When I was 14, my school was on “It’s Academic.” I wasn’t…
Linda: Were you one of the…?
Carol: …one of the contestants. I was a cheerleader, and they took us in a bus to NBC from suburban Virginia. When it was over, one of my girlfriends and I ‑‑ another one of the cheerleaders ‑‑ we kind of snuck away from the group, and we got a taxi and we went to Georgetown. We went…
Linda: Was that the first time?
Carol: I think my first time as my own person, without my parents. I remember we went to Clyde’s, and it was just one room. It was just the bar. We felt so grown‑up, and we sat there having our Coca‑Colas and our hot dogs, wearing our little cheerleader uniforms.
That’s really when I think of my first memories of Georgetown, that I loved it very much even as a young girl, never knowing that I’d end up living here, and that it would be such a major part of my adult life, which then happened when I met Howard in 1977. We moved to Q Street, 3315 Q Street, that was our first house.
Linda: You were on the west side?
Carol: That’s the only time we lived on the west side. He had lived on the west side before, but that’s the only time I lived on the west side. I lived at 3315, I’m pretty sure that’s…it’s like across from Volta Park. Then we moved to Upperville, Virginia, but we kept a place in DC. We bought a little house on N Street in the block between 29th and 30th. I think it was like 2906…that may have been it.
Linda: You were near M Street, then? You were residential but also there’s the business community that was close by.
Carol: Yeah. My work was in TV. I didn’t care where I was, but Howard really believed in being near the business, which I came to appreciate, especially when I owned it. Then we got a place on Chesapeake Bay, which became our home that we went to on weekends, and it really felt like home. We got an apartment at James Place, at 1077 30th. That is down across from Canal Square.
It’s an apartment complex. It’s kind of tucked in off the street, but it’s just below the canal. It was brand new when we got our first apartment there. Then when Howard died in ’97, I sold the place on the Bay, and I sold the apartment. A year after he died, in February 1998, Spencer, who was by then six, and I moved to the house that I still live in at 3035 O Street which we bought from George and Fredericka Velanos.
Linda: Don’t know them.
Carol: If I showed you a picture, you’d know. They’re very big with the church, and they’re very committed to Georgetown. It was the funniest thing because I knew I had to find a place to live, and I was a little bit toxic by then because I had this huge IRS thing to land on me after Howard died.
My realtor said, “It’s going to be really hard, you know, to get you a house deal because you’re tied up in all these knots.” Fredericka took Spencer and me and her son, Teddy, over to the pool at the Washington Hilton. We were sitting there and Fredericka said, “Oh, my God. We’ve found our new house.” I said, “What are you going to do with the house you’ve got?” She said, “We’re selling it.”
I said, “I want it. Don’t, don’t do another thing.”
Carol: That’s what happened. I bought it.
Linda: Yeah. I read something about, in some of the things that I read, how you described those days as the old Georgetown with the local culture and local restaurants and local retail, and that it all began to end with the building of the mall.
Linda: Talk about that a little bit.
Carol: One of the things I most loved about Georgetown, and this goes back to being a teenage girl, but carried on to when I moved into the Village in ’77, was I loved all the Ma and Pa shops. I’d lived in New York for a long time, and I loved living in the Village. I loved that every little shop was different. M Street had a Woolworth’s, a penny arcade with games, it had all these different kinds of places.
Maybe it wasn’t all high end, but it was funky and neighborhood‑y. There were all these wonderful little shops. I remember Doc Dalinsky’s Pharmacy at the corner. I remember his wife’s shop, Power and Smoke. I remember there was a little children’s store. I remember an ice cream parlor up the street by where, it’s across from Dolcezza where that bank is now. There was this little ice cream parlor.
There was the creperie. There was a disco. Every block had all these interesting little places. Two things happened that dramatically changed the landscape of what our shops look like in our commercial area. The Shah of Iran was overthrown, and a lot of people fled Iran and Tehran with a lot of money. Because of the development of the Mall, putting the Ma and Pa shops out of business, it was a time when there was real estate available on Wisconsin Avenue.
A lot of people call it the blight, that section of Wisconsin Avenue that has stores like Terminator and Excalibur, and these stores always have going out of business sales. The rap on them is that the shops are owned by Iranians who fled with loads of money when the Shah fell. And they put that money into this valuable Georgetown real estate.
If you ever talk to Anthony Lanier about those properties because I have a lot, he’s my source for good development information, I would ask him when are they going to get turned over and made into better businesses. He said, “They pay their rent. They pay their property tax. They pay their sales tax.”
Linda: They own the building.
Carol: Yeah, they don’t do anything to what goes on in them. There are lots of rumors. I don’t know, but it changed the landscape. The other thing that changed the landscape equally dramatically was when the mall opened, because the mall effectively put the Ma and Pa shops out of business. Remember Francis Scott Key Bookstore?
Even through Crown Books, I think it’s called, wasn’t in the mall, it was that same concept, the commercialization of M Street. It made it very hard for any kind of little self‑proprietor businesses to compete. The saddest thing about it is the mall came in with all these businesses that had only three-year leases. Thant’s not much of an investment in Georgetown. Its like only testing the waters. Businesses came in to the mall that killed our little businesses which otherwise would have endured, but the the mall businesses didn’t do well and when their 3 year leases were up, they packed up and moved too.
We know that the mall is a tragic story of mismanagement and poor planning. It’s always been too big for our village. Ironically, it was probably it’s most useful to us in its first iteration when it had Garfinckel’s, Circuit City, FAO Schwartz, and some things like that.
Cathy: The Bombay Company.
Carol: It’s first iteration…
Linda: The Bombay Company. What is that other one? Conan’s or something?
Carol: Conrans…Across the canal, right?
Linda: That was fabulous.
Carol: That was fabulous, but none of those places could make it, so what happened…
Linda: Was it the real estate environment that they couldn’t make it because the rents went up?
Carol: The customer isn’t here. People don’t come to Georgetown on holiday to shop at the shops they can shop at their mall back home. Which is why I’m, I don’t want to get into it on your precious time, but I could talk for an hour of why I’m skeptical about City Center.
Linda: Your point of view is very interesting.
Cathy: Keep going.
Carol: The mall is utterly useless to us. We have a DSW. We have a…
Linda: TJ Maxx.
Carol: …TJ Maxx and we have a bowling alley. The only thing out of it that I’d keep is the bowling alley, but I think I’d have a little smaller bowling alley. The problem with these really big businesses is they come in, they reshape the landscape, and then they leave, because we can’t support them at the level they want to be supported, which is why we’ve seen so much turnover of the commercial enterprises that are on M Street.
It’s almost, now, as if it doesn’t feel like it’s part of Georgetown. It may as well be the Whitehurst Freeway, because it feels like something that passes through the community, but it’s not run by people in the community. It’s not staffed by people in the community with the exception of Clyde’s. I could probably pick out a few others.
I actually feel that with the demise of Nathan’s, the real heart of, we used to call that intersection Wisconsin and M, the heart of Georgetown. Remember, when it was that you had Nathan’s on one corner, you had Rive Gauche on another corner, you had National Bank of Washington and Riggs, which were both indigenous banks. Rive Gauche was gone long ago. Nathan’s is now gone. Who knows what will go in and Riggs isn’t Riggs. It’s PNC.
I almost feel like the real heart of Georgetown has moved up to where Billy Martin’s is and Paolo’s. That feels a little more like… that’s as far as I want to go. I wish there was a bridge that went over M Street, and then I ended up at the Waterfront, because the Waterfront is the opposite of M Street.I’m not a fan of the architecture of Washington Harbor, but I think they’ve made the most…
Linda: They made it work.
Carol: They made it work. My measure is, does it serve the community? I figure if it serves the community tourists will like it, too, because tourists want to come to Georgetown and do what Georgetowners do. I think that the Waterfront Park, remember in that parking lot, what it looked like?
Carol: That was a marvelous transformation.
Cathy: When I first moved there the rendering plant was still in operation. The stench was horrible.
Carol: I miss having the lumberyard though because Howard used to go over there to get the table tops made for Nathan’s. There was all kind of things you could do at the lumberyard. If we could just have a bridge that went over M Street and then we were down at the Waterfront I’d feel like Georgetown…
Cathy: I loved the Door Store.
