Stuart James Long (1942-2017): The Hill’s Restaurateur

272
Stuart Long at the Hawk’n’Dove. Photo: Andrew Lightman

On a warm summer morning, it is a sad day at St. Aloysius Church on North Capitol Street. More than five hundred have gathered as we share our stories of Stuart James Long, the proud proprietor of the old Hawk’n’Dove.

“Anyone who was not pissed off at Stuart at one time or the other did not really know him well,” eulogizes his son Jamie with a smile. The congregation roars with laughter. Moments later many are near tears as his children describe Stuart’s seven-year battle with cancer.

There is the distinct sense that Stuart is present, orchestrating all of this backstage. He loved managing everything. And he was a doer and a visionary. One can only guess what biting corrections he might have made to tall tales of his life told at his funeral, given the generous liberty that he often took with the truth.

Yet, those attending all learned something new.

Stuart James Long, a District native, died on July 29, 2017, at age 75. Stuart was the beloved husband of Cherie McGuire Long; loving father of Dr. Jessica McGuire Long and James S. Long, and the proud grandfather of Ella and Caitlin.

Stuart and I met on an autumn afternoon in 1968. I was making my way through the fallen acorns that were ubiquitous in the 300 block of Pennsylvania Avenue SE. I planned to apply for a job as a bartender at the recently opened Hawk’n’Dove. There was no formal interview process. Instead, Stuart made a measured judgment of me as I talked. The clincher, I believe, was my day job teaching at a Catholic school.

“Be here Friday night at six and be on time,” Stuart said. That was how I knew I had been hired.

Saloonkeeper
Stuart opened the Hawk’n’Dove on Dec. 23, 1967. It was the neighborhood’s first restaurant-saloon in the genre of New York City’s PJ Clark’s or San Francisco’s Buena Vista. The surrounding neighborhood at the time was dramatically different. No strollers clogged the streets. There were many boarding and bawdy houses. The bars were rough. Capitol Hill’s geographic boundaries only extended eastward to Seventh Street SE. Yet, Stuart, pursuing a childhood dream, glimpsed a different future.

Brought up in Greenbelt and later Chevy Chase, Stuart attended Gonzaga High School, where he remained a powerful alumni presence for more than 50 years. Father Raymond B. Kemp, a classmate, recalls Stuart spending his ninth grade at home with rheumatic fever yet still receiving the highest grade in freshman Latin. No one ever accused Stuart of being too familiar with the classics, in my recollection.

In the 1950s, Stuart’s mother made a living buying houses on Capitol Hill, renovating them, and flipping them for a tidy profit. As a high school student, he regularly took the streetcar from Gonzaga over to the Hill to help his mother out, learning the fundamentals of construction, renovation, and building design.

After graduating from College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., Stuart earned a law degree from George Washington University in 1967. Having no notion of practicing law, he worked briefly at the Library of Congress’s legal division, before opening up the Hawk. Stuart’s interest in restaurants, however, was longstanding.

A regular lunch customer at Alex’s greasy spoon, one of many eateries prominently located where the Madison building is today, Stuart nursed a dream of opening his own establishment. He was convinced the Hill was the perfect location for a modern tavern. He finally found a location convenient to the House and the Senate in the site of an antique store and shoe repair shop.

Joining the two buildings, Stuart designed and built the Hawk from scratch. He furnished it with antiques from auctions in the surrounding countryside. He opened it as a sanctuary for those who worked on the Hill. At his bar, “hawks,” supporters of the Vietnam War, and “doves,” those opposed, could all eat and drink together. So they did, through the inaugurals of seven presidents.

“I remember that they told me that I was crazy to think that I could get a dollar for a burger. The Hawkburger. People just laughed at me,” Stuart said. “A draft beer was 40 cents.” When the Hawk was sold in 2011, he had served roughly one million burgers and two million draft beers.

“I am an early riser. About five. I like to start every day with something to do. I have never gone to work one day in my life that I have not looked forward to it” Stuart said.

