"What this town needs is a coupla neighborhood pubs," complained a friend who had just moved from Trenton. "You know, some place just down the street where the food is good, the beer is cold and the price is right."
He obviously had never been to Colonel Brooks' Tavern, an unpretentious spot in the shadow of Catholic University in Brookland, where all the above criteria are met.
The menu offers not only a selection of typical tavern fare -- sandwiches, burgers, salads and entrees -- but pizza and snacks as well. Best known is the heaping basketful of potato skins served with sour cream for $2.50. Somehow the chef has remembered to leave some of the potato on the skin, putting an end to the question, "What do they do with the rest of the potato?"
The menu also touts "Washington D.C.'s largest selection of draft beer": 13 types, including imports from England, Ireland, Canada, Germany and Holland are offered by the mug, the pint or the pitcher. An assortment of wines is also available by the bottle, glass and carafe.
Behind the wooden bar hangs a large framed photograph of the man for whom the tavern was named, Jehiel Brooks, made by Civil War photographer Mathew Brady. On the walls hang more recent pictures of neighborhood folk mixed with shots of the 1936 Catholic University Orange Bowl Champions, the first known aerial shot of Trinity College (made in 1922) and various Civil War scenes. Old-fashioned rail-back chairs, wooden tables and dark-stained wood floors add to the antebellum atmosphere.
Large bay windows framed with gingham curtains look across Monroe Street toward the Brooks Mansion, which the Colonel built for his bride, Ann Margaret Queen, in 1830. The once-glorious mansion, now empty, stands in disrepair while waiting for its owners to restore it or turn it into a parking lot for the nearby Brookland Metro stop.
A tavern since May 1980, the property has been a storefront church, a newspaper home-delivery drop, a '30s cigar store with a pool hall in the back and, in the '40s, a tailor shop with living quarters above.
For the past 20 years, an acre or so of property surrounding the tavern has been tilled and gardened each growing season by neighborhood greenthumbs. Jim Stiegman, part-owner and general manager of Colonel Brooks', takes advantage of this horticultural zeal by adding fresh tomatoes, squash and herbs to the menu.
Colonel Brooks' attracts a wide variety of patrons from the two nearby colleges, the local hospital complex, the Old Soldiers' Home and an assortment of local businessman who find it easy to let down their guard, creating a "family-like atmosphere" not unlike TV's Archie's Place.
The seven-member Federal Jazz Commission plays traditional New Orleans jazz and Dixieland favorites every Tuesday beginning at 8. Pokeweed -- a four-piece group playing what they describe as vintage jazz and old-time western tunes including "Ghost Riders in the Sky," "Sweet Georgia Brown," "Lovesick Blues" and "Body and Soul" -- perform Thursday nights. When he's not busy on the French horn, John Peiffer is singing scat with his guitarist brother Jim. The music is free and loud enough to be enjoyed without forcing you to yell to companions across the table. COLONEL BROOKS' TAVERN -- 901 Monroe Street NE at the Brookland/Catholic University Metro Station. 529-4002.