Cathy: Remember the Door Store?
Carol: Yes, I remember the Door Store.
Cathy: That was down there on M Street, right?
Carol: What was the store where GAP is now? That multi‑leveled store that carried all kinds of different things?
Cathy: It was next door to the movie theater?
Carol: I remember the little movie theater. I even remember the Biograph…
Linda: I don’t remember what was in there but I do remember the movie theater.
Cathy: That was David Levy who owned the one on Wisconsin.
Linda: Yes, he owned two of them.
Cathy: Yeah, what was that name?
Carol: The Biograph is now CVS. I even remember when the Latham Hotel wasn’t there. Had it been a Quality Quartz Motel and a service station?
Cathy: I think it had been. There were several service stations on M Street.
Carol: I remember when there was no Four Seasons there. I remember the Four Seasons being built. I was a founding member of its fitness club.
Carol: It was this little hotel. It was a little hotel that could. It was nice to have it. The Four Seasons, the heartbreak for me, I’m glad it’s there. I love having a five‑star hotel, and I’m really hoping the Rosewood does well. What I’ve loved about the Four Seasons is it had that great lobby lounge where it served so many purposes. I remember lots of tea parties with girlfriends.
I remember kids’ birthday parties. I remember going to meet a friend for a drink. It was this place you could go if you didn’t want to have breakfast, lunch, or dinner with somebody, but you did want to see them. You could go meet there. I get mad at the Four Seasons because it goes back to my rule, does it serve Georgetown? The lobby lounge served Georgetown. Anyway, I’m getting on a tangent. Always steer me back where you want me because I’ll go off into…
Linda: We enjoy having you go off into the weeds.
Linda: I did want to ask about how Nathan’s was viewed as a real hotspot for rich, famous, young people and yet, at that time, too, wasn’t it also there were a lot of hippies and bikers? I wondered how those two worlds collided?
Carol: I remember all the hippies of Georgetown. Remember all the head shops?
Carol: I even remember when there was the condom shop on M Street. Do you remember that?
Linda: [laughs] No, I don’t remember that one.
Carol: Condomrageous? Condomrageous was next door to…
Linda: Yes, now I do.
Carol: I do. I remember these things.
Carol: Condomrageous was, and I think this is kind of perfect…
Carol: …was next door to the City Tavern Club. [laughs]
Linda: Oh my gosh. That’s amazing.
Carol: Remember when we even had a Burger King on M Street? We had an actual, not Johnny Rockets, but an actual Burger King. Let’s go back to your question again. What was the culture of Nathan’s like? I always considered Stuart Davidson, who founded Clyde’s, and Howard, to be these gentlemen saloon owners.
They had the benefit of family money. In Howard’s case, in particular, he didn’t know what else he wanted to do, so his father got him Nathan’s. Bought out this guy, that guy, and then at age 35, Howard had this thing to play with.
But he loved the bars of New York. He loved P. J. Clarke’s. He loved that kind of sophisticated scene, and he wanted to recreate that for Georgetown. Nathan’s, in his mind, was always the bar for people who wanted to wear a jacket and tie to a bar. It wasn’t the place where you came the way everybody dresses today. In fact, it had a jacket and tie requirement. There was a brass plaque on the outside…
Linda: I think I remember that.
Carol: …until that John Banzhaf at George Washington University filed the lawsuits against the bars and restaurants in Georgetown, against their…
Linda: I didn’t realize that had happened.
Carol: …policy. Yeah, that was in the ’70s, and then there were no longer those rules. But it still catered to a post‑graduate, adult crowd. He always priced the drinks at a price point that college kids wouldn’t want to come drink there. When the drinking age changed, he didn’t want the under‑21s. He just didn’t want the nuisance. He made it so it was something only adults could afford.
When I first went to Nathan’s…because you know I met Howard at Clyde’s, not Nathan’s. I do remember going to Nathan’s before I met him, because I was working at NBC. I’d been in New York. I’d been writing the CBS Evening News for Walter Cronkite. I was there for four years and left the show after Watergate and Saigon fell, I came back to DC. But I was just making a pit stop here. I wasn’t going to stay.
Linda: Oh my gosh.
Carol: But I took a job running the night assignment desk at NBC, the network bureau, and I got off work at 11 o’clock at night. There was no place to go. There was Pisces, and there was this guy Peter Malatesta who was the manager of Pisces. He’d let me and a few of my other like 25‑year‑old friends sneak in the back door at night. We didn’t have to come through the front door with the paying members.
He wanted to have some young people in there at night. What was that Italian restaurant that was across the street? What was the name of it? Remember, it had the booth in the window, the wooden booth in the window. It was named after a woman. There was this Italian restaurant‑bar across the street. We’d go hang out in there until Peter would give us the go‑ahead…
Carol: …and then we’d run across the street to Pisces and we’d go in the back door. We’d go down and then we’d dance and we’d have fun. That was all there was to do. The only thing you might do is that you could go to Nathan’s. Because Nathan’s ‑‑ it seems unheard of now ‑‑ but they served till midnight. You could go into the back room, and they had a record girl. That’s actually what the job was called.
Linda: I remember this.
Carol: They had a woman standing in this little booth. She had a bunch of albums behind her and a turntable, and she played records.
Cathy: I remember that. An early DJ.
Carol: Yeah, really was. But it was always a “girl.” Woman. It was never a guy, and always very attractive. You could go and listen to music, you could dance…
Linda: Dance. I remember that.
Carol: …you could have champagne, strawberries. It was just this very New York kind of scene. Coming from New York, it was like, “Oh my God, there’s some place I can go.” I would leave NBC…
Carol: I would come down from NBC all the way to Georgetown just to go out after work. I was living way up Connecticut Avenue, practically where Politics and Prose is, and I’d go all the way back up there. Georgetown was the only place to come to if you…
Linda: It probably only took you 12 minutes to get home.
Carol: It probably did. If you were 25, 26, 27 years old, it was what you did. I met a lot of interesting people. The thing about Nathan’s that was so cool is that it was just all kinds of people, but they were all young and into being out at night. When you get off work at 11PM, that’s important.
Linda: They all mixed together.
Carol: They all mixed. Howard had this kind of coterie of acolytes. They were a broad spectrum of types, from trust fund babies to crazy, loopy…
Carol: …hippie characters, those Georgetown characters. All the characters gathered at Nathan’s, and especially because Nathan’s was famous for its after‑hours parties. Because they’d pull the blinds down or close the curtains, or whatever it was, and they’d stay and party until the sun came up.
Linda: You couldn’t drink, though, right?
Carol: Oh, no, it wouldn’t be an after‑hours party if you didn’t drink.
Carol: You couldn’t drink legally.
Linda: Legally, yes. You’d lock the doors?
Carol: He’d lock the doors, yeah.
Linda: No one could get in.
Carol: I didn’t do any of the after‑hours parties until I met Howard, and then it just amazed me that this world went on. [laughs] My introduction to Howard and Nathan’s was I was working up at NBC, and some people who I barely knew invited me to a party for somebody I didn’t know that was going to be at Clyde’s starting at midnight.
I was like, “Oh my God, I’ve been invited to a party that’s starting at midnight.” I didn’t know whether I was going to go because I didn’t know anybody. My desk assistant at the time ‑‑ because when you were running the night desk it was like me and a desk assistant ‑‑ he said, “I’m taking you, you’re going. You need to go to a party. I’m going to drive you down there, and I’m going to wait and watch while you go in the door.”
He did. His buddy came, and they piled me in their car and they drove me down and pulled up in front of Clyde’s. They said, “Go in and go to the party.” I walked in, it was in the back room of Clyde’s. I didn’t know who anybody was. There were people dancing. The bar was raging with drinks being served in the back. I’m just standing there, and this very handsome man walks in in a tuxedo with his tie untied, and he makes a beeline to me.
He asks where the champagne is, and I knew where it was. He refilled my glass and brought a glass, and we started talking, and then he told me that he owned Nathan’s. Then there’s going to be an after‑party. We told the host, who I still didn’t know, that we would…He wanted to know if I wanted a ride to the after‑party, and I said, “Sure, why not?”
