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In Search of Stories With Chops

Blackie's steakhouse was the center of Washington dealmaking for decades.
Blackie's steakhouse was the center of Washington dealmaking for decades. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 22, 2006

Before the wrecking ball flattens Blackie's House of Beef, the demolition company wants your memories of the shuttered Washington landmark.

Wrecking Corp. of America is conducting a contest to choose the five best stories about time spent at Blackie's, the steakhouse at 22nd and M streets NW that closed in January after serving the city's famous and not-so-famous for more than 50 years.

"People got engaged there, people got divorced there -- it's just amazing because it's been there for so long, everybody has a tale about Blackie's," said Terry Anderson, executive vice president of the wrecking company, which expects to start demolition by the end of this month.

He came up with the idea of collecting reminiscences after realizing the steakhouse had been an important part of Washington's culture for generations.

"Every time I told someone we had the Blackie's contract, there'd be a story," said Anderson, whose grown children had fond memories of pilgrimages to Blackie's for high school celebrations. "I thought, 'Wow, does everyone have a story about Blackie's?' Maybe. We'll find out."

Family members of the restaurant's late founder -- Ulysses G. "Blackie" Auger Sr. -- sold the establishment and the Washington Marriott Hotel he built above it, as well as nearby Lulu's Club Mardi Gras, in November for an undisclosed sum to developers. Walgreen Co. plans to open its first District drugstore in a new building that will replace Blackie's.

In its prime from the 1950s through the 1970s, Blackie's was a center of deal-making and plot-hatching in the nation's capital. President Harry S. Truman came to dine. J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, was a regular. Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey even stood at the doorway and greeted customers like a maitre d'.

Auger's business empire started with hot dogs. With his wife, Lulu, he opened a hot dog stand at 22nd and M right after World War II. He took the profits and opened a restaurant centered on beef, which was coming back onto the market after shortages during World War II and the Korean War. In 1953, he started a fixed-price dinner menu of prime rib, baked potato, peas, salad and cheesecake, all for $1.75. He kept costs low and undersold the competition. Business boomed.

"You eat beef or you don't eat nothing" was the restaurant's slogan, and customers apparently followed directions.

Auger bought two new Cadillacs a year and invested in banks, real estate and other businesses. In 1981, he built the Washington Marriott on top of his restaurant -- it was the Bethesda chain's first hotel in the District. Auger created a series of related restaurants -- the Black Rose, the Black Crystal, the Black Beret, the Black Tahiti, the Black Greco, the Black Saddle, the Black Circus, the Black Ulysses and the Black Russian. Blackie's House of Beef outlasted them all.

Then, two years ago, Auger died at 83. Last year, his children decided to sell.

The demolition will begin in about two weeks and might take about six weeks, because Blackie's is actually several structures with the hotel built over them.

"It's a building within a building, and it's going to be a slow, labor intensive project," said Anderson, whose company imploded the old Washington Convention Center.

While he will be destroying the Blackie's building, Anderson says he wants to save memories of it.

Anyone who wants to enter the contest should write in 500 words or fewer why Blackie's holds personal significance. Send the entry via fax to 703-997-1070; e-mail to info@mtvernonpr.com ; or mail to Wrecking Corp., Attn: Blackie's Story, 3680 Wheeler Ave., Alexandria, Va. 22304. Entries also will be accepted on the company's Web site, http://www.wreckingcorp.com/contest.asp .

Entries can be about Blackie's, the Déjà vu Lounge or Lulu's and must be received by Oct. 31. Winners will be notified early in November, and their stories will be posted on the Web site.

The authors of the five best stories will receive a brick from the building -- not a plate of prime rib.

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