When the Bayou was boss in D.C.’s rock scene

John Kelly
Columnist July 15, 2011

Can you provide information about an iconic institution of old Georgetown: a former nightclub beneath the Whitehurst Freeway named the Bayou. There were evenings of outstanding music there way back in the 1970s. Legend has it that swashbuckling Errol Flynn was one of the original investors and that he swung from its iconic chandelier on the night it opened. Any truth to that?

— Rocky Semmes, Alexandria

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

One of the best live shows Answer Man ever saw — the English ska band the Selecter — was at the Bayou. Foreigner had its first U.S. club date at the Bayou. So did U2. (They opened for D.C.’s famed Slickee Boys.)

When it closed on New Year’s Day in 1998, the Bayou was the longest continually operating rock club in the city. But it didn’t start as a rock club.

Here’s a 1939 ad from The Washington Post announcing a new nightclub at 3135 K St. NW, formerly the site of a warehouse and car dealership: “They’re rarin’ to go mates, at Capt. Don Dickerman’s Pirate’s Den, that smart, unusual, breath-taking nite spot that has just opened its decks to the public. The 40 phantom pirates . . . the Main Deck, the Gun Deck and orchestra on the musical Poop Deck — the grand food, the potent drinks . . . the clever atmosphere promises ‘fun loving’ Washington the time of its life.”

The club was the brainchild of the fascinating Capt. Don, a man who believed he was reincarnated from a pirate. He dressed like one. He spoke like one.

“He was absolutely obsessed with pirates,” said his granddaughter, Kathleen Popovic, who lives in Maine. Washington’s Pirate’s Den was a spinoff of Dickerman’s original in New York.

Kathleen couldn’t say for sure whether Flynn backed the Washington club, although Bob Hope and Bing Crosby invested in the Los Angeles Pirate’s Den. (There was another in Miami.) Dickerman had a bit part in the 1940 Flynn movie “The Sea Hawk.” He was also friends with Johnny “Tarzan” Weissmuller and crooner Rudy Vallee. (Dickerman ran Manhattan’s Heigh-Ho nightclub, where he discovered Vallee.)

It appears the Pirate’s Den was around only for a couple of years. It eventually became an after-hours club called the Hide-Away, site of a mob hit in 1951. In 1953, the Tramante brothers and Mike Munley bought the building, renamed it the Bayou and turned it into a Dixieland jazz spot. In the early ’60s, it showcased burlesque. (Sultry stripper Julie Gibson was a mainstay.) By the mid-’60s, the Bayou had switched to rock.

With a capacity of 500, it was the largest rock club in the city for a time. Over the years, acts including Dire Straits, Warren Zevon and the Romantics played there, as did local acts, such as the Nighthawks.

The Bayou seeded some interesting careers. In 1964, a Navy ensign named Mike O’Harro started sponsoring Sunday singles nights at the club. He went on to found the Champions sports bar empire.

Mr. T was a bouncer at the Bayou. “Another bouncer,” wrote The Post’s Richard Harrington in 1998, “reportedly invented the Plexiglas bong.”

The venerable club was torn down to make way for a complex that includes a multiplex. Answer Man thinks Don Dickerman might approve — if “Pirates of the Caribbean” was shown continuously.

When I was in law school at GWU in 1972, I visited a charming English-pub-style bar on Connecticut Avenue named Lord Telford’s. What was extraordinary about this pub was how one got to it. I recall walking through the front of a small taco joint, then out the rear entrance into an alleyway, where there was a small square building housing Lord Telford’s. I would love to know where this forgotten watering hole used to be.

— Ted Belazis, McLean

“Chummy and amiably crummy.” That’s one way Lord Telford’s was described in The Post. “The greatest and grumpiest bar in Woodley Park” was another. Lord Telford’s was indeed on Connecticut Avenue — or off it, anyway. Well off it. It was behind 2605 Connecticut Ave. NW and was entered through Tippy’s Taco, at least until Tippy’s Taco became the Tucson Cantina.

Lord Telford’s must have been gone by 1994, since that’s when The Post’s Eve Zibart described it in the past tense. “Getting into it was more than coincidentally difficult,” she wrote. “It was a Brit bar in exile, and had a circuitous entrance reminiscent of blackout London that required going indoors, up, back, down a fire escape and back in a window.”

Today, 2605 Connecticut is Tono Sushi. Answer Man stopped by the other day and was told that the alley building is used mainly as storage and that people occasionally stop by and ask about Lord Telford’s.

Send a Kid to Camp

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