The Eagle liquor store, one of the District's oldest spirit shops and often the last stop for Virginia and Maryland commuters on their way home, has outlived most of its neighbors.
Fifty years ago, the store at 3345 M St. NW, then run by Sam Goldberg, a World War I veteran, received one of the city's first liquor licenses after Prohibition. Today George Diamond, Goldberg's grandson, runs Eagle Wine & Liquor.
The store, near the Washington end of Key Bridge, is one of a few stores that have managed to adjust as Georgetown changed from one of the city's less-desirable addresses to one of the best.
What started out as a meat market-turned-liquor store has become "three small businesses within one," Diamond said, referring to the wine, liquor and cheese/catering businesses he now oversees.
When Sam Goldberg opened up, the store served a strictly segregated neighborhood. It was surrounded by alley dwellings, a honeycomb of narrow brick homes built for blacks in the alleys behind the houses of whites that faced the streets. The gentry lived in large individual houses generally north of P Street, while the community to the south had an unsavory reputation.
Trolley cars lumbered by the front doors.
In those days Virginians coming to Georgetown to buy suspenders and other supplies used to drive up with their horse trailers and load them with a month's supply of liquor on their way home because of the restrictions on liquor consumption in that state, Diamond recalled.
"This business began as a hard liquor business" after Prohibition, he added.
Today the customers range from Georgetown University students to Cabinet officials to commuters.
Befitting Georgetown's delicate palates and trendy reputation, 60 percent of Diamond's liquor business now comes from wine sales. Ten years ago wines accounted for 35 percent of his business, he said.
At most of the city's other 334 liquor stores, wine sales average 25 percent of total sales, according to city officials and Diamond.
"Eighty percent of the wine we sell we buy precommitted to us by the barrel in Europe," Diamond said. "Either I or another gentleman I have there will taste, and he'll buy by the barrel if I can't get over there."
The wine and liqueur selection includes Arak, a Lebanese wine at $12.99 a bottle, Polish Gold Wasser at $12.99 and Kruskovak Pear Liqueur from Yugoslavia at $13.99. Diamond said he is the city's sole supplier of Arak, from Beirut.
"My business is built on strange and unusual items and direct imports," he said.
Diamond's taste for wines was developed at home under his father's tutelage. "My dad had wines all the time at dinner, so I grew up kind of French-American," said Diamond, whose family lived in upper Washington where he attended public schools and then American University.
"I've had the liberty of drinking wine since I was 6 or 7 years old . . . . "I grew up with a bit of a palate and developed it as I matured." His father made him read wine books, he added.
Oliver (Rusty) Harwell, one of Diamond's 18 employes, is the store historian. Harwell has worked there for 36 years, for all three generations of the family.
Goldberg, the original owner, "was a machinegunner in World War I and very patriotic," Harwell said. That patriotism prompted him to name the store Eagle.
"He was patriotic to the point he had three flag holders in front of the store and every day he'd put up the flags," Harwell said.
Although the surrounding neighborhood has changed, "This end of Georgetown has never had the affluence of Wisconsin and M Street and up Wisconsin," Diamond said, clipboard in hand as he checked his inventory. "It's great for me. I wouldn't want to be down there. Customers couldn't get to me; they couldn't park."
"Forty to 50 percent of my customers know me by name or recognize me; it's that personal of a business." And he knows them and asks about jobs, family and neighborhood gossip.
John Eames said he has shopped at Eagle for four years because of its "selection, friendliness and service."
George Johnson, an Eagle customer for 20 years, agreed and added, "The prices are good, and the guys carry it to the car for you. George imports a lot himself and brings the prices to what customers want."
Ten years ago Diamond expanded, adding a catering business: "I knew there was room for another caterer in town, and I thought it would make a nice addition to the family." Eagle Catering is not silver service dining, he said, but primarily serves law and corporate offices.
When nearby stores started selling cheese about 10 years ago, so did Diamond. The Cheese Cellar, off the main floor of the liquor store, stocks cheeses, gourmet foods, custom-made gift baskets, deli sandwiches and homemade soups such as seafood bisque that are popular with the lunch bunch and liquor store customers.
It appears that the store will remain in the family. Diamond has three children, and the oldest son, who is interested in succeeding his father, is studying business at a Wisconsin college.
But his father said, "He's got to get some experience in another retail establishment before his old man lets him come to this one -- at least five years."