Dipping off for wee dram in LBJ's Washington watering hole
Posted on the 9th Dec 2015 in the category travel

There are times on press trips when I just have to dip off. Don’t get me wrong, I never miss a beat on an itinerary, I never am late to hold people up.

But sometimes I see something which I know I have to see, after all the chance of getting that chance again could never happen. In Washington I had one of those moments. We were having dinner opposite Martin’s Tavern.

The historic Georgetown boozer where the Kennedys, LBJ and almost every other 20th Century US politician of note drank before and after making history, in fact made history in there.

I’ve still not finished LBJ’s biography but I remembered Martin’s Tavern from the passages about the great Sam Rayburn, the wiley old fox of the senate, holding hushed meetings with LBJ.

As we were on a guided tour I knew I couldn’t get the guide to stop off there so I took my chance after I gobbled my food. We were with a tour group so no-one would miss me, even the elderly woman who said: “wow, someone from the stone age!” when I said I was a print journalist.

I said I was having a fag (cigarette, id already shocked a PR saying I’d been up early looking for fags) I knew I had ten minutes tops So I belted across the road and in to Martin’s Tavern.

The place was half full and had the atmosphere of place which has hosted a thousand great nights in its 82 years. I waited at the bar with the air of an elderly alcoholic seething as someone orders coffees in a Wetherspoons.

I asked for a whiskey – which one said the barmaid – they had about 50. I looked at the menu, I could only afford the Tullamore Drew, which narked me because I can get that at any off license.

I told the bemused staff I was a journalist and was there for a brief while and was there any chance I could have the cheapest whiskey and sit where LBJ and Rayburn sat all those years ago. Better than that they said, you can sit where Nixon used to sit in the 1940s and 1950s.

Are they taking the piss I thought? Or I could sit where President Truman sat or where JFK proposed to Jackie. Again, no I wanted LBJ booth. The chubby host took me to the back room, an oak panelled affair.

And there it was – up against the back wall – The LBJ booth, and thankfully no one was there. It was the perfect place to plan dark deeds, to talk in hushed tones about destroying careers, and there was no chance of being overheard as Rayburn and LBJ discussed plans deep into the night.

I wished my pal John was with me, I’d have loved to have had a long night in deep discussion about all sorts, we had spent a few hours in Washington last year, I wish I knew about Martin’s then. I sat down and gulped my whiskey and drank in the small room. Thoughts of a political career ran through my mind, ideas of conspiracy seeped into my thoughts and I wondered about the historic deeds that had taken place in this booth.

Perhaps LBJ came here the night before he passed the Civil Rights Bill, perhaps he came up with the bastardly blackmail plots to get Southern politicians to bend to his will. Perhaps that’s where LBJ came up with the plan to slander an opponent, so the legend goes he said: “I want him to deny that he has slept with a pig.”

I suppose I better finish the four volumes of Caro’s masterpiece to find out, but whatever happens I was so glad I got to sit in Martin’s Tavern for those brief few minutes before rejoining my group – who hadn’t missed me but noticed I was rather pleased with myself.

Whistlestop travel, don’t you just love it.



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