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Object of the Month: December 2013 0 Comment(s)

Object No.: 2006.3.1
Donor: Stephanie Silverstein
Description: Menu from Comet Liquor and Deli, 1815 Columbia Road, NW, 1990s.
 
 

Fisher Photography

Do you remember Comet Liquors in Adams Morgan on Columbia Road between 18th and 19th Streets? It had a distinctive neon sign. Most who remember the business don't realize it was opened by a Jewish immigrant in 1940 and continued to be Jewish-owned throughout its existence.
 
When Oscar Gildenhorn opened Comet Liquor in 1940, the neighborhood was not yet called Adams Morgan. The name had caught on by the time Gildenhorn's son-in-law Howard Speisman took over management 25 years later. Sidney Drazin bought Comet in 1980. Drazin, a native Washingtonian, had served in World War II and then run a few different businesses before buying Comet.
 
In 1989, as neighborhood demographics changed, Drazin added a deli counter. Earlier in the 20th century, it was common for Jewish grocers in Washington to move into the liquor business, but now, a few decades later, a liquor man was adding food to his business.
 
Shortly after this change, Drazin (seen left) brought in a chair so he could sit while at work. He quickly found that customers wanted to sit and chat, so he set up a table and a few chairs by the entrance. These extra pieces of furniture changed the atmosphere of the store. The Washington Post wrote that Comet became a "kind of plastic-chaired neighborhood salon." Regulars came from all walks of life – from blue-collar workers to investment bankers – and they sat around the table to socialize and debate. Drazin was a popular neighborhood personality. One regular told the Post that "Sid was the surrogate parent to all the lost souls of Adams Morgan, all the single people who needed a confidence boost."
 
When Drazin died in 2005, in a show of community affection, Rabbi Ethan Seidel's eulogy ran in The InTowner newspaper. Drazin's widow Bernice shut Comet while the family sat shiva, and a shrine of flowers and cards grew outside the door. After running the store for a few months, Bernice decided to close Comet permanently. The above menu highlights the deli offerings at the time – with whitefish salad and lox served on a bagel hinting at the Jewish ownership.
 
Drazin's niece, Stephanie Silverstein, who worked for the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington at the time, alerted the Society's archivists to the impending loss of Comet's historic materials. JHSGW staff embarked on a rescue mission to document the business – Jewish-owned for 60 years. We arranged for a professional photographer to take exterior and interior photographs before the store closed. The iconic neon sign was purchased by a local restaurateur and now hangs at his restaurant, Comet Ping Pong on Connecticut Avenue, NW.
 
This year, in conjunction with the Jewish Food Experience, our Objects of the Month feature DC's rich Jewish food history. For stories about this history and the latest on the local Jewish food scene – recipes, restaurants, chefs, events, and volunteer opportunities – visit jewishfoodexperience.com.

Object of the Month: April 2013 0 Comment(s)

Object No.: 1998.24.4
Donor: Ann Hofberg Richards
Description: Hofberg's menu, yellow and maroon printed cardboard, c.1950s

Background: Does this menu bring you back to a time when a corned-beef sandwich cost 35 cents? Many Washingtonians' have early memories of Hofberg's, located on the District line. Shepherd Elementary and Beth Sholom Sunday School students visited after class was over. When these young patrons became teenagers, they returned to Hofberg's, a great date place where all enjoyed the famous sandwiches, hot dogs, and pickles.

Some 40 years before opening his deli on Eastern Avenue, Abe Hofberg was born in Argentina, where his Eastern European parents had lived since they were children. Dora and Solomon Hofberg brought their family to Washington in the early 1920s. Abe and his siblings attended Roosevelt High School while their parents, like so many Jewish immigrants, ran a grocery store at 20th & E Streets, NW.

When Abe launched his first deli at 116 Kennedy Street, NW (seen left) in 1928, the family lived four blocks away at 710 Longfellow Street, NW. His parents opened the doors every day at 6 a.m., and took over the counter while Abe served his country during World War II.

Shortly after Abe's return home, he sold the business on Kennedy Street, but quickly picked up where he had left off. In 1948, he opened a new Hofberg's where Eastern, Alaska, and Georgia Avenues meet on the border between Washington and Silver Spring. The sandwich shop became an popular hang-out for area teens to grab a heaping sandwich and a dish of ice cream.

Over the years, Hofberg's added catering service, room service for a neighborhood motel, and The Penthouse, a dining room upstairs from the deli. A 1957 advertisement for the Penthouse's grand opening boasted the establishment would be "America's most lavish and hospitable kosher restaurant outside of New York."

When the ownership changed in 1969, Hofberg's spread into Montgomery County, but the suburban locations were never as popular as their D.C. predecessors. Ten years after Abe Hofberg retired, the Eastern Avenue deli was praised in The Washington Post: "In the case of Hofberg's…everybody comes out a winner." Regretfully, after decades of serving as a meet-and-eat spot, the shop closed in the early 1980s, followed by the Maryland locations in the next few decades. While Hofberg's is now part of Washington's history, many native Washingtonians fondly remember its renowned deli fare.

Do you have material documenting a local deli or restaurant that you'd like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society's collection? Please contact us at info@jhsgw.org or (202) 789-0900.


This year, in conjunction with the Jewish Food Experience, our Objects of the Month feature DC's rich Jewish food history. For stories about this history and the latest on the local Jewish food scene – recipes, restaurants, chefs, events, and volunteer opportunities – visit jewishfoodexperience.com.