Streets of Washington, written by John DeFerrari, covers some of DC’s most interesting buildings and history. John is the author of Historic Restaurants of Washington, D.C.: Capital Eats, published by the History Press, Inc. and also the author of Lost Washington DC.
The Jo Del Restaurant at 719 9th Street NW (Source: DC Public Library, Star Collection, © Washington Post).
Ninth Street downtown was one of the city’s liveliest entertainment zones in the early years of the 20th century, full of theaters like the Gayety Burlesque, which we’ve previously profiled, and a colorful array of exotic restaurants, bars, and diners. “Everything that ever happened in this city happened there. When you came to town you had to strut up and down Ninth Street or you hadn’t lived,” boxing promoter Goldie Ahearn later recalled. But by the World War II years, this had all begun to change. The theaters and restaurants were still there, but they tended toward the seedy. Many of their patrons were the city’s alienated loners, the gamblers and late-night drinkers, the soldiers and sailors at loose ends who sooner or later ended up causing some kind of trouble. “There are eight million stories in the naked city…” says the narrator of the classic 1948 film noir about New York City. In the case of Washington, this sad story, as told breathlessly by the city’s newspapers, is one of them.
Greek restaurants were once commonplace on 9th Street. Some, like the Athens Restaurant at 804 9th Street were prominent and long-lived, but others, including the small storefront at 719 9th Street, were less reputable. As a Greek coffee house in 1946 it was busted by the vice squad for illegal gambling. Four years later, reincarnated as the “Acropolis Club,” it was shut down again for the same reason. By the late 1950s, the joint had been renamed the Jo Del Grill (or Jo Del Tavern), and this is the place that George P. Kaldes purchased in 1957. Kaldes, a 33-year-old World War II Army veteran of Greek descent, had cashed in a life insurance policy and put up all of his personal savings to gain full ownership of the Jo Del, and in the months after doing so he had been proud that the little place was beginning to show a modest profit. (more…)