The History of Old Ebbitt
The Oldest Saloon in Washington
The Old Ebbitt Grill, Washington's oldest saloon, was founded in 1856 when, according to legend, innkeeper William E. Ebbitt bought a boarding house. Today, no one can pinpoint the house’s exact location, but it was most likely on the edge of present-day Chinatown.
As a boarding house, the Ebbitt guest list read like a Who's Who of American History. President McKinley is said to have lived there during his tenure in Congress, and Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and Warren Harding supposedly refreshed themselves at its stand-around bar.
Each table in the Ebbitt was graced by a blue history card that read: "Many other famous statesmen, naval and military heroes, too numerous to mention here, have been guests of the house."
Old Ebbitt became Washington's first known saloon. As the years passed, it moved to a number of new locations. By the early 20th Century, the Ebbitt had relocated to what is now the National Press Building at 14th and F Streets NW. Two saloons coexisted there, a Dutch room and an Old English room. In the 1920s, when the Ebbitt moved to a converted haberdashery at 1427 F Street NW, they were combined into a single Old Ebbitt Grill.
Founded in 1856
The Clyde's Connection
By 1970, the Old Ebbitt Grill had fallen on hard times and an auction was held to satisfy a federal tax claim. Stuart Davidson (1922 - 2001) and John Laytham (1944-2019), owners of a newer Washington institution, Clyde's of Georgetown, expressed an interest in buying the Ebbitt's collection of antique beer steins to display at Clyde's.
But when auction proceeds fell short of the lien on the property, bidding began again, but this time on the entire contents. And suddenly, for $11,200, the two partners unexpectedly found themselves owners of a second saloon, the Old Ebbitt Grill.
They got a lot of history and myth for their money. The Old Ebbitt Grill was the first expansion beyond the original Clyde's in Georgetown. Today, Clyde's Restaurant Group has grown to include 13 properties.
The owners of Clyde's acquired the Old Ebbitt in 1970.
The restaurant was uprooted one last time when it moved around the corner to its current location.
The Final Move
In 1983, the Old Ebbitt Grill was uprooted one last time when it moved around the corner to its current location at 675 15th Street NW to the Beaux-Arts building that was once the old B. F. Keith's Theater. Bringing its rich history with it, the "new" Old Ebbitt remains a historic landmark.
Between the moves and its history, the Old Ebbitt has amassed a priceless collection of antiques and memorabilia. Along the way, the restaurant acquired beer steins, animal heads (reputedly bagged by Teddy Roosevelt) and wooden bears said to have been imported by Alexander Hamilton for his private bar. Unfortunately, many artifacts were beyond preserving and unable to weather the 1983 move around the corner.
Today the Victorian interior evokes Washington saloons at the turn of the century. The antique clock over the revolving door at the entrance is an heirloom from the previous location, and the marble staircase with an iron-spindled rail was salvaged from the old National Metropolitan Bank next door.
The mahogany Main Bar is a copy of the bar at the F Street location, which had rotted beyond repair. In an alcove near the bar and foyer, paintings by Kamil Kubik show the Ebbitt at its prior F Street location. The three carved glass panels separating the Main Bar from the Main Dining Room were done by Charles B. Shefts, who carved the mirrors and windows as well. The panels depict the Treasury, the Capitol, and the White House.
Around the corner from the Main Bar is the famous Oyster Bar, featuring paintings by marine artist Peter Egeli and Chesapeake Bay watercolor-ist J. Robert Burnell. The Oyster Bar features an array of exceptional oysters and winning wines from the annual Old Ebbitt Grill International Wines for Oysters Competition.
On the left of the foyer and up the five marble stairs is the Corner Bar. This federal-style room is reminiscent of a downtown club with spirit of the Chesapeake Bay. Paintings of waterfowl hunting by Richmond, Virginia artist Claiborne D. Gregory, Jr. and a museum-quality collection of decoys convey the relaxed and timeless comfort and camaraderie of an Eastern Shore hunt club.
Antique gas chandeliers and fixtures light the Main Dining Room. The wooden crossbeams on the 10-foot ceilings are accented by a style of pinstripe stenciling popular at the turn of the century. The chairs in the dining room are copies of antique Victorian bentwood chairs from a New York Central Railroad dining car, replicated by furniture manufacturer Shelby Williams. Paintings by Kamil Kubik on the north wall depict festive, patriotic scenes near The White House and near the Supreme Court and Library of Congress. Also on the north wall opposite the rear booths hangs a large oil painting entitled “Three Bathers” by American artist Howard Chandler Christy.
Just behind the Main Dining Room is Grant’s Bar with its ceiling mural by New Jersey artist Carol Loeb and an artistic rendering by Peter Egeli of the famous Matthew Brady photograph of General Grant. An oil painting behind the bar of a nude reclining near a lily pond was painted about 1900 by Jean-Paul Gervais.
In 1994, Clyde’s Restaurant Group commissioned Nantucket artist James Harrington — a self-taught, impressionist painter — to capture unofficial Washington. The results of his sojourn in the capital may be seen in paintings throughout the restaurant.
No tour of the restaurant is complete without a glimpse into the handsome private dining room downstairs. The Cabinet Room features six paintings of game birds by Australian-born (and longtime Georgetown resident) Robin Hill, one of the world’s most distinguished bird painters and artists.
The Old Ebbitt brigade consists of 300 employees, over 100 of who work in the kitchen directly under Chef Joseph Allen's guidance. The restaurant serves up to 2,000 guests per day in the main dining rooms and private functions can number 1,000 guests per day. Meet some of the people that have made Old Ebbitt such a success.