Cleveland Park Gets Colder: Farewell Yenching Palace

Originally posted 2007

No other stretch of street in Washington DC has been the scene of so many wonderful establishments as Connecticut Ave. NW between Macomb and Porter Streets has been. This strip became a mini-downtown for the neighborhood of Cleveland Park in the 1920s. It still includes one of the first shopping centers ever, built in 1930.

Around that time, restaurateur Frank Abbo moved his Roma Restaurant into a long row of storefronts on the avenue's east side where it remained for about 65 years, augmented by Frank's son, Bobby's Poor Robert's Tavern. Frank Abbo was a big and small game hunter who filled his dining room with horned trophies hung on walls painted as a 360-degree mural of the African veldt. On Saturday nights, spaghetti could be downed with the accompaniment of a pianist and violinist and in late summer, an outdoor dining area in back would be heavy with arbored grapes that were harvested and danced upon in a vat before diners' eyes. Always a great date place, The Roma was "The Florentine Garden" in my story "Brave Soldier" in Tales From Old Bethesda.

Across Connecticut Avenue from the Roma was and still is a great and genuine Irish Pub with blood sausage on the menu and queer looks if one orders Miller High Life. Long known as Ireland's Four Provinces, nickname "4P's," it has lately been renamed Ireland's Four Fields. It is hoped that the name is all the changing that will be made. The 4P's interior is still the same as it was 25 years ago when The Clancy Brothers used to come and play. Live entertainment is almost incessant during operating hours and on weekend afternoons, it's a family place where the Irish dancing schools bring their girls to perform.

Up Connecticut Ave. from the Four P's, past the 70-year-old Uptown Theater where many a movie has premiered in Washington, is the subject of this lament, the landmark Yenching Palace.

Yenching Palace, Washington, DC

Yenching Palace, Washington, DC

Located in a 1-story building in an area where the airspace up to 14 floors is too valuable to leave empty, this great and historic Chinese place will soon be giving way to condos or something.

Two momentous diplomatic events took place at the Yenching Palace. In 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy's people met with Khrushchev's people and began the backing away from the world's closest encounter with nuclear war. A decade later, Henry Kissinger took up chopsticks with representatives of the People's Republic of China to begin the process of normalizing relations.

A restaurant left over from a time when one couldn't get a bad Chinese meal--as one now so often gets at lesser places--the Yenching Palace is a time-capsule from 1952. Diners are greeted by the big red neon sign--It has a warmth that signs don't have any more--on the blue-tiled front. Through the Foo-dog-guarded door is a vestibule with a wooden phone booth. One can imagine a crewcut guy in a letter sweater calling his date to find out why she has stood him up. The dining room is bathed in soft pastel-colored light. Behind the bar is a Chinaman in a white dinner jacket wose name is probably Sam. The background music can be classical or 50s rock.

Soon this will be all gone and when it is, we will be one step closer to calling Club Soda venerable.

Copyright © 2007, 2017 by Neal J. Conway. All rights reserved.

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