Stuart earned a reputation as a hardnosed businessman with market acumen. Possessor of a legendary, ferocious temper, he often terminated employees, not uncommon in the restaurant trade. He fired me every evening for more than five years, rehiring me in the morning. Within a decade of the Hawk’s founding, Stuart built a restaurant empire of seven establishments.

I remember Stuart primarily as a showman. One March, just before St. Paddy’s Day, Stuart painted the sidewalks of Pennsylvania Avenue green. From the Capitol grounds to the front door of the Hawk’n’Dove, a broad arrow pointed the way to refreshment. For this, Stuart was arrested and fined $50. The following day The Washington Daily News frontpage screamed, “Police See Red in Green!” The Hawk, however, was wall-to-wall with celebrants. For the next 44 years, the bar continued to be the Hill’s primary watering hole. 

Angel of Gonzaga
Stuart made his impact felt beyond the confines of the Hill. He worked fiercely to save Gonzaga High School, which was experiencing difficult days. The Jesuit school, in the 1970s, was under threat of closure. Enrollment tanked after the 1968 riots, and with an antiquated financial leadership it teetered on the brink. “We finally got them to elect a board and run the place as a business” Stuart recalled.

Today, Gonzaga is a thriving school that offers a superior education to kids from the inner city as well from the suburbs. “Stuart Long was a pillar of the community. He was a special advisor to all of the presidents. He helped to guide most of the renovation of the physical plant. And he helped navigate the permitting process through the city,” stated Father Stephen Planning, S.J., president of Gonzaga.

At the time of his death, Stuart was the last remaining of the original lay board of trustees from the early 70s. He remained the school’s ardent and fervent advocate. “Never has there been anyone like him, and it will be hard to imagine an alum coming down the pike who will work harder than he did. When we lost him, we lost one of a kind,” said Father Planning.

A Penchant for Politics
Stuart’s public endeavors were not limited to his alma mater. His position as a saloon owner quickly drew him into politics, beginning with his battles against the all-powerful chair of the city’s Alcohol Beverage Control Board, Julian Dugas. A dynamic saloon owner, Stuart wanted longer hours and more operating flexibility than was permitted under the so-called blue laws.

Stuart was fiercely progressive in racial politics. “I remember there was an African-American couple who came here from South Carolina on their honeymoon and they could not believe that we would serve them,” Stuart recalled.

Stuart soon found a good partner in a customer named Marion S. Barry. In Barry’s 1978 campaign, Stuart served as treasurer, raising significant sums from the hospitality industry. He was rewarded by being a part of Barry’s kitchen cabinet. In the 1980s, Stuart moved politically away from Barry, as the mayor’s reputation became unsavory. However, the mayor remained a customer and a friend. As Stuart told me, Barry was a very good mayor “for a time” and as shrewd a politician as he had ever encountered.

Goodbye
While always a hard-charging businessman, Stuart found refuge in his home life. His long marriage to Cherie mellowed him. He was a devoted father to Jessica and Jamie.

He capped his retirement by his election as the president of the Congressional Country Club. “It’s hard to believe. I’m a Democrat. A poor Irish kid from Gonzaga and DC. I grew up in a family of eight. And a saloonkeeper. You know, President Hoover was on the board and Coolidge was one of the club’s first presidents. They must be rolling over in their graves,” Stuart said wryly.

The last time I saw Stuart he was struggling to use a walker. The cancer had taken its toll on the man, who had named himself Felix the Cat for his many brushes with the Grim Reaper.

At the end of my last visit, Stuart insisted on walking me out. Stuart, Cherie, and I inched our way to the front door. I turned to say goodbye. The look on his face still haunts me. His grasp of his situation was greater than my own. I turned, mumbling a promise to return in a few days. “It’s short, Pete,” Stuart said. Startled I looked back. “It’s short.”

As the mass celebrating his life ended, it occurred to me that Stuart was the one who bid me farewell.