He took me instead to this other Nathan’s he’d opened up on Connecticut Avenue called Nathan’s 2. We went in and it was…because he said he had to pick up some champagne and he had more champagne there than at the other Nathan’s. We go to this empty, closed restaurant and we sit there and talk for like an hour or two hours. Then we go to this after‑party. By now it’s probably 2:00 AM, and we sit there and talk so long that the party ended and everybody left. The host came down and said, “You guys can go whenever you want, just lock the door.”
Carol: I was so impressed with him I didn’t want him to know I lived I this crappy building on Connecticut Avenue. I told him I lived in another building because I didn’t know if was ever going to see him again. I had him drop me off like three blocks from my apartment, and I then walked to my apartment…
Carol: …and slept for a few hours. Fortunately, I didn’t have to be at work until 3 o’clock so getting home at 6:00 AM was not…We went out every hight. He picked me up at NBC at 11PM. Two weeks later we started living together. That’s how Nathan’s came into my life because then we were there a lot. With me getting off work at 11, I saw a lot of after‑hours parties. The after‑hours parties were either at Nathan’s, The Guards, and sometimes Clyde’s. Clyde’s…
Linda: The Guards, yeah.
Carol: Stuart Davidson was already running Clyde’s as a business, whereas Howard, and Greg Smith or Jeff Smith, I forget who owned The Guards. It was more like it existed for the fun and games of them and their friends. The after‑hours parties were a big deal.
Linda: Who would go to those? Like the bartenders…?
Carol: An odd lot of the bar crowd, the restaurant and bar crowd and the party people. I remember Debbie Dean, remember Debbie Dean?
Carol: Debbie Dean was tending bar at The Guards then, and her boyfriend was a bartender at Nathan’s, so they would always be there. Because the bartenders at Nathan’s were like this interesting group of characters all who had fascinating backstories. They were like from families, or doing something else, and they were kind of people of the world. I think that was more of a qualification to be bartender back then.
Bars didn’t have TVs in them back in that…
Linda: No, the bartender had to be a good talker.
Carol: He had to be a good talker…
Cathy: Or a good listener.
Carol: People weren’t on devices. The bartender was a much bigger presence, and Howard believed in that. His bartenders were called bar stars, and even though they were stealing him blind…
Carol: He brought Pinkerton’s in once, and he was just devastated when he found one of his bartenders had bought a $100,000 house on his thievery.
Carol: He would say, “He’s so good for the house. He brings in so many people.” He said, “But I’m really going to have to come down on him about this.” Let me just say during this time, all these years ‑‑ these twenty years I was with Howard while he owned Nathan’s ‑‑ I was so happy I did not own that business. I didn’t understand how you did it. It scared the living daylights out of me. I was so glad he understood it.
He could just see through these people. He knew when somebody was stealing. He could just look at them and he’d know. [laughs] I just didn’t want to go down in the office. I’d go to my job in TV and there was separation of church and state.
Linda: You certainly had your own life. You had an incredible job.
Carol: I did. Happily. It was like my job made sense to me, and as crazy as TV can be, nothing was as crazy as what went on in the saloon business. Of course, Nathan’s never had a good business model. Mr. Joynt bought it for Howard to give him something to do.
Linda: Did Howard choose the name?
Carol: No, it was named after Nathan Detroit. I’m sure you’ve heard of the famous bartender and bookie Nathan Detroit. He was one of the three owners ‑‑ Charlie Matheson, Howard, and Nathan Detroit. Soon after Howard bought a third of it from some other guy whose name I don’t remember, but when Howard came into it, it was Charlie, Nathan, and Howard.
They each had a third. Nathan got some huge gambling debt, and Mr. Joynt bought Nathan out. But Nathan had been the one who got the lease from the Heons, the Greek family who’d owned it since…
Carol: …the turn of the century.
Linda: They still own the building?
Carol: No, they sold it to Kevin Plank. That’s why it’s going to be an Under Armour. You should go in there because they’ve got it dug out to its bare walls, its old Civil War walls. It’s fascinating.
Linda: Wow, that is interesting.
Carol: Yeah. Mr. Joynt bought out Nathan, but they didn’t take the name off, because when Nathan got the lease…With the Heons, for years it had been a market, and then they turned it into kind of a coffee shop. Then when Nathan Detroit got the lease, that’s when it became a bar.
They probably had a liquor license as the coffee shop because that’s just the way DC was back then. I don’t know. They weren’t…
Linda: They had those liquor licenses. It just didn’t change. They were already so many.
Carol: Yeah, I don’t think there were the restrictions or the prohibitions or anything like that. Besides, when Howard first had Nathan’s, he had to stop drinking at midnight on Saturday nights. You weren’t allowed to stand and drink. You always had to be sitting.
Linda: That’s right.
Carol: This is the era in which Howard…This was 1969. That’s when Howard bought out. He bought Nathan Detroit, kept the name then Charlie Madison’s wife was so fed up with him drinking and driving home and drinking and just living in the bar that she made him get out of it.
Mr. Joynt bought Charlie’s third. In March of 1969, Howard had all three‑thirds. He owned it free and clear. Even so, it was still midnight. You couldn’t serve alcohol on Sundays. It was a very sleepy, very different town.
It’s ironic because it was such a big bar scene. It was Washington’s principal bar scene. It was Georgetown.
Cathy: It was also Washington’s principal music scene.
Carol: Yes, because I remember going to Blues Alley. I remember going to Cellar Door, and I remember going to The Bayou. I went to The Bayou every Friday night as a high school girl with an ID that said I was 19 and have black hair and blue eyes.
Carol: They still have to say, “Come on in.” I didn’t drink. I just wanted to go dance. They had these bands and be crazy. There was a big psychedelic dive behind the Biograph Theater. You walk down this hallway at the back of the Biograph, there was this psychedelic place. I remember the bar that was down near K‑Bridge, Apple Pie. That’s where all the hippies were.
Linda: Yes, I do.
Carol: You went in there and there was a light show on the walls and there was all this setup.
Linda : Desperado’s.
Cathy: The Old Macs, which was at the bottom of the steep street.
Linda: No, I don’t remember.
Carol: I don’t remember. I just thought it was great because it was a very San Francisco‑like scene.
Linda: I thought Nathan Detroit was from “Guys and Dolls.”
Carol: It is. He was Armenian. He had another name. When Nathan got bought out, he went down and became a bartender at Clyde’s, but he was still the bookie to the stars. All the bookies hang out at Nathan’s at night. Nathan Detroit was the bookie. If you were a Washington businessman…
Linda: He was a bookie?
Carol: Oh, he was a bookie. He was a very successful bookie. In fact, when he died, they had a big wake for him at the Palm, and it was all these businessmen and other kinds that had relied on Nathan as their bookie. There were three or four others. Howard kept the phone at the end of the bar.
If you walked into Nathan’s, and there was the way that went back into the dining room, but then here was the long bar, and there was a corner area here, there used to be a phone right there. That’s where all the bookies would sit because Howard had the phone there so they could call the sports lines to get the scores and the numbers. That was the bookies’ phone.
Linda: Amazing. You all didn’t have televisions in there yet?
Carol: We didn’t get televisions until…If Howard died in ’97, he probably put the TVs in the ’95. He’d grudgingly put these two little TVs up in the corner, because his manager was harassing him about it, but his heart wasn’t in it.
He knew he had to do it because he had to stay in business. There was this little phone there and that was the phone all the bookies used.
Linda: That’s amazing.
Carol: That was a prime little corner there. That again, though, was his world not my world.
Linda: You came into it, right?
Carol: If I hang out with him.
Linda: You would get there 11 o’clock at night?
Carol: I left my job at NBC. We moved out to Upperville. I didn’t work for a while. It wasn’t until 1984 that I went back to work for Charlie Rose as a producer, and that’s when we were living on N Street. Howard was great. He’d let me bring my colleagues in for dinner. No check. I would come in as a customer, and I bring guests in.
I remember all the O.J. Simpson trial characters. That’s when I was with Larry King. We were bringing them here to Washington to put them on Larry King.
