JUMP TO PAGE   100  >  200  >  300  >  400  >  500  >  600

Hancock's: 1914

"Hancock's, the Old Curiosity Shop, 1234 Pennsylvania Avenue," probably around 1914, the final year of its existence. The restaurant, the Washington Post reported in 1927, "was noted particularly for two things -- its cocktails and its fried chicken." Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size.

"Hancock's, the Old Curiosity Shop, 1234 Pennsylvania Avenue," probably around 1914, the final year of its existence. The restaurant, the Washington Post reported in 1927, "was noted particularly for two things -- its cocktails and its fried chicken." Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

The site today

Sadly, no improvement....

View Larger Map

[Wrong quadrant -- you want Northwest, not Southeast. The ghost of Hancock's is somewhere under the Department of Commerce. - Dave]

View Larger Map

Hancock's New Look

"The original site was never changed, nor any efforts made to enlarge or modernize the building." For all that nostalgic reportorial rhapsodizing about unchanging traditions at Hancock's in 1914, the facade of the building tells a very different story. The brick core of the building might date to 1840, but the dormered mansard roof, its iron work and signboard, and second floor window case facings are all unquestionably post-Civil War, probably dating to the 1875-1885 period. So, about halfway through its 74 years, one of the Hancocks must have embellished the old tavern with fashionable new ornamental details, but it was still "Hancock's - Established 1840."

[The restaurant, noted for its low ceiling, was the ground floor, dating to the 1840s. The upper stories were added later. - Dave]


Washington Post, Mar 15, 1914

Tenant Becomes Landlord

Heidenheimer Buys Site He Has Occupied
Thirty Years.

Henry W. Sohon, trustee of the Walters estate, acting under a court decree, has sold the property at 1236 Pennsylvania avenue northwest, to Elias Heidenheimer, for $20,000.

The structure which occupies this property was erected more than a half century ago, and stands in what was once the center of the business district. The building itself is now valued at only $4,000, a valuation of $16,000 being placed on the land. It contains four stories and a basement. The property has a frontage of 25 feet on Pennsylvania avenue, and extends back in an L shape, about 100 feet.

The purchaser of the premises has occupied it exclusively for 30 years. Extensive remodeling is contemplated. The new owner is considering a plan to raze the structure and erect a new building.


What are the countless dark stains on that pavement? Spat out bubble gum (was it already popular back then?) Tobacco? Both?

[It's either dirt on the glass plate that kept the emulsion from being exposed, or pitting in the emulsion after the plate was developed. - Dave]

Notorious Patron

In addition to great legislators (Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John Calhoun), Hancock's had its notorious patrons as well.

During this period he [John Wilkes Booth] seemed to have been occasionally absent from town, but we frequently met and strolled on the Avenue, usually dropping into Hancock's. The old man, "Uncle Andrew," was then in the prime of his genial old age, and his mulatto assistant, "Dick," was justly celebrated for his ministrations to the convivial frequenters of this unique old curiosity shop.

Recollections of Lincoln's Assassination
by Seaton Munroe
in the The North American Review
edited by Lloyd Bryce
1896, O. Everett, publishers


My eyes aren't what they used to be but I sure don't see any monogram "H" between the upper windows.

[It's where hexagons have been replaced by squares. - Dave]


From the early days of Prohibition comes this anonymous newspaperman's ode the the watering holes of Pennsylvania Avenue -- Gerstenberg's, Shoomaker's and of course Hancock's. Excerpt below.

Washington Post, July 31, 1921.

Ghosts of Jovial Days Recalled;
When Avenue Was Long Trail

Nectars Fit for Gods to Quaff and Viands Than Which Olympus Had None Better Are Fading Memories Now — Historic Places in Which Wits and Nation's Leaders Foregathered Described by One Who Saw Them Before They Went Down and Out.

Pennsylvania avenue once was a long, long trail. In those days it began at the corner of Fifteenth street, where Bob Murphy ran the Regent, but, more properly, it started at the corner of Fourteenth street, just over on the south side of the hill, where E street runs into the Mall and where Dennis Mullany ran his little old shebeen. There it started. Where it ended — well, that's another story, but there was always a line of sea-going hacks up on the west end of the thoroughfare ready and willing to hit the high spots with anybody, anything or any group that wanted to go — anywhere.

They called it the Street of Magnificent Distances, because the distances between places were as perfect in proportion as if they had been laid out by Ganymedes, the cup bearer of the gods ...

Hancock's the Next Step.

A sort of a tack, like a sailing vessel takes when the wind is coming from the leeward, brought the casual stroller to 1234 Pennsylvania avenue — Hancock's!

Who, fortunate enough to be living then, will ever forget Hancock's? There is where the chicken dinners were served as only the old-time Virginia cooks could serve them. The major domo was on duty as you entered, standing behind the funny little bar, the bar with the brass slots in its bosom, as if it had at one time been used as a slot machine before modern slot machines were invented, but the slots constituted a sort of cash register where the major domo deposited the money he received for the drinks.

Yes, there were drinks served in Hancock's. Appetizers, they were called, and while they were being consumed and the next round ordered, some member of the party, if there were a party, or the single visitor, if such he happened to be, stepped to the door of the little back room and ordered the dinner.

"Yas-sah!" the old negro always said. "Yas-sah, yo' dinnah will be surved, suh, in a ver' short while."

A Real Chicken Dinner.

And when it was served! Wad the power some one would gie us to go over again the bare outlines of that dinner — chicken, fried, sizzling hot, with corn cakes on the platter, all the other delights that went with it and a great pitcher of beer standing out there in the middle of the table — a cut glass pitcher that would inspire a Sargent, a Whistler or any other great American artist to do his darndest — with the pitcher or with the beer. They always liked to serve the beer in pitchers at Hancock's when the guests had assembled around the tables and the chicken had been done to a turn.

Hancock's Bites the Dust

Between the closing of Hancock's in 1914 and the building's demolition in 1931, the address housed a number of businesses, the first of which was Cunningham Plumbing Supply.

Washington Post, August 16, 1931.

Hancock's Once Famous Resort
Bites Dust Before Modern Progress

Structure in Triangle Is
Claimed by Wreckers for Uncle Sam.

By Chas. A. Hamilton

In the early summer of 1893, at the beginning of President Cleveland's second term, a large party of British journalists visited Washington on their way to Chicago to see the glories of America as depicted in the Columbian Exposition.

These gentlemen were taken in tow by members of the National Capital Press Club, who piloted them to the White House, introduced them to members of the Cabinet, took them on a trip to Mount Vernon and in other ways endeavored to to give them "the time of their lives." That they appreciated the attentions shown them was evidenced in the form of the dinner to which every Washington correspondent, and about all the local men, were invited.

At that dinner, which was attended by some fifty or more of the Washington newspapermen, all the Britishers were on hand save one. But he was the most popular member of the whole bunch, and his absence was noted with much regret. But just before the party left for the railroad station, he appeared.

What Caused Regrets.

"I can not tell you how deeply I regret my apparent discourtesy as shown by my failure to join you gentlemen at dinner," he explained. "But the fact of the matter is that I have been in a comatose condition for several hours, and have just recovered my senses. This afternoon some of the boys of the Press Club took me in hand and introduced me to many establishments and to a corresponding number of delectable concoctions with which I was entirely unfamiliar. At one place, I can not recall the name, but I do remember it was one-two-three-four, I imbibed a number of wonderful drinks with grass in them, with the result that I was actually unable to see. I have only just awakened."

That "one-two-three-four" establishment was 1234 Pennsylvania avenue, about a mile west of the Capitol. There was a "pathway worn to the door" of this place by Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun in the earlier days, and later by statesmen, justices of the United States Supreme Court, admirals, generals, and thousands of others, residents and visitors. One after another, four generations of "Andrew Hancocks" were on hand to dispense all kinds of "delectable concoctions," such as those which were so attractive to the English journalist in 1893.

Chicken and Hoe Cake.

For a century Hancock's at 1234 Pennsylvania avenue had been the gathering place of men who were partial to "chicken a la Maryland and hoe cake." For the old fat "mammy" in the kitchen, who seemed to live forever, certainly could "beat the world" in preparing that dish so dear to the hearts of most Americans. But in spite of the excellence of the Hancock cuisine — no woman was ever served in the establishment, by the way — the magnet which drew aristocrats and plebeians alike was the bar.

That bar was located just inside the entrance door, in a room which was decorated from floor to ceiling with all sorts of relics and curios, from a hat once worn by President Lincoln to a letter bearing the enormous signature of Drake de Kay. The "hell and blazes" cocktails served in glasses frosted with sugar, the juleps in the mint season, hot toddies and "buttered rum," with scores of other mixtures at all seasons were what the visitors craved. In no other place in the country was the art of mixture so thoroughly developed as it was by the colored artists who served behind Hancock's bar.

The last of the fourth generation — the fourth Andrew Hancock — died, practically penniless, about a year ago. At least one of the old-time "barkeeps" is still alive and prosperous. He recently declined a berth in a fashionable club because, as he explained, "I have retired, thank you, and don't care to reengage in business." Hancock's closed its doors when prohibition fell upon the District of Columbia, a year or more before the adoption of the 18th amendment. And now the building itself, that quaint little low-ceilinged colonial house, has vanished. In its place is a pile of debris, bricks, rafters, laths, beams, joists and old plaster, for the wreckers have been busy clearing the site for the new building soon to be erected to house the Post-office Department, in lieu of the monstrosity which has served a similar purpose during the past quarter century.

Avenue Now Dry.

There is not a single "establishment" on Pennsylvania avenue today, where once there were at least 50 between the Capitol and the Treasury, in which any sort of intoxicant can be obtained — without a doctor's prescription. That does not mean that Washington is a particularly dry town. On the contrary, there is scarcely a grocery or chain store in which the makings of beer in the form of "malt extract" can not be obtained. "Wine glo" and brick concentrates are openly peddled through the office buildings. As for "hard stuff" that, in the form of Maryland rye, comes in literally by the ton every week. The police get some of it — perhaps 3 per cent of the entire importation — but the profits on the portion which "gets over" are great enough so that the bootlegger of the Maryland product can afford to sacrifice a high-priced car and pay the fines of his drivers about once a month without danger of bankruptcy.

As for alcohol, the supply exceeds the demand almost in the same proportion that the supply of wheat exceeds the demand for flour. Correspondingly, the price has dropped. It is now possible, according to the patrons of the dealers, to buy 190 proof ethyl alcohol for as little as $6 a gallon, and with each gallon is supplied a sufficient quantity of "essence" to produce nine quarts of very fair "bath-tub gin." This, with a case of Canada Dry, is enough to assure a very hilarious evening for large party of the younger generation, to whom the "summer gardens" of bygone days are closed.

First-Class Drinks

There is a small, modest-looking bar on Pennsylvania avenue, in Washington, where the best first-class drinks are to be had. Hancock's bar is entered with respect, and is a place of pilgrimage for certain members of Congress, because of the number of their predecessors who come there to seek inspiration for their eloquence. Right around the long room, narrow and dark, historic souvenirs tell of the past glories of Hancock's: autographs of Washington and of Jefferson, old hats, rusty swords, which formerly belonged to different famous citizens of the Union — quite a museum of bric-a-brac is found in that bar. Hancock's is a sort of National monument for some Americans, while for others it is only a disreputable place.

American Life
By Paul de Rousiers
Translated by Andrew John Herbertson
1892, Firmin-Didot & Co.

Another famous place, long a favorite resort of public men, is Hancock's, on Pennsylvania Avenue near Thirteenth Street. It is called "the old curiosity shop" for the reason that it contains within its contracted space thousands of unique relics. The dark and dingy walls are covered with curious objects. But these are not all that gives interest to the place. At its bar one can get an old-fashioned Southern mint julep made to suit the "queen's taste" and it is said to be the only place in Washington where this drink properly prepared can be procured. In the rear of the saloon there are two rooms where an old colored Aunty prepares a Southern supper for the guest. This supper consists of old-fashioned fried chicken with cream gravy, hoe cakes, fried potatoes and coffee. Voorhees, Vest, Holman, Beck, Edmunds, Kerr, Cameron, Curtin, Gresham, Sickles, Cummings, Laird and many others used to go there when they wanted to get "something good and fit to eat." Many of the noted men still go there for a julep or a supper in preference to the stately New Willard with its mahogany tables, luxurious appointments and ten thousand per annum "chef," only one square away.

Twenty Years in the Press Gallery
By Orlando Oscar Stealey
1906, Publishers Printing Company

Attempted murder! Poison!

"Mary Richardson, a colored domestic in E. Heidenheimer's family, Washington, was arrested, Monday night, charged with attempting to poison Mrs. Heidenheimer. At breakfast Mrs. Heidenheimer noticed a strange taste in the coffee. An analysis showed that the cup contained six grains of oxallic acid.

NY Morning Herald, August 20[?],1880
Not too poisonous, then.

One wonders what's the story behind this short notice. Was it the final attempt of a tormented soul (i.e. Mary) to rid herself of her tormentor (i.e. Mrs. Heidenheimer)? Was Mrs. Heidenheimer a vicious old bat who harassed the domestics or just a forgetful old bat who confused the bleaching powder with sugar?

I will try to find out more.

Hancock's Tavern

Washington Post, Aug 30. 1914

Hancock's To Close

Famous Pennsylvania Avenue
Tavern is 74 Years Old

Washington is about to lose a landmark, which dates to the time when it was more properly the Capitol than the Capital, its few streets more muddy roads, its present parks nothing more than swamps or forests. In the days of Clay, Webster, and Calhoun this historic place was known as Hancock's Tavern today it is Hancock's, the Old Curiosity Shop, at 1234 Pennsylvania avenue.

Abounding in the memories of great men, the passage of epochal events, and the infancy of Washington, Hancock's, in the seventy-fourth year of its existence, soon will close its doors and put up the shutters.

Owned by Three Generations

Andrew Hancock, whose grandson of the same name is the proprietor now, founded a tavern in 1840 a what was then the western extremity of Pennsylvania avenue proper. It soon became a rendezvous for the ante-bellum statesmen. It is said that many a speech which was acclaimed on the floor of the House or Senate had its inception at this meeting place of the legislators. Tales are told of the oratorical dissertations of Daniel Webster, the sallies of Henry Clay, and the fiery eloquence of John Calhoun, which where heard under the old roof by patrons of the tavern long since dead, who related the stories to the younger generation, now gray themselves.

Old Traditions Upheld

With the growth of the village into a city Hancock's began to assume a look of age. The original site was never changed, nor any efforts made to enlarge or modernize the building. Carefully guarded recipes for the beverages which were enjoyed in the fifties have always been preserved, and connoisseurs have pleaded in vain for the secrets of the entrancing brews mixed out of sight and dispensed by solemn servitors with a reverent hand. Their fame and that their birthplace spread throughout the land, and no traveler was said to have seen Washington until he had seen Hancock's

Fine Collection of Curios

A collection of curios dating back to the foundation of the tavern lends it additional quaintness. Relics which a museum might envy deck its faded walls and musty cabinets. There are numerous letters and appointments signed by the hand of Washington, arms of 100 years ago, clothing worn by great men, a veritable history of long-past times and manners. What will become of these when Hancock's closes is not known.

The license not having been renewed with the excise board for the coming year. Hancock's has but two months more to exist in its present form. Its memories of three generations will pass away with it: its ancient walls, stripped of their venerable relics, will mark progress and decadence of all things old.

Makes Sense

It stands to reason if they sold a lot of fried chicken there would be a lot of "cocktails" lying around. Get it? Chicken, cocktails? Ahhahahaha!

Happy Holiday, Shorpyites.

Holy Gutta-percha!

Did Larry, Moe and Curly wire that joint?


Note the letter H made with shingles between the upper windows.

Syndicate content is a vintage photography site featuring thousands of high-definition images. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago. Contact us | Privacy policy | Accessibility Statement | Site © 2024 Shorpy Inc.