Martin’s Tavern has had the honor of serving every president from Harry S. Truman (Booth 6) to George W. Bush (Table 12), all before they were president. When they were congressmen, senators, governors and so on. George H.W. Bush came here many times in the 1970’s when he was CIA Director. On page 73 of Bill Clinton’s book, My Life, he writes of going to Martin’s as a Georgetown University student.

The Proposal Booth is where Senator John F. Kennedy proposed to Miss Jacqueline Lee Bouvier on Wednesday, June 24, 1953. Ambassador Marion Smoak was here that evening and has told us, “After the Senator proposed, and she accepted, the news ran through the restaurant. That night we didn’t know his future and what it would bring. In hindsight it was great fun to witness a part of history.”


In the late 19th century through the early 20th century, Georgetown remained a blue collar laborers’ port, transporting goods in and out of the Washington region. The Martin family was at the heart of the community, familiar with the many that resided, labored and traveled in Georgetown, setting the tone and spirit of Martin’s Tavern.

Georgetown was the farthest navigable point up the Potomac River for ocean-going boats. After the American Revolution, Georgetown became an independent municipal government of the federal District of Columbia, along with the City of Washington, the City of Alexandria, and the newly created County of Washington and County of Alexandria (now Arlington County, Virginia). It was officially known as “Georgetown, D.C.” In 1862, the Washington and Georgetown Railroad Company began a horsecar line running along M Street in Georgetown and Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, easing travel between the two cities. Georgetown’s corporate charter, along with Washington’s, was formally revoked by Congress effective June 1, 1871, at which point its governmental powers were vested within the District of Columbia. The streets in Georgetown were renamed in 1880 to conform to the street names in Washington.

By the late 1800s, flour milling and other industries in Georgetown were declining, partly due to the fact that the canals and other waterways continually silted. A flood in 1890 with expansion of railroads brought destitution to the C&O Canal. Georgetown became a depressed slum, with alleys choked by tiny dwellings lacking plumbing or electricity.

Shipping trade vanished between the Civil War and World War I. As a result of this departure, many older homes were preserved relatively unchanged. Alexander Graham Bell’s earliest switching office for the Bell System was located on a site just below the C&O Canal, three blocks from Martin’s Tavern, where it remains in use as a phone facility to this day.


In the late 1890s, William S. Martin traveled from Galway, Ireland to America. Forty years later, he and his son, William G. Martin, opened Martin’s Tavern on the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and N Street NW.

It was 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression and the beginning of the Repeal of Prohibition. William G. Martin, a graduate of Georgetown University, was enjoyed a career in professional baseball, football and basketball – notably playing in Boston for the 1914 “Miracle Braves” who were the first team to sweep the World Series.   Successful in business and sports, he earned a seat as a Georgetown University Athletic Hall-of-Famer.

In 1949, William G. Martin’s son, William A. Martin, joined the Tavern after serving in the Navy during World War II. William A. Martin attended Georgetown University Medical School, and excelled as a Golden-Gloves boxer and Pro-Am golfer. His stories of “The Dugout”, recalling countless meetings with Speaker Sam Rayburn, Congressman Lyndon Johnson, and other monumental Capitol Hill leaders, were passed on to his son, current owner Billy Martin.