Martin’s Tavern brings history and hospitality to Georgetown

Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown is like a grandparent of sorts — it possesses a certain wisdom that only comes with age and a comfortable friendliness that makes you want to spend hour upon hour together.

The Wisconsin Avenue staple has been around since 1933, creating more than 75 years of memories for the D.C. area and visitors alike.

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Billy Martin is a fourth-generation owner who spent 18 years bartending at the restaurant and bar before buying the oldest-run family restaurant in the Washington area from his father.

“It’s a great little oasis,” Martin said.

Martin’s Tavern has welcomed every president from Harry Truman to George W. Bush. 

“We used to joke that you would become president if you stopped in,” Martin said. “Teresa Heinz Kerry was a regular here and we kept encouraging her to tell John to stop in. He never did,” he said of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who was the Democrat’s presidential nominee in 2004. Kerry lost to the incumbent Bush.

The streak ended, however, with President Obama. Martin’s young son and daughter wrote to the White House asking him to visit their father’s restaurant, adding that it’s perfect for the Obama family, which has favored small, family-run spots in the area.

“I got a call from the White House saying they received my kids’ letter,” Martin said. “They also said unfortunately Obama was unable to make it to Martin’s. You never know though, we have time left.”

Martin was also sure to add that the restaurant made a delicious shrimp scampi, a favorite of first lady Michelle Obama’s.

Martin’s Tavern is brimming with other pieces of only-in-D.C. history. Martin’s grandfather was good friends with Rep. Sam Rayburn (D-Texas), the longest-serving Speaker of the House yet. 

“He was grandpa’s best friend,” Martin said. “He was always giving advice to Sam.”

Martin recalled a story his grandfather used to tell, when he and Rayburn were sitting at the tavern together one evening and soon-to-be President Lyndon B. Johnson kept trying to jump into the conversation.

“Sam and my grandpa finally said, ‘if you shut up maybe you’ll learn something!’ ” Martin shared, laughing.

The history doesn’t end there, either — legend has it former President John F. Kennedy proposed to then-girlfriend Jackie Bouvier in an intimate booth over Martin’s famed comfort food.

“There’s been at least a dozen proposals there over the years,” Martin said, gesturing to the corner booth.

Martin’s is currently decorated for Halloween, just begging for Washingtonians to come and make their own history at the tavern.

Favorite fare includes a crab cake recipe that’s been in the family for 70 years, prime rib served on weekends and oyster stew, along with French onion soup and some “pretty delicious” bison burgers, Martin said.

To find out more about Martin’s, located at 1264 Wisconsin Ave. NW, visit www.martins-tavern.com.