Atmosphere: A good old informal publick house. Price range: From sandwiches at $1.75 to steaks or crabmeat at $6.95. Hours: Every day from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, on into the night with a barber shop quartet after 10.30 p.m. Special facilities: Accessible by wheelchair, though the doorway is narrow. Chairs for small children. Free lunch and dinner parking at Doggett's lots across the street or on Prospect Street. Reservations: You take your chances, if it's crowded, take a stroll. Credit cards: At this tavern, it's cash on the barrelhead.
We never made it to the grand opening of Martin's Tavern in 1933 - but nearly 20 years ago, when a tenderfoot copyboy could net a handsome $41.47 each week, Martin's (not the Carriage House but the Tavern)was THE place we could count on for fine meals at digestible prices.
The waiters were all rejects from a Buster Keaton look-alike contest, but with their uniformly no-nonsense, professional manner they took care of you.
So what about nowadays? Would it hold up for a revisit by my wife and me after all this time, or were we in for a big letdown? And what about our two kids? Would they take to it?
The suspense must be killing you, so we'll get on with it: Nothing seems to have changed, except maybe one waiter every decade or so - and these guys must drink formaldehyde for breakfast, they're so well preserved. The old deep brown booths and tables are still in their places, as are the regulars who eat dinner along the bar under the tiffany lamps and the bartender; and the stairs to the rest rooms still dip marvelously from wear and tear.
We found a table in the nook next to those stairs in back, a corner still called "The Dugout" and still featuring faded baseball team photos and a cartoon on the subject by the late Dick Mansfield, a great cop who used to give chalk talks on traffic safety when I was in grade school here.
Our waiter turned out to be the babe of the bunch, on the job for a mere six months (or so he said in unusually understandable Australian). We began with a pair of sours and two mugs of cola.
As it used to be, the main menu is a mimeographed report on about eight appetizers and 17 entrees from the school of hearty home-cooking.
No, we won't try to tell you that the prices are still the same. But the rundown on this particular evening listed all but two dishes under $6, each with a choice of two vegetables. That, when we get to telling you about the platters, remains a good value.
Besides these daily offerings, there are some solid stand-bys not on this sheet, including a julienne salad bowl for $3.25, crabmeat or seafood salad for $5.95, omelettes for $2.95, Welsh rarebit for $3.25 and sandwiches from ham and cheese at $1.75 to crab with cole slaw at $3.50, each with garnish and potato chips.
Showing admirable restraint (or maybe we just forgot), no one ordered an apptizer, though the selection runs from minestrone or Perrier water (that's right) at 75 cents, to clams on the half shell at $2.50, oysters on the half shell for $2.95, or oysters stew for $3.50 (and maybe skip that entree).
When it comes to casing a menu, our 8-year-old daughter can come up with a chicken faster than Col. Sanders or Brer Fox. This time it was baked stuffed chicken breast, with limas and cole slaw, for $4.95 - one of her best catche yet. It came bathing in an oven dish of superb brown gravy. The cole slaw, too, won a spontaneous testimonial.
Our 11-year-old son had his heart set on a steak. We acquiesced, and along came a good 10-to-12- ouncer at $6.95, beautifully rare and, by his choice, surrounded by thick steak-fries that don't seem to be on the menu but are available.
On yet another heated platter came fresh lump crabmeat, Norfolk style, at $6.95, with limas and a French-dressed garden salad, for my wife. Many high marks for this.
Having ignored the caution we always issue to the children about too much breadstuffing before the feature attractions arrive, I had gorged on the basketful of hot fresh biscuits and muffins that showed up early on.
Battling courageously, however, I managed to do in an order of veal cutlet parmigiana at $5.95, along with limas and fries. Then, responding to pleas for assistance, I dove into unfinished portions of he children's food.
There are no children's orders per se, by the way, though our waiter did reply that, who knows, they might "cut up a steak." Given the sizes of all our portions, young diners could go sharesies pretty well.
What, wondered our children, is apple cobbler? For 95 cents, they could check it out. "All it is," concluded the senior of our juniors, "is broken apple pie - the one Aunt Frizzie dropped on the floor." Anyway, auntie does good work.
So our comeback to Martin's had been an evening of happy returns, the food even better than we'd remembered. The total bill was $33.22 plus tip for this full sampling of the fare, capped by an after-dinner stroll by the shops of Georgetown to find what's new. Heaven knows, Martin's isn't - and that's just fine with us.