Linda: What do you mean, the lawyers?
Carol: The lawyers and Kato Kaelin and the detectives once the trial was over.
Carol: Howard would let me bring people in and sometimes my show would pay for it but sometimes he just picked up the check. That was the way I used Nathan’s. When he died and I inherited it, I was mortified.
Linda: Yeah, talk about that a little bit.
Carol: I thought I’d sell it in a few weeks. Not in few weeks, but I thought that I had let the dust settle, let the staff grieve a little bit and then I would sell it, until two weeks after he died and I get this call from the lawyers saying, “I should come to see them.” I know he was being audited. He was always being audited.
Linda: Was it the lawyer for Nathan’s?
Carol: It was tax lawyers. To me, lawyers were lawyers. I never had lawyers. I’d had a contract negotiated once and I used the lawyer, Bob Barnett, for that when I was bureau chief for USA Today. He had accountants. He did our taxes. I made dinner reservations and planned trips and had my career in TV.
Linda: You just embraced the sun.
Carol: It was a very well balanced division of labor. I go to see these lawyers at Caplin and Drysdale. It was the firm. I got dressed up in my best clothes. I thought I was Jackie Kennedy. I wore my best black suit because I thought, “I’m going to go, and they’re going to tell me to sign a few things.”
Linda: To tell you about the estate.
Carol: This is all done and go in peace.
Linda: Was your expectation that you were going to walk in and they were going to tell you that you have this big estate and they will tell you…?
Carol: No, because I knew everything. I thought I knew what we had.
I know they were tax lawyers and I know he’s been audited and I figured they were going to say to me, “He’s dead so the audit’s over but can you just sign here and sign there.” I go in. I sit down and I’m taken into this room, and it’s all these lawyers and the head of the table’s for me. They start telling me this incredible story about how he’s being investigated for criminal tax fraud.
It’s a big number, sales tax, withholding, I don’t even know half of what they’re talking about. It’s all this stuff I would later learn. At the time, it was Japanese to me. I’m just sitting there and they said, “Since he’s dead and you’re his sole heir and you signed the tax return, you’re now the defendant.” That was the part I heard loud and clear.
I’m like, “What?” I don’t even think you could say the wind was knocked out at me. It was something much bigger than that.
I was like, “How can I be the defendant? I don’t know anything about any of this thing. I don’t have anything with that.” That’s when as bad as it was losing my husband. That was bad. This was much, much worst.
All of a sudden, any sense of security that I had in his death because the way I was coping with my loss was that, “Well, I can sell Nathan’s. We’ve got the place in the bay and sell that. We’re going to be OK.” “He’s got a lot of stocks and bonds. I know that we’re pretty set. We’re rich. We’re going to be OK. I had my career, and we’d be OK.”
I said, “When you say, this is a big number, what do you mean?” They said, “It’s about $3 million.” I said, “We don’t have $3 million.” They said, “Well, maybe he has offshore accounts.” I said, “Howard didn’t have offshore accounts. He laid his money right there near him.”
I said, “No, all I have is our house and the apartments.” I said, “If I sold everything I had, it wouldn’t add up to $3 million.” They were telling me I should sell the house, just sell everything and pay this off and get on with your life.
I said, “I didn’t have anything to do with it. This isn’t my problem except it was.” One of the lawyers, the woman, the only woman said, “There is this code in the law called the innocent spouse.”
I said, “What’s that?” They said, “It’s as if the spouse doesn’t know about the other spouse’s crimes. It means that they were not benefiting from it and they were clueless.” I said, “That’s me. Let’s do this. Let’s do innocent spouse.” She said, “You had to know. Look at you.” [laughs] I never wore good clothes again to meet with a lawyer.
Carol: It’s a long story but I fired them.
Linda: Did you have all your jewelry on?
Carol: I wore my pearls
Linda: Whose attorneys were they anyway?
Carol: He hired them. They were working for him, but they wanted to just get this done with and they thought there was a lot of money and there wasn’t. I fired them, and thanks to Bob, another Georgetowner, who was a good friend. He was the only one I showed the IRS report.
He said, “Let me send it to my lawyer.” His lawyer looked it over and saw me and said, “I think you have a…” There’s a very fun legal term, colorable argument for innocent spouse. I said, “You’re hired.” When I went to see this lawyer, Sheldon Cowen, I wore a shmata I had hanging in the closet. I wore beat‑up, old shoes.
I wore a Mickey Mouse and a pasta necklace that Spencer had made for me at Little Folks. I’m no more fancy clothing, no more fancy watches.
Linda: No more Jackie Kennedy. [laughs]
Carol: Yeah, forget Jackie Kennedy.
Carol: I was the Widow Joynt and the world was against me. I hired Sheldon and his associate, Miriam. We fought the IRS for a year. I won. As they always said, “You deserve innocent spouse.” I did not know anything that was going on at Nathan’s.
I had my own bank account. I had my own credit cards. The only thing where we intersected was on our tax return. That’s where I became the defendant. I still fought.
I was awarded innocent spouse. They took most of the estate, but I was able to keep whatever was in both our names. It’s called tenancy by the entirety, which meant that I could keep our house in the bay and our apartments in the city.
They took his stocks and bonds. They took his bank account, but anything that was in the house and the house was mine. I had the art, and I had the antiques, and I had the property, and I could also have Nathan’s.
My lawyer said, “You should take the keys right now and give them to your landlords and walk away.” It’s the biggest mistake I made that I didn’t listen to him because I thought, “Oh, I can’t just do that. The community relies on Nathan’s. People are employed there. I know I can. I’ll get past this and I’ll sell it and Spencer and…”
Linda: Who keeps it running for that year?
Linda: You? You learned the business.
Carol: No, I wouldn’t. I was…
Linda: You never learned the business. [laughs]
Carol: I never learned the business. I just learned how to take advice from smart people and I fired the manager who I inherited, who was undermining me at every corner, which was scary because I was just trying to keep it afloat.
He was working behind my back trying to find people to partner up with him to go to the landlords, to take it away from me. It was bad. I didn’t know enough to just fire him. This was like some 747 I had to fly, and I was now the pilot, but I didn’t know how to fly.
It was still up in the air at 30,000 feet and filled with passengers. I fired the manager who I inherited from Howard and I hired my own manager, Vito Zapalla.
Linda: I know. I remember him.
Carol: I had never fired anyone before. My lawyers told me how to do it. They had me do it at their office. They had him come there. These were the kinds of things about business I hated doing. I wasn’t a business-person. I wasn’t cutthroat. I wanted just to do journalism. You have to remember while all this is going on with Nathans, I’m doing all these, and I’m still also a producer for “Larry King Live.” Larry’s so called “big-game hunter, going after the biggest guests. I’m also raising my son.
Linda : You’re also raising your son.
Carol: I was going like this. Every day I was taking Spencer to school, going to Nathan’s, going to CNN, coming back to Nathan’s, going to school, coming back home, going back to Nathan’s, going back to CNN.
I’d be sitting at Nathan’s doing calls for the show. I’d be at the show doing calls for Nathan’s. It was like this, but Vito came in and that gave me a little bit more…
Linda: …control over your…
Carol: No, less fear. Then, I just had to fear the IRS and the landlords. I didn’t have to fear the business as much. I settled. I decided to keep the place because…
Linda: What year was this?
Carol: This would have been ’98‑’99. I decided to keep the place, because I think I can turn it around and sell it. Nobody would have to lose their jobs. The community will still have Nathan’s. Remember, I also had to fight to keep the liquor license.
Linda: I remember.
Carol: That came after I won. I won with the IRS and then the Citizen’s Association decided I shouldn’t get to keep the liquor license.
Cathy: Because it was a tavern license?
Carol: Because it was in Howard’s name, and they felt that if they let it transferred to me, it would be in betrayal of the moratorium. Jack Evans and Jim Graham and Kathy Patterson introduced legislation in the city council that will allow one‑time transfer of the license. Here I was.
Linda: Right, there was the moratorium.
Carol: I had fought the IRS and won, and now they’re going to take my liquor license away. This was something my lawyers said, “We can’t help you with this.”
Linda: You needed an ABC lawyer.
Carol: Yeah, but it was also community. Do you remember? Oh, God. I can’t…
Carol: They didn’t like tavern licenses. They wanted to get rid of all the tavern licenses, and that’s what we had. I couldn’t give up my tavern license, because I didn’t sell enough food.
Linda: With a restaurant license you have to sell 45 percent food.
Carol: We were always at and historically that. I didn’t know if I was going to be the one who could change that. I did bring up the food percentage considerably but never got it to what it needed to be on a consistent basis as a restaurant. Who was the wonderful guy?
He died suddenly, who was the ANC commissioner. Remember him?
Carol: No, he was the ANC commissioner. He came to me and say, “I’m going to help get you through this. I’m going to help you navigate through CAG and the ANC.”
Linda: Oh, Art.
Carol: Art, yes. Art Schultz what a saint he was! I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t know the community. I’ve been fighting the IRS while working on Larry King Live. Spencer and I went around with the petition. We went to every house in Georgetown, me and my little six‑year‑old saying, “We are trying to keep our restaurant.”
We met a lot of people. We’re trying to keep our restaurant, but we needed a community petition that you want us to keep our liquor license. We went around the entire village, house after house after house getting signatures.
Linda: How many signatures did you get?
Carol: We have thousands. When we took that to Jack Evans, and Jack Evans took it to the city council. We took it to the ANC. The only intransigence was CAG. CAG would not budge. They still felt that we should lose the liquor license.
It ended in a hearing before the city council and all these community members showed up, moms, dads, and just people I didn’t even know and testified about why Nathan should keep its liquor license. The only people who testified against me were two people from CAG.
Cathy: Who is president of CAG at that time?
Carol: It was Cookie Cruz.
Carol: No, there was a man. He died suddenly too. There’s a succession of people. No, his wife was a realtor.
Linda: Bill Cochran
Carol: Yes. Yeah, he was the one who testified against me. They were the two who testified against me. Bill was even like, “Don’t listen to her sad sob story. She knows what she’s doing. She’s crafty and smart.”
Carol: I was like, “You are so wrong. You are applying a story to me that doesn’t apply.” I felt like I had to do this. I had to do it. I didn’t have a choice.
Linda: I know. It was certain death if you have the restaurant license.
Carol: Right, and my intentions were not, in any way…Nothing was going to change at Nathan’s.
If you took my liquor license, we’re just going to close, and then what? We succeeded. The city council unanimously passed this one‑time loophole. The mayor signed it. I actually went up to the mayor’s office, because it was the last day of the legislative calendar, and it had to be signed on that day, because the IRS was waiting for me to get this done to close my case, and give me innocent spouse.
This is the DC government. It hadn’t been signed. I went up to the mayor’s office, and I sat outside his office. His secretary said, “The legislation hasn’t been brought up to the Mayor.” I said, “Well, where is it?” She told me where it was, and I think it was the member of Jack staff who came with me, and we went and found a stack of bills, and we pulled it out, and we took it up to the mayor’s office and got it signed.
Linda: Who was it? Was it Tony Williams? Who was the mayor?
Carol: It must’ve been Tony Williams.
Carol: ’99, ’98. I forget who the guy was from Jack’s office, he left…
Linda: Jeff Coudriet
Carol: Yeah, that’s who it was. We got it signed, and we’re dancing and everything, so now I own Nathan’s. I’ve got innocent spouse, and I’ve got the liquor license. The landlords are offering me a new 10‑year lease, which I think, “OK. I’m going to get this 10‑year lease, and then I’m going to sell it. This is perfect. I fixed everything, and I’ve got a 10‑year lease.”
I go to this lawyer, Jake Stein. He was who Howard used. He was a civil rights lawyer. He wasn’t a lease lawyer. He wasn’t a saloon lawyer. He says, “You got to sign a guarantee.” I said, “What’s that?” He said, “It’s just this thing.” I said, “Did Howard sign it?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “OK, I’ll sign it.”
I signed away my life when I signed away the guarantee because what it meant was that the landlords had all the power. It meant I couldn’t declare bankruptcy. Nathan’s could be zapped by Martians, and I’d still have to pay the rent, the property tax, and the insurance because I had a triple net lease.
I didn’t know that it wasn’t making any money. I was still operating under the illusion that it was a money‑making business. Once it was now mine and everything was settled, and the lawyers had been paid and everything, I sit down with Vito and it doesn’t make any money. It can’t pay the rent. That’s what Mr. Joynt was always doing. Howard’s father was always kiting the shortfall.
When he died, Howard stopped giving the withholding tax to the feds. He kept it and used it to pay the shortfall. Now here I am. I don’t have any Mr. Joynt, and I’ve signed this personal guarantee. I go see a real restaurant lawyer, and he doesn’t know I signed the personal guarantee. He says, “Oh, we’ll get this sorted out. We’ll have you declared bankrupt,” not me personally, but, “we’ll have the business bankrupt and we’ll get it reordered.”
Then he sees the personal guarantee and he says, “There’s nothing we can do. You’re in a real bind. The business can’t be bankrupted. Because you still have to pay the rent. Because you guaranteed it.”
Linda: Even if it was bankrupt, you…
Carol: I couldn’t bankrupt it. Right. I still had to pay the rent. What started then was 10 years of me using my own money to keep Nathan’s afloat. I became Mr. Joynt. I sold antiques and paid sales tax. I sold antiques and paid property tax. I sold antiques and paid Coca‑Cola. I took Spencer’s college money and I paid sales tax, rent, and other bills…
But then I still found ways. Anytime I sold something, though, I put some aside for Spencer, for a college fund. aAll the debts were always coming out of my pocket, which is no way to run a business. I was just the biggest idiot there was. But I didn’t have any choice. This is why I say how dumb I was as a businessperson.
Linda: Is that why you were quoted saying that when Nathan’s closed, it was the best day of your life?
Carol: It was pretty good. It was my freedom. Because what happened is it got to the point where I couldn’t afford lawyers anymore. A friend of mine was a friend of Brendan Sullivan, who I didn’t know. He talked to Brendan Sullivan and asked if he would consult with me.
I talked to Brendan and because he’s a good Samaritan he said,”We’ll represent you pro bono.” I think he thought negotiating me out of the lease with the landlords would take, “Hi, this is Brendan Sullivan.” But the Heons weren’t like that. These were five Greeks who didn’t even speak to each other.
They were elderly. They were Greek. In fact, a Greek friend of mine who owned a restaurant knew them well and would say, “they are not assimilated.” So many people tried to help me with them. It was an amazing effort. The matriarchs still mostly only spoke Greek, and they didn’t understand my issues. They would just say to me, “Howard always paid the rent.” I would say, “Yeah, but that wasn’t real. It was all fake. It was all smoke and mirrors.” I said, “The place can’t afford itself.” It took Brendan five years, and he finally negotiated my freedom.
It was 10 years. I had two years of fighting the IRS, fighting to keep the liquor license and, then, 10 years of just owning it. When I closed it in ’09, I’d had it for 12 years.
Linda: Was it doing good? I know I was still coming. You started the Q&A CafÈ. That helped get people in.
Carol: It got it buzz. My motivation for starting the Q&A CafÈ was truly sincere. It was after 9/11. I wanted to do something, because everybody was dazed and in grief. Also, it gave me something to do that I knew how to do. My ulterior motive, once I realized that it had some legs, was that it made people talk about Nathans.
Linda: New people came in.
Carol: It got it publicity. It got it into the Washington Post’s “Reliable Source.” The people who came to the show once a week, because I did it once a week, then, might not come back for dinner, but they would tell their friends, “You should go to Nathans for dinner. It looks great.”
They’d say, “I just saw Tom Brokaw at Nathans” or, “I just saw Spinal Tap.”
Linda : You just used your own Rolodex, and that’s how you…
Carol: I just kept booking, which was what I knew how to do. I had Vito managing the place. After Vito, I had Jon Moss.
Linda: Vito died suddenly.
Carol: He died suddenly. It was horrible. I think he had a heart attack and fell and hit his head. He hadn’t been well.
Linda: How did you keep going?
