U STREET WAS A HAVEN FOR BLACKS WITH MONEY, PEOple who had some class about them. I opened Cecelia's restaurant at 12th and U streets in 1953. And I was there until 1958. At that time there was no integration in the city. The Lincoln Colonnade was a dance hall under the Lincoln Theatre on U Street. When the crowd would come to the dances at the Lincoln Colonnade, they would come to my place before the dance or after the dance. My place was very nice, a plush restaurant. I had red velvet, wall-to-wall carpeting, a cloverleaf bar and oversized black leather stools. They called it the little Stork Club of Washington. After integration, things changed. Then I moved to 618 T Street, right across the street from the Howard Theatre.
At Cecelia's we served home-cooked food. Beef stew, lima beans, ham hocks and chitterlings. I had chops and steaks, too. The big drink was scotch -- Johnny Walker Black.
Jackie Wilson, Redd Foxx, Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday, all of them came in. Peg Leg Bates, all of those people. Cab Calloway, Jimmy Lunceford's band, the Count Basie band, we had them all. Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, some of the baseball players. On the second floor of my restaurant on T Street, I had a rooming house, like a little hotel. It was where the performers stayed. It was set up as a rooming house. Just about everybody stayed there.
Black Washington's affluent frequented my club at 12th and U more than at 7th and T. That club on U Street was more personal. It could accommodate 35. I'd rather not say who were my patrons -- a lot of the doctors, lawyers, schoolteachers. Joe Louis was a regular. He was the best man at my wedding. I knew him very, very well. When Charles Diggs was first sworn in as a congressman, a whole trainload of people from Detroit came to my restaurant.
Everybody at my club at 12th and U dressed like they were on their way to church or a grand affair. Even if it was 12 noon, they were dressed to come in the door.
So many people, famous people, would be at the bar. James Brown would come in my place. We became good friends. Sam Cooke left from my restaurant that night after the last show at the Howard Theatre. He had come in and said good night. He left after midnight. The next thing we heard, he had been killed. We dearly loved him. It was a shock to us. He was a hell of a singer.
What was unique about that time, compared to now, was women being unescorted. Women's clubs would come over to my place after meeting and they felt comfortable. Women had no interference as far as men hitting on them. They felt safe. They didn't feel they had to have their husbands meet them.
Back then everybody knew everybody. If someone drank a little too much, there was always someone to see him home. It seems like the whole climate of the city was different then. I never had a security guard. I actually ran that place as far as discipline, and no problem. Today, a woman couldn't do that.
We had black policemen. There was Lieutenant Dan Pittman. He was the oldest and best known. My family had a liquor store on U Street two or three doors from the Lincoln Theatre. We knew all the black policemen. Walking policemen had relationships with businessmen on U Street. I feel that had a lot to do with why we didn't have a lot of problems.
The different clubs and bars on U Street had followings as different as day and night. In some clubs you would see the lawyers and doctors. Right across the street would be a club where the truck drivers and blue-collar people relaxed.
It was like a party up there. It was really, really nice on U Street.