Thursday, May 13th, 2010
“I was born at home at the corner of Rodman and Connecticut Avenue in 1950. People talk about being a native born Washingtonian, it doesn’t get much more native than that. I played music professionally and lived on the road for about six years, but have been here otherwise. I guess I just can’t figure out how to get out of here.
“My wife’s grandfather started the Brickskeller in 1957. He was French and a Cordon Bleu certified chef. In the 1940′s, he was a chef at Napoleon’s, which was Washington’s best restaurant at the time. He wanted to open his own place and leased a space over by the Mayflower Hotel and opened the restaurant Blackstones. Eventually, he bought this space and opened the Brickskeller in 1957. There were a lot of good restaurants at the time, so he wanted to make his stand out. At the time, places had good wine lists, but no one had a good beer list. This place opened with around 50 different beers available. We probably had the most beers in the world then, and we have tried to keep that up.
“There were a million bars called the Ratskeller at the time, especially around colleges. Ratskeller is a German word meaning a bar below street level that serves beer. He didn’t want to have another ratskeller, but he liked the sufiix. The place was built of brick, so he combined the two words. The original menu of this place had Alaskan king crab legs for $1.75 and a pitcher of beer for $.85. Those prices are still good, if you pay in 1957 silver dimes.
“This bar has gone through many variations. In the 1970′s, this was the largest dart bar in the country. The problem with darts is that the place was jam packed, but the bartenders were sitting on their asses because no one was drinking. They didn’t want to screw up their game. The place also has an interesting music history. Emmylou Harris, Mama Cass, and Jose Feliciano played here. Jim Morrison used to hang out here when he lived in Virginia.
“During the bicentennial, someone dared the owners to have a beer from every state. Missouri, at the time, was a dry state, so they didn’t succeed, but it planted the seed to expand the beer list. They bought a truck and sent it around the states to get beer from all over, including Alaska. We had about 400 beers when I came here in 1982, half of which were cans because can collecting had been popular in the 70′s. I saw that the future of the industry was in better quality bottled beer. In the first year I was here, I increased the number of beers to 850. At one point, we had it up to 1,300 beers. Now, we have a little over 1,000. I like having the opportunity to present the world of beer to people who want to experience it.
“Since opening, this place is remarkably unchanged. People come in who haven’t been here in 40 years and say, ‘This place looks exactly the same.’ I say, ‘We probably swept a couple times.”
The Brickskeller is located at 1523 22nd Street NW.