Linda: With lime or just straight?
Carol: Little bit of cranberry and lime, not a lot, but that one drink. Then, I went home to my son.
Linda: You had to keep going for him.
Carol: That’s what you have to do. He was as much work as Nathans in his own lovable, boyish way. My career got sacrificed the most, because I had to give up doing CNN and doing all of that. I had to focus full time on owning the bar and raising my son.
The irony is, I don’t mean this in a braggy way, but I think, at a certain point, I was actually good at what my role was, an owner with a manager. I wasn’t the manager. I was the owner. I think I was good in making Nathans a vital part of the community.
When Adrian Fenty wanted to ban cigarette smoking in bars and restaurants, I let him use Nathans as the place to have the news conference to announce the legislation. When it was passed, I let him use Nathans to have the celebration.
When Jack Evans would win his elections, when the Big Dig happened (editor’s note, The Big Dig was the total restoration of Georgetown’s utilities and streets in xxx) when they started digging up the street, I convened a dinner the night it began of the mayor, the heads of all the utilities, the head of police, the head of fire. I had this dinner. It was like a meeting of the families. I had this big table, and I sat between the mayor and Dan Tangherlini, who was the city manager.
Linda: Was it in the back room?
Carol: It was in the back room. It was like this, “As we commence, now, digging up the streets and creating a nightmarish hell for Georgetown for the next couple of years, let’s all get along for one night.”
Linda: They all did.
Carol: They did. The local TV stations were outside wanting to interview everybody when they came out. Getting through that for three years, my business went down 20 percent. I’m already on the rocks, and I can’t tell anybody. Every night, at 9:00 PM…because it was done in quarters. There was this quarter, that quarter, this quarter, and that quarter.
Linda: There was always a quarter.
Carol: Nathans was compromised by every quarter of the digging. We never had a night when cars weren’t being towed outside our business, where there weren’t big rigs outside with lights on and noise. It was just coping with all of that.
Then, the kitchen floor fell in. The street’s being dug up. I have to close to have the floor rebuilt.
Linda: Was it because of the Big Dig?
Carol: No. It was just because it was an old, messed up building. Most restaurants would just close and do the work, but I needed to keep selling that liquor because I needed the money. We closed the kitchen, and we just brought pizzas in…
Carol: …and big TVs because it was March Madness. We had big TVs and pizzas, so that the bar would keep selling booze.
Linda: Amazing what you’ve been through.
Carol: We can laugh about it now.
Linda: You came out on the other side.
Carol: $600,000 in debt, but I carry that around like my bag of rocks. My Nathan’s debt that I carry. At least, I owned my house free and clear. When Brendan negotiated my freedom, I could mortgage my house, so that I could get out with that $600,000.. People said, “Why’d you do that? You went into such horrible debt.” I said, “It was the Titanic. I had to get off it somehow. That was the price of getting off of it.”
Back to your point, that was the thing that was my biggest lesson…Whether it’s a restaurant or a store, it doesn’t matter how many people are in the room. What matters is down in the office and the books, whether you’re really making any money. You could have a hot place. That’s why you’re always seeing restaurants close and you’re like, “God, I liked it.” They couldn’t pay the rent, couldn’t pay the property tax, couldn’t pay the insurance.
Linda: In Georgetown, they’re fine one day and they’re gone the next.
Carol: It’s a terrible thing. These three‑year leases, you can come in. You can test the waters. You can say, “Georgetown’s not for us not for us,” and you’re gone. That’s why we see those stores changing all the time. I was always trying to get the landlords to give me a much bigger lease. If I could’ve gotten a 20‑year lease, Ralph Lauren actually was going to take the place over from me.
Linda: You could’ve sublet?
Carol: I could’ve. I met with him personally. He was ready to do the deal, but the landlords didn’t trust me. They thought I had some ulterior motive, and that I was going to make more money than they were. I was like, “No. I’m going to make some money, but you’re going to make a lot more money because he’s going to renovate the building and pay you rent.”
They didn’t get because they didn’t trust anybody. They couldn’t believe I could go to Ralph Lauren and do this. I met him because of my work with Larry King. It was Crazy. Maybe one of them would be for it, but three of them wouldn’t be. I went so far as to ask the owner of the Monocle to help me.
Carol: This wonderful man who owned the Monocle. He would go with me to meet with them. We’d go to the house of the matriarch up by St. Albans, and we’d sit there and we’d eat tea-cake, and he’d talk to them in Greek, and we still wouldn’t get anywhere. I was trying everything. I had Tom Brokaw do my Q&A, and the routine before every Q&A was that lunch was served and the guest whold sit at a special table with several people in the audience. .
I knew that a couple of them were WWII vets because they were very elderly and they admired Tom Brokaw. I invited them to the Q&A. Tom is a longtime friend. I said to Tom, “Do you mind if I sit my landlords with you before the interview?” He said, “No,” bless his heart. There are my landlords sitting at the table with Tom Brokaw, and they’re all just stone‑faced. They don’t speak. They’re just grey and glum, and that didn’t soften them any. And then I interviewed Tom.
Linda: [laughs] It didn’t soften them up any?
Carol: Nothing I did soften them. All they wanted was their money. Brendan would convene these meetings with them. We’d get a room at the Georgetown Inn, and we’d have a big, square table. Brandon Sullivan would be sitting there…could be getting $1,500 an hour. He’s sitting there with two of his associates trying to negotiate with the landlords and their two or three lawyers, and it was crazy. It was crazy time.
Linda: That’s amazing. It’s amazing that you came out of it on the other side and very well. Spencer is through college, and he’s a good kid.
Carol: He’s living in Shaw.
Linda: Living in Shaw.
Carol: Working for an advertising agency called iStrategyLabs. He wants to get to New York. He wants to get out of DC, but it’s nice having him here.
Cathy: Where’d he go to college?
Carol: He did one year at Georgetown. He came home after his third month and said, “What am I doing? I’m going to college where I grew up, and all my friends are off having fun.” He said, “Plus, I’m just with a bunch private school kids, and I’ve been with private school kids all my life.” I’m like, “Now, you tell me you didn’t want to be with private school kids?”
He, all on his own, applied to the University of Texas. He did his research. He decided he wanted to go to the University of Texas in Austin. He applied. He got in. I drove him there, and it was the first time that either of us had been to Texas, been to Austin, but he was so happy. He flourished there. He discovered he like art. He started doing design. He got into the creative advertising program and got his degree in that.
Linda: Good for him.
Carol: Really, he stood up for himself.
Linda: He knew what he wanted and found it.
Carol: Through his eyes, I saw what a strange relationship it is through the university and the community. Because you want to say to people, “When you bought the house, you didn’t see the college?” On the other hand, why don’t you see it as an opportunity. Just try to buy your house where there aren’t group houses.
I have a group house across the street from me, but it seems to be graduate students. It’s not too bad. Yeah, they party. They don’t have any place to party on campus.
Cathy: There’s a pub there, now, I understand.
Carol: In a freshmen dorm where all the kids are underage. [laughs] They don’t have a place to party on campus. It’s wacky. In Austin, they love university. They love the kids. It’s the way it should be. They live all over the community, but Georgetown’s Georgetown. There are things we love and things we don’t love about it.
Linda: To sum it up about Georgetown, though, it’s been, obviously, a place you love.
Carol: It is.
Linda: It’s given you strength. It’s given you hell.
Carol: You know what’s interesting? I’ve always thought of it as Howard’s neighborhood, that I lived here with Howard, married Howard, and Georgetown was his, and I went off to someplace else. I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t know anybody in Georgetown. We didn’t know any of the city. I didn’t know Jack Evans. Through Nathan’s, I’ve became part of a community.
Yes, the happiest day of my life was giving up Nathan’s. It was a great loss to me because I lost that part, that kind of activist role in the community that I had, where I had a role in the community, where I could help the community whether it was bringing hot dogs to a park fair or providing the restaurant for a fundraiser for some cause.
I really liked that role. I really found a place for myself owning a business in a community, but I had to make a choice. I couldn’t go down with the ship for the community. Now I go off to work in upper Northwest every day. If it’s one of those rare moments like Friday, I took off yesterday.
Carol: I know. What a day to take off! You know what I said to myself, “If they need me, they’ll call me. If they don’t call me, then they don’t need me.” Don’t feel guilty because the way the news has been going, they’ll be more bad news probably in a week.
I just think, “Oh my God, I get to be in Georgetown for a day. I just get to walk around and see my neighbors and be in the community. I’m very committed to shopping in Georgetown and doing what I do in Georgetown. Unfortunately, Georgetown is giving us fewer opportunities to shop in Georgetown, but I do like to just be here. Park my car, and then not leave Georgetown for a few days…
Linda : It’d be great to have a little market here and all the things that a neighborhood serves you.
Carol: I tried, I reached out to the guy who owns Marvelous Market to try to get him to think outside the box, but no luck. He has to make money.
Linda: What’d he say?
Carol: I was just talking to a guy, my son’s good friend, who was helping him move. He’s the head of marketing for La Colombe Coffee. It’s a Philadelphia coffee maker, but they’re in Blagden Alley. They’re on 8th Street, and they’re about to open on 14th Street.
They have this lovely coffee shop in Blagden Alley. It’s such a refreshing departure from Starbucks. It has lovely food, lovely ambiance, and they wanted to go into Marvelous Market space. But the rent was just…
Linda: The rent is too much.
Carol: The rent was too much.
Linda: That’s too bad.
Carol: This guy doesn’t live in…
Linda: It’s Roadside, right?
Carol: That’s the realtor, but the guy who owns it is up in New York. He owns the buildings, not the businesses. He owns a couple of 7‑11s in DC not in Georgetown, and he owns a couple of Starbucks, and he owns Matchbox. He doesn’t own the businesses. He owns the properties.
He’s very accustomed to having these chains or these big enterprises. He doesn’t understand our craving for an indigenous, mom/pop or sole proprietor. I’d had breakfast with Bill Dean because Bill Dean…do you know Bill?
Carol: Bill owns the Dodge Mansion on 29th.
Linda: Oh yeah, MCD.
Carol: He’s also the president of MC Dean
Linda: Actually, I don’t know him. I know who he is.
Carol: Bill owns a liquor license. He managed to get his hands on a tavern license.
Linda: What? Where? Here?
Carol: I don’t know. It may have been Nathan’s. I don’t know. Maybe Kevin Plank sold it to him. I don’t know. But he took me to breakfast. He was telling me he had this idea, and I think it’s a great idea. I think he’s got too much else going on to focus on it, but he had an idea of opening the Q&A Cafe as a standalone, brick and mortar restaurant.
It’d be called the Q&A Cafe, and I’d do my show there. It would also be other things. I was like, “You pull it together, I’m with you.” I said, “You ought to look into Marvelous Market,” but I don’t know where that went.
Then I talked to Bo Blair. Bo Blair had lunch with me, and he wanted to see if I’d…he doesn’t really need Smith Point anymore. He owns it, but he doesn’t really need that youthful crowd because he’s making money in so many of his other enterprises.
He said, “What if I put the Q&A Cafe in there?” He said, “Let me see if I can get some investors,” and then I don’t know what happened. I can’t be the leader of the march.
Linda: You’ve got a full time job.
Carol: I’d give up my job if somebody wanted to set me up.
Cathy: You would?
Carol: I’m not going to put my money into it. I’ve learned. [laughs] You can have my name. You can have me these morning, noon, and night. I’ll do my Q&A Cafe. You have me. You just can’t have my money.
Linda: My money and you’ll pay me.
Carol: You’ll pay me. I’ll be all yours.
Cathy: I’ve heard though that even some of the leading types of chains that are coming in, for example, Ralph Lauren. They don’t make enough money to pay the rent.
Linda: Their presence in Georgetown is important.
Carol: It’s a billboard.
Linda: A masthead.
Carol: It’s a billboard. That’s what UnderArmour is going to be. UnderArmour is not going to be big enough.
Linda: That Nike place.
Carol: You know the Nike place, they make all the money on the people who line up in the morning before they open to buy the new shoe that dropped that morning. Did you ever go by there?
Linda: They are really selling that kind of…
Carol: That’s what they’re doing.
Carol: So I go into Nathan’s building. This is what they’re going to be doing there. It’s not just going to be UnderArmour. It’s going to be one floor of UnderArmour. They’re digging out the basement to double deep of what it was, and it’s going to be a cigar bar. Then there’s going to be condos up above.
Linda: Oh my gosh. That’s amazing.
Carol: It’s going to be quite a…but it’s fascinating to go in to see the walls and where the windows used to be, because it’s three buildings. The kitchen was one building. The bar was one building, and the back room was another building.
Linda: Is that right?
Carol: I paid three different property taxes. [laughs]
Linda: Oh my God.
Cathy: Three separate places that were united. Wow!
Linda: What did you do with all the photographs?
Carol: They belonged to David Kennerly. David had loaned them to me. I paid to get them framed.
Linda: They were beautiful.
Carol: I was so happy. Again, I had an ulterior motive, but it actually worked out. I needed money, and I had all that equestrian art that Howard had back there.
I sold all those paintings at Weschler’s and was able to pay some back sales tax and property tax, but I still had to decorate the room.
I kept some money aside. I asked David as a favor if he would loan me the photographs because I needed to make the room like it’s in Washington. We’re not in the hunt country, and we’re not in England. We’re serving American food.
I had a decorator friend, and we had this idea that we’d just do the red backing with the black and white photographs. I had a friend who gave me a deal on getting them framed and hung them. I thought it transformed the room.
Carol: It made it look very fresh and new, and it gave it a nice backdrop for the Q&A Cafe. I was very proud of myself.
Linda: That was smart.
Carol: Every now and then, you do something right.
Linda: You have the contacts to carry it out.
Carol: It was so much fun. It was always so much fun working out little schemes. Like when I was talking to Adrian Fenty. I said, “Why don’t you announce the smoking thing at Nathan’s?” Can I? “Totally.” I loved that kind of stuff.
Linda: That’s the producer in you.
Carol: Marion Berry coming by to get carryout to take home to his son for dinner. Adrian Fenty would come by to get carryout to take home for dinner, but the relationships with the mayors, being able to ask for something but do something in return..
Linda: Two‑way street.
Carol: That made it fun because you didn’t want to just take, take, take. Then every Halloween telling the TV station, “Sure. I’ll do an interview.” I would let TV interview me for anything, because one thing I knew from TV is nobody would be listening to what I was saying, but they would see the word “Nathan’s” on the screen under my face.
It didn’t matter what was coming out of my mouth or what I looked like, but they’d see Nathan’s. They’d go, “Oh yeah Nathan’s. I haven’t been there in a while. Let’s go.” I would talk to anybody, any time.
Cathy: Tell us a little bit about a Halloween night? Anything memorable ever occur?
Carol: You know they were great before they put the barriers on the sidewalks. Remember when they just used to let everybody flood into the intersection?
Carol: That was really fun. I found it scary once they started putting up the barriers because the people were almost too crammed together, but the best thing to do was to sit in Nathan’s back room at one of the window tables, and just watch everybody go by.
I’d go with friends, and we’d all have masks and goofy outfits on. We’d stand in the window, and we’d make faces at everybody. Halloween would be the night when Howard would take all the tables out, and he’d use paper cups.
The bar was just no tables, just paper cups because so many people came in, but then that started to change when they put the barriers up. It became less fun to come. They still come, but it’s not…one of my happiest memories though of the intersection was when the basketball team won the title. It had to be in the ’80s.
Linda: I think it was ’84.
Carol: I tell you, everybody flooded into the intersection. It was such a party in the intersection. It was so much fun. It was innocent. It was a good time.
Second to that would be when the Redskins still played at RFK, and people would flood into Nathan’s to eat before a game. They’d all go to the game, and cars and buses or taxis or whatever, and then they’d all come back to Nathan’s after the game, including John Riggins and other players.
When it moved out to the suburbs, you didn’t see the players anymore. For the public, it was too much travel, so they didn’t come into the city anymore.
Linda: That really did change the way that you functioned.
Carol: It just changed the whole spirit of the game.
Linda: The community was lost.
