Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Forget history. What this town really needs is one more drug store.

I had heard the rumor that Yenching Palace was going to be replaced by a Walgreens, but I never ever thought it would really happen. After all, even if the food was only fair to middling, the place was a landmark:

The three old leather guest books read like a who's who: Mick Jagger, Danny Kaye, George Balanchine. Ann Landers, Jason Robards, James Baldwin, Arthur (that's how he signed it) Garfunkel, famed architect I.M. Pei (whose signature is completely unreadable). Daniel Ellsberg, "Alex" Haig, Lesley Stahl, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. So many ambassadors and senators it's hard to keep track. Even in more recent years, folks like George Will still called for delivery. Anna Chennault, widow of Gen. Claire Lee Chennault -- the leader of the famous Flying Tigers, who fought the Japanese during World War II -- was a stalwart customer and still remains a close Lung family friend.

The most famous and oft-told story about Yenching Palace is how emissaries representing President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev met there to negotiate during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and legend has it that they hammered out the final details, and avoided a war, in the second-to-last booth on the left. In the early 1970s, Henry Kissinger was a regular visitor, Chinese diplomats often his companions. Kissinger, Chow says, used to drink Moutai -- a powerful liqueur popular in China -- and eat the duck.


All that, and it was the place that I first celebrated a longstanding Jewish tradition that had somehow escaped my family -- celebrating Christmas with Chinese food and a movie at the Uptown.

So long, Yenching Palace. Once again, time marches on and another historic place is lost to the mallification of America.



7 comments:

Ryane said...

Yeah, this is sad. I live in Cleveland Park and honestly--I can do w/out a Walgreens.

Joe said...

There's already a CVS, so I'm not sure why a Walgreens would open there. Then again, people loathe the CVS staff.

As far as the restaurant itself, I was underwhelmed. And which the renaissance of Chinatown and the huge number of "real" Chinese places out in the 'burbs, I don't think it's much of a loss.

Yenching Palace belongs in the history books, not on Connecticut Ave.

Justin S. said...

I have mixed feelings. I have never eaten there, and I have to admit I'm one of the people who was turned off by the mere look of the outside. Still, I didn't know that the place had such an integral part of the Cuban Missle Crisis, and it's sad to see that go....

But I'm kind of with Joe on this one. I know people are decrying "another drug store" but, honestly, another drug store IS a bigger need for Cleveland Park than a Chinese restaurant that doesