(Closed) The Collector Art Gallery Restaurant
My interest in the restaurant business started long before I actually knew anything about restaurants. I grew up in a family that owned a restaurant from 1840-1952 in New Jersey.
1620 U St. NW
My interest in the restaurant business started long before I actually knew much anything about restaurants. I grew up in a family that owned a restaurant from 1840-1952 in New Jersey.
You could say I was born on a bar stool, holding onto the bar with my left hand while grabbing peanuts with my right. My father and uncle would take me to the taverns and bars in the neighborhood. That’s how fathers babysat in the 50’s. From the time I was able to pour from a bottle, I was mixing Manhattans for my mother and Martinis for family get togethers. One of the drinks I was always encourage to make was a good old fashion Tom Collins. Needless to say, this all contributed to my aspirations of starting my own restaurant.
My hometown is Kearny, New Jersey, and once it was a predominately Scottish, Irish and English town. We had Scottish bakeries, Scottish Butchers, English fish & chip restaurants and a lot of Irish Pubs. Some of the restaurants my family took me to were Carbone’s, Lyle’s restaurant, The Bon Fire and Mama leone’s in NYC. These were the restaurants that influenced me when I was younger.
I went to New York Institute of Dietetics because the Culinary Institute of America was on a 3 year wait. Right after I graduated from the New York Institute of Dietetics, I was drafted into the Army and stationed at Fort Mead, Maryland for 2 years. I was the only person around that had gone to cooking school, so I knew how to turn the oven on and work the equipment! During my first day at Fort Mead, the Sargent told me to decorate the food line. Their concept of decorating the food line, no matter what was being served, was peppers and paprika.
One day I was making radish roses and the sargent came up to me and informed me, “We don’t make radish roses in the army.”
I responded with a smile, “We do now!”
He knew he was in trouble from that moment on. I was only one of the cooks who could make omelets, donuts & pizza for the men. In the army they say, “make friends with the cooks”. From my point of view, always make friends with the men! Many times I would have 3-4 day weekends! I knew who was in charge!
After the army I moved to Washington, DC and was a chef in a disco. Shortly after I began catering and supplying pâtés to restaurants. I imagined a theme for my first restaurant to be an art gallery similar to Mama Leone’s in NYC and Hausner’s Restaurant in Baltimore. The only difference was we were the only restaurant with an art gallery. We changed art exhibits monthly, and we were reviewed by the Washington Post and other publications. One of the most unique parts of The Collector Art Gallery Restaurant, at the time, was not just the art gallery but MaWooby’s Brew our custom made beer brewed by the Chesapeake Brewing Company. We also offered our own ice cream, strawberry, red-hot cinnamon, and chocolate-coconut banana, made by a specialty company in Middleburg, Virginia. I could eat the whole 5 gallons of strawberry ice cream myself! One of our entrees was chicken fried steak made with a NY Strip, pounded & fried. It was so popular we had some customers come in and order two servings. Another popular dish was the Chicken Lyndhurst, boneless chicken breast with a ginger batter and served with our famous lumpy (skin on) mashed potatoes. We could have opened a restaurant with just meatloaf and mashed potatoes alone! Stuffed crab was another popular item on our menu. We stuffed a whole crab with a large crab cake, dipped it in beer batter and then deep fried it. It was one of our most impressive dishes. We used vidalia onions long before anyone else in Washington, DC. The New York Times had an ad to order vidalia onions in 25 pound bags. We were one of the neighborhood restaurants where people frequently ate at because of our home-style comfort food.
Pictures of the interior of The Collector Art Gallery Restaurant.
Although popular for the menu & gallery, The Collector Art Gallery Restaurant attracted people and celebraties alike because of our progressive ideals and events. The celebrities of The Collector Art Gallery Restaurant aside from my regular customers, who to me are the real celebrities, were Joan Baez, Mary Martin, Jerome Robbins, Lily Tomlin, and Julian Bond, an American social activist/leader and Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. We had the cultural delegation from Russia when they were visiting DC. Joan Baez showed up on the back of a motorcycle driven by a friend of mine, and she enjoyed meeting people in the restaurant. Ted Wolter, a famous jewelry designer, frequently brought Jerome Robbins who choreographed West Side Story for dinner when he was in town.
To see favorite recipes of The Collector Art Gallery Restaurant click here.
The Beach Party
The beach party was a promotion to draw customers to the restaurant during the summer doldrums. We invited artists to sculpt in our ten tons of sand and also had a fundraiser for the Source Theater. Some of my ideas are wonderful and easy; this was neither. Let’s just say, “10 tons of sand in my restaurant was not one of my better ideas.” While it brought in many customers, the press, and attention in general and was a lot of fun. I was very pleased and lucky that a neighbor was trying to build a patio and needed some extra sand. He was kind enough to take it away! My tile floor was never a black and white floor again (I will never do sand again).
The Mapplethorpe Rally
The Mapplethorpe Rally was on June 30th, 1989. When Senator Jesse Helms canceled the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit by threatening to revoke funding from the Corcoran Museum, artists and the public were outraged. At a meeting of the Washington Project for the Arts (WPA), Andrea Pollan came up with the idea of projecting the images of Mapplethorpe on the outside of the Corcoran Museum on the night it should have opened to the public. This idea of hers was such a brilliant and important demonstration that it lives on even today. We all rallyed at the WPA and from there we all went to work. I was in charge of PR and making sure the word got out to the news papers and television that there would be a rally at the Corcoran on June 30th, 1989 at 9pm. There was over 150 people who came to the fundraiser which started at 7pm at The Collector Art Gallery Restaurant. From verbal support we only expected 250 people but over 2,000 people showed up. We rented buses to take our supporters to the demonstration.
The Collector Art Gallery Restaurant was a serious art gallery in a restaurant. Critics reviewed our gallery monthly and posted in publications like the Washington Post. We gave young curators their first chances to curate exhibits and since have moved on to become museum directors, gallery owners and independent curators. Here are images of some of the exhibits we had.
Edelweiss-Passaic New Jersey Folk Dancing Group
My friends from Edelweiss-Passaic New Jersey folk dancing group were preforming in Silver Spring, Maryland and came down and surprised me by showing up at my restaurant. I became a member of Edelweiss-Passaic from 1964 and I loved dancing & partying with them! They made me who I am today.
The Gay Pride Parade of 1988
The Gay Pride Parade of 1988 in Washington, DC came down 16th st from Meridian Hill Park and turned right on U st and passed The Collector Art Gallery Restaurant it then went on to 17th st. We had a banner that hung in front of the restaurant that said, “Be Proud and Be Safe” (talking abut the aids epidemic). The Washington Post wrote us up describing what was said on the banner.
My employees at The Collector Art Gallery Restaurant were a wonderful group of people to work with. They were as crazy and as fun as I was (am).
After Sunday brunches, which were always crowded, I would grab a can of whipped cream and we would start whipped cream fights. I would always make the waffles and once in a while I would burn one (not very often but it would happen from time to time) and once, a customer walked by and I threw it to him and he caught it. That all started the infamous ‘fris-waffle contests’. We blocked off the streets and tossed waffles back and forth until some one was standing with the last whole waffle. There were prizes of free meals and theater tickets! It was a blast.
What can you say about customers? They become family. They are there from when you first open your door until you shove them out or you walk them home! It’s amazing how I’m still connected to customers who have become friends over the years. I want to say thank you to all of my customers/friends for supporting me over the years. You’ll never know how much it means to me. I know I have given them memories and I know they have given me many more.
After hours with artist Rockne Krebs, art critic Michael Weldenbach, and friends. Once and a while artists would hang out after hours and party all night long until the wee hours of the morning.
Jazz Thursday Nights and Sunday Brunch
We had Jazz Thursday Nights and Sunday Brunch with classical music.
History of The Collector Art Gallery Restaurant from 1987-1989
With any business, press is very important. Because we were taken seriously as both an art gallery and a restaurant, we were written up for our food and monthly, in different publications, for our exhibits and special events. Although it was a full time job doing PR, it was well worth it. Publications are always looking for stories. If you write it for them, it makes their lives a lot easier!