If you went to Roosevelt or Coolidge High in the '40s or '50s, a Hot Date probably meant a stop at the Hot Shoppes on Gallatin Street NW. On a Friday night you'd come with your friends, but on Saturday night you'd come with your date. And if a girl didn't have a date Saturday night, she stayed home in shame.
The restaurant's been closed for more than 25 years now, but last night 900 former regulars of the mostly Jewish neighborhood got another chance to hang out together, to reminisce about those days and catch up with people they hadn't seen in 30 or 40 years.
The reunion was at Martin's Crosswinds in Greenbelt, not on the familiar street corner, but the tables were adorned with balloons in the Hot Shoppes colors of orange and white, and the food was Hot Shoppes classic: sloppy joes, onion rings, french fries, fried chicken and, of course, orange freezes. A deejay was on hand to play the Frankie Laine and Glenn Miller tunes that used to come from the jukeboxes in each booth.
"This is one place you can't lie about your age," said Trudy Kotzker, who was particularly interested in seeing what happened to a fellow named Chik Cantor. "Oh, if Chik said hello to you on a Friday night, you floated on air," Kotzker recalled. And did the dreamboat match the memories? "He isn't as tall as he used to be," she said. Her husband breathed a sigh of relief.
Sid Levy had better luck with an old flame. "I met my first date from 35 years ago. I knew her immediately, and she cried," said Levy, who frequented the restaurant with his sister Sonny (who came up from Florida for the reunion) and three brothers.
The restaurant was the place for clean fun -- for other activities, some of the men remembered, there was always Rock Creek Park. But for the "good girls" at the Hot Shoppes, "if a guy laid a hand on you it was death," remembered Carolyn Bonnett. The wildest things people did were to try to climb up on the roof of the restaurant or go across the street to the Little Tavern and bring hamburgers back to the Hot Shoppes parking lot and see how many they could eat in five minutes.
Mel Baker, chief organizer of last night's reunion, hung out at the Hot Shoppes as a young adult in his twenties. He and 12 other former Hot Shoppes regulars drew up a mailing list and sent out fliers to several hundred people. Within four weeks they had 400 responses, complete with $25 checks, and more people kept calling for information. Two hundred had to be turned away for lack of space. Some people traveled from Texas, California and Florida to be there, to take that imaginary walk back to the corner of Georgia and Gallatin.
"My kids missed out," said Elaine Tanenbaum. "They grew up in the suburbs and had to be driven everywhere. We could take the trolley or walk everywhere. Consequently, my kids probably have a better formal education, but we learned how to relate -- we had a social education."