‘I Love the Generations of Regulars’
Aniko Olah doesn’t get starstruck. Well, most of the time.
‘The night before Woodward and Bernstein were honored by the White House, I was watching this fantastic PBS documentary about them,’ says Aniko, a bartender at Martin’s Tavern. ‘The next day I’m in Martin’s looking at a picture of them shaking hands on the front page of the Post, and then at 10:30 or 11 they come in for breakfast and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ I just stood there and watched them.’
Presidents, politicos and Hollywood heavyweights are par for the course at Martin’s—the Georgetown institution that opened its doors in 1933. A local actor herself, Aniko once worked at the Kennedy Center—a job that prepared her for the barrage of famous faces that come in and out of the tavern doors.
‘I’ve served Chris O’Donnell, Ryan Seacrest, Kevin Spacey whenever he’s doing House of Cards. He comes in super early and goes outside, or in the corner somewhere. It’s Chris Matthews’ favorite place. But you realize they’re people, too.’
For all the political lore surrounding Martin’s Tavern, Aniko says it’s the everyday people who have made Martin’s the Cheers of Washington, DC.
On Sundays, two Georgetown history professors and their significant others come in at 9:30 on the dot—now affectionately dubbed ‘The Breakfast Club.’
On Mondays, the Masons.
On too many nights to count, Patrick—a retired Marine known for his epic stories.
All different, yet all looking for the same thing: A sense of community.
‘You have the grandparents, parents and little kids, and you know everything about them,’ Aniko says. ‘I get text messages from regulars with pictures of their grandkids. It’s so fun. It really is a community. A lot of our neighbors come in every day.’
And they expect to see Aniko. She’s currently performing in ‘Fear Eats the Soul’ at Atlas Theater—a gig that has taken her away from her usual Sunday afternoon shifts.
‘My regulars were freaking out. I told them come see the show!’
Aniko is as well-known as those who frequent Martin’s. For her regulars, she’s as much a part of the experience as the cozy wooden booths.
‘This is a tavern. It’s not a fancy high-end whatever,’ Aniko says. ‘The Martin family is so nice and personal, and it gives the entire restaurant that vibe. It permits us to be really friendly and joke with our customers. People appreciate that.’
For the tourists, Aniko plays a different role. Most often, human directional to the famous ‘Proposal Booth’ where JFK proposed to Jackie in 1953.
‘You have to point them in the right direct a million times a day, but I understand their point of view. It’s a piece of history. I like that. I like that they’re curious.’
Despite working at Martin’s for the better half of a decade, Aniko is still fascinated with its history—particularly as it relates to Prohibition.
‘This place opened right after that era ended and here and there you’ll find a trapped door. Obviously they didn’t think Prohibition was going to end.’
But end it did, and the pints have been flowing ever since. In just the course of seven years, Aniko has witnessed drink trends come and go. She says everyone seems to be into whiskeys right now, and Martin’s has increased their bourbon inventory. Old classics are making a comeback, too. An Old Fashioned is in fashion.
‘It changes over time. A few years ago flavored vodka was big. Thank God that’s not the case anymore.’
Just as drink preferences have evolved, so, too, has the neighborhood. Aniko says younger families with kids are moving to Georgetown, and the neighborhood is starting to feel like one again.
‘One of my favorites is this lovely little girl. Her and her mom come in after school twice a week. For the longest time she wanted pineapple juice and would drink it from a Kiddie cup. For Halloween, her mom came in and said, ‘Do you mind if we bring my daughter’s class in because she’s been talking about this place so much in kindergarten. So we got boat loads of chocolate and handed it out to them in the entryway. It was the cutest thing ever.’
Running a good bar means a lot of things to a lot of different bartenders. Aniko aims for something that transcends a well-made cocktail.
‘You have the regulars and you introduce new people to one another and pretty soon you have a big conversation going on. You just feel at home.’