JFK’s Georgetown

John F. Kennedy was one of the greatest orators in American history. But as a single congressman and then senator, his Sunday morning routine in Washington involved food and newspapers and no chit-chat. Each week, the magnetic politician would occupy a tiny, one-person booth called a “rumble seat” (see photo right and video below) at Martin’s Tavern, his favorite restaurant and watering hole in Georgetown, the neighborhood he lived in for nearly 15 years.

JFK liked to have his breakfast alone, poring over the Sunday papers in the rumble seat. He liked Martin’s so much that he asked Jacqueline Bouvier to marry him in the same place; today that booth bears a plaque and the moniker “the proposal booth.” Nearly sixty years after he popped the question in booth three, men from around the D.C. area who want to propose in this historic spot call ahead to reserve the same booth.

Georgetown is D.C.’s most celebrated neighborhood. It was founded in 1751, nearly 40 years before the city of Washington was established, and it remained a thriving, independent town, distinct from D.C., until it was annexed by the city in 1871. The neighborhood has long been a magnet for tourists but sadly many of them just walk up and down M Street, Georgetown’s commercial strip, which is filled with overpriced cupcake shops, chain stores and traffic, both human and vehicular.

But venture up the hill, north of M Street and you’ll find Georgetown’s real treasure: a grid of quiet streets filled with historic homes built mostly in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. JFK once very accurately called D.C. “a city of “Southern efficiency and Northern hospitality,” but he loved Georgetown. The Kennedys lived, worshipped and played in the neighborhood between 1946, when JFK was elected to the Congress at 29, until 1964, when Jackie moved out, nearly a year after her husband was assassinated.

For a wealthy family, the Kennedys moved often while in D.C., but didn’t stray beyond Georgetown. They lived in nine different homes, ranging from a humble row house to a 7,394 square foot mansion. Today, these homes are worth between $1.2 and $3.8 million dollars. (See gallery for details) The Georgetown Business Improvement District has established a self-guided walking tour that allows visitors to see these homes (now all in private hands and not open to the public). I’ve made some slight modifications to their route and included a stop at Martin’s Tavern.

Even if you have no interest in JFK, the walk, which takes about 90 minutes depending on your pace, provides a great introduction to D.C.’s most iconic and historic neighborhood. Nearly all of the homes on the tour look the same now as they did when the Kennedys lived in them. If you look at this photo of the Kennedys, for example, you can see that their home at 3307 N Street, looked the same then as it did now.

And this video of Jackie and the kids moving into a home at 3038 N Street after JFK was assassinated will give you an idea of what this stately home looked like in 1963. Even today, the house has a bit of a somber look to it.

According to The Washingtonian, JFK was a foodie before his time who favored French cuisine. But other than Martin’s, his other dining haunts are all long gone. That said, he is still remembered as the man who revolutionized drinking in D.C. In 1962, Kennedy signed a bill that repealed the city’s archaic drinking regulations, which mandated that bar patrons drinking beer or wine be seated on a stool and those drinking liquor be seated at a table.

JFK was back in the news earlier this month when Mimi Alford, a 69 year-old woman who interned at the White House, published a book claiming that she had an 18-month affair with JFK that began when she was 17. The revelation that Kennedy was a playboy isn’t front page news, but he was also a devout Catholic, and you can visit Holy Trinity Church, founded in 1792 as the city’s first Catholic church, where he and his family worshipped. It’s a small, square room with no confession booths.

The 11 stop JFK in Georgetown self-guided walking tour: (see slideshow for details on each stop)

1. 3260 N Street, NW
2. 3307 N Street, NW
3. 3513 N Street, NW
4. 1400 34th Street, NW
5. 3271 P Street, NW
6. 3321 Dent Place, NW (just north of Q Street, between 33rd and 34th)
7. 1528 31st Street, NW
8. 2808 P Street, NW
9. 3038 N Street, NW
10. 3017 N Street, NW
11. 1264 Wisconsin Ave, NW