The Old Ebbitt Grill, Washington’s oldest saloon, was founded in 1856 when, according to legend, innkeeper William E. Ebbitt bought a boarding house. Today, no one can pinpoint the house’s exact location, but it was most likely on the edge of present-day Chinatown.
As a boarding house, the Ebbitt guest list read like a Who’s Who of American History. President McKinley is said to have lived there during his tenure in Congress, and Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and Warren Harding supposedly refreshed themselves at its stand-around bar.
Each table in the Ebbitt was graced by a blue history card that read: “Many other famous statesmen, naval and military heroes, too numerous to mention here, have been guests of the house.”
Old Ebbitt became Washington’s first known saloon. As the years passed, it moved to a number of new locations. By the early 20th Century, the Ebbitt had relocated to what is now the National Press Building at 14th and F Streets NW. Two saloons coexisted there, a Dutch room and an Old English room. In the 1920s, when the Ebbitt moved to a converted haberdashery at 1427 F Street NW, they were combined into a single Old Ebbitt Grill.