On Nov. 14, members of the Young Communists League of the District of Columbia showed up at the Townhouse Tavern, just off Dupont Circle’s 17th Street drag, for a routine meeting. For at least several months, the group had been using a small room on the tavern’s second floor to discuss communist ideology and the local party’s future. But on this occasion, Townhouse management asked them to leave. The comrades complied.
The source of the conflict between the young communists and Townhouse was the cover story in the Washington City Paper (“Sleeper Cell,” 11/11) on the activities of D.C. communists. The piece narrated the discussion that took place at one of the Townhouse meetings, and it included photographs of another. However, the story did not name the tavern at which the meetings took place, in deference to the wishes of Young Communists League Coordinator Nicholas Wolf. As the story indicated, Wolf asked that the name of the tavern be kept secret, “because the sympathetic owner might lose business through association with the party.”
After the story hit the streets, Townhouse owner Doug Edgerton received calls from people who recognized the room photographed in the City Paper story. Edgerton was appalled to find that he was characterized as “sympathetic” to the group. “I’ve never met these gentlemen before in my whole life,” he says. “We don’t want them in there.”
The communists, Edgerton discovered, were using the premises for their get-togethers without ever explaining their purpose to tavern management. Townhouse, he said, followed the usual procedures with them—that is, management checked their IDs to ensure that they were of legal drinking age and allowed them to hang out. If the communists had declared their intentions to tavern management, says Edgerton, they wouldn’t have been allowed to convene. “We’re not a meeting hall for any type of political [group],” says Edgerton, who noted that his staff is “up in arms” over the affair.
Articles that characterize his bar as a joint that coddles communists are not the sort of publicity that Edgerton is seeking. He’s concerned that his name could land on a watch list maintained by the FBI, CIA, or the Department of Homeland Security. “They can create a lot of havoc if they want to,” he says.
If that happens, the tavern owner can point the feds in the direction of Wolf, who confirms the absence of an arrangement between his group and Townhouse. “I didn’t want to them to get any attention,” says Wolf. “We were only using the bar as patrons. Even though they didn’t have an affiliation with us, I didn’t want the bar to have any attention.”
Also, Wolf says, his characterization of Townhouse as a “sympathetic” business was “a communication error and untrue.” Says Wolf: “The owner of the bar is absolutely correct, and I think you should print every word.”
Edgerton criticized the City Paper’s handling of the story, calling it a case of “extreme irresponsibility.” “It’d be nice if it all just went away,” he says.
Wolf hopes it doesn’t. “I’m not sure the [banishment] is going to be permanent,” he says. “One of our guys knows those guys.”CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photograph by Charles Steck.