Carol: Fortunately, they were playing at RFK when they won the Super Bowl. It was just crazy fun. It was where you wanted to be when they won games. You wanted to be in Nathan’s front room. They’d be eight deep at the bar. That would scare me. I’d stand in there, and I would say, “Oh my God, I’m responsible for all these people.”
Linda: It still was great fun.
Carol: I still to this day miss going to Nathan’s for a big game, sitting at the bar having the potato chips and a martini. I miss going in on a Saturday or Sunday for the waffles or the eggs Benedict. They were the best.
I loved having dinner in the back room and having fettuccine Alfredo. The first chef I hired, Paul Wahlberg, has now got a TV show called “Wahlburgers.” He’s going to be opening a Wahlburgers on DuPont Circle. He’s done well.
Linda: Oh good.
Carol: He’s done well. He’s gone on to be a big business. He has a reality TV show and a chain he started up in Boston where he’s from. That was when I took a bold move and pissed off a lot of people, but then they all came round when I stopped the Italian food and went to an American menu.
I kept the pasta, but I said, “We weren’t selling any of it. We just had all this food that wasn’t selling. I said, “We didn’t have grapes and Italian stuff here. Why are we Italian?”
Linda: Let’s bring in the burgers.
Carol: There’s so much better Italian in DC. I said, “Why are we doing this? Let’s be an American restaurant. We’re called Nathan’s. We’re at the corner of Wisconsin and M. We’re an American saloon.” Slowly they came around. Slowly, very slowly. Then they were fine with it. I brought Paul in. He had great American food and all that Boston stuff.
Linda: What a story. What a life.
Carol: We’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg.
Linda: I know. There’s more to come, really.
Carol: I don’t want to exhaust you.
Linda: But this is great. This is great.
Cathy: What do you see as Georgetown’s future? Do you think there’s hope that community will be recreated?
Carol: We need a BID that’s about the whole community, not just the business part of it. I used to be on the board of the BID. I was like, “Why is this just about the people in the office buildings? The bid was just all about the people who commute to work at Georgetown and it wasn’t about Georgetown.
I think we need somebody who’s like a mayor of Georgetown who’s really looking out for everything. We treat Jack that way, but Jack is not just about Georgetown. We forget that sometimes.
Cathy: What about Levy Development?
Carol: What do I think of them? I think Richard cares an awful lot about Georgetown.
Linda: I think he does too.
Carol: But he’s in this project that’s probably going to consume him, getting the West Heating Plant done. My position on something like that is very radical. I think they should have just torn it down. [laughs]
Linda: I know. I know.
Carol: It’s not that fabulous.
Linda: It’s not.
Carol: It’s not like it’s Katharine Graham’s house.
Linda: In my opinion, it’s not going to make for a fabulous place to live.
Carol: No, because they’re going to be so compromised, they’re not going to be able to basically put a new building up. I don’t know. Things get in the way. It’s like, how can we have that ugly monstrosity that’s Washington Harbor and we’re driving Richard Levy crazy about what he wants?
Linda: It is just basically a dull brick ugly building.
Cathy: It’s just so ugly.
Carol: I live near Washington Harbor. You know that thing that sticks up out of the pond?
Linda: Right, what is that?
Carol: Why can’t they just take that thing down?
Linda: What is that?
Carol: What is it?
Linda: I don’t know. I hate to tell you. they just fixed it
Carol: It’s a mess.
Linda: Yes. Yes, there is scaffolding all around it.
Carol: It’s there forever. It’s not about anything. It’s not like it’s a sculpture.
Linda: We’re like, “What is it?”
Cathy: I don’t know what it is.
Carol: I’ve never seen anything going on in it…nobody dancing in it.
Linda: There are no lights.
Carol: No. Think of what a pretty pond it would be if it was gone, and what a pretty ice‑skating rink it would be if it was gone. The building is so horrible that you have to look at the river, but thank God for the Georgetown Waterfront Park. That is…
Cathy: That is beautifully done.
Carol: Brilliant. It’s brilliant. It’s a win‑win‑win‑win. I’m so proud of that. I had nothing to do with it, [laughs] but I’m proud of it as a…
Linda: They did do a beautiful job with that.
Carol: …Georgetowner. If we could just get the C&O Canal back up to speed…can’t they just come one night at midnight, take that barge apart, and haul it away on some trucks? It’s sad watching it rot. It feels like it’s the story of Georgetown.
Linda: A metaphor.
Carol: It’s just sitting there rotting before our eyes.
Linda: There’s now that nonprofit group that is solely focused on that. The Park Service is not easy to deal with.
Carol: No, I know.
Cathy: They have no money, so they say.
Linda: They never do. It’s just crazy.
Carol: I know. All you’ve got to do is look at our parks that get mowed Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day. Otherwise the parks just grow into the overgrown…
Linda: That’s what they like. They like the natural, but it’s tough living in this city…
Carol: It’s not good for the kids.
Linda: …having all those little reservations that are owned by the Parks Service and they don’t take care of them. They just don’t.
Carol: I loved the canal barge. It was a great thing. It was a great thing for the city. It’s reprehensible that it’s…how expensive can it be to put a new barge in?
Linda: Yeah, put it in your budget. Get it done.
Carol: Start charging people. Don’t make it free. Charge a lot of money and serve drinks on it. I don’t know. Make it into something.
Linda: Yeah, why not? Thank you very much.
Carol: Thank you. I feel…you know how you feel after you’ve talked about yourself?
Linda: Yeah. You feel good?
Carol: You feel terrible. No.
Linda: Doesn’t it feel good?
Carol: I interviewed Eric Ziebold yesterday, who’s the chef and owner of Kinship and Metier, the wonderful restaurants he’s opened on 7th Street, across from the…
Linda: Convention Center.
Carol: The way I did the interview is pretty much a profile interview. It was more about how he got from Ames, Iowa to Washington, DC via The French Laundry in Ijamsville and per se in New York. I could tell at the end of it that he just seemed so deflated. I said, “It’s hard to talk about yourself for an hour.”
Linda: Do you feel deflated?
Carol: Yeah, you always do. It’s normal.
Linda: Do you feel deflated right now?
Linda: You’ve just been wrung out?
Carol: It’s like you’re just so sick of yourself talking.
Linda: Oh my gosh! I feel…
Carol: I hope it was what you needed.
Cathy: Very nicely done.
Carol: There are so many things you can come back and ask me about if you need details, because there are so many layers. There’s so much more to Nathan’s than we even got in. The stories people tell about Nathan’s, I don’t even know that I have them. People tell me their stories about Nathan’s and they crack me up.
One of my favorite stories about Nathan’s was ‑‑ and Howard told me this ‑‑ that one St. Patrick’s Day he and his Irish bartenders cooked up this scheme where they told everybody they were getting sod shipped in from Ireland.
They went out to one of these sod farms in Maryland and they got sod and they put it…they were drunk when they did this, of course, and they put it all on the floor of the front room. Which back in those days was carpeted.
None of these idiot guys thinking about what the sod would do to the carpeting. But they thought it was hilarious. They liked it. It felt all St. Patrick’s Day. Oh they had green grass all over the whole floor at Nathan’s.
That’s a great story. They’d do stuff like that. They would go off to the track. They’d go off to Redskins games. Celebrities would come in. John Riggins would raise hell in there after every game, upending tables and buying drinks for the house.
He would often end up in traction in Sibley after a game and he’d have Howard send him dinner. Howard would send a waiter up to Sibley with a big box of fettuccine Alfredo and salad and all that. Stuffed inside it would be a bottle of Merlot. The nurses would just look the other way.
He’d be in traction eating fettuccine Alfredo drinking champagne.
Linda: That’s great.
Carol: …with a Nathan’s waiter serving him.
Linda: It’s a great image. It’s a great image.
Carol: I imagine now there’d be all these “We can’t risk this. We can’t do that.”
Linda: Oh, yeah. People don’t think like that anymore.
Cathy: The world has changed.
Carol: It has.
Cathy: It really has. We’re legislating our safety…
Carol: Darlings, OK.
Linda: …rather than using our heads. Thank you.
Transcription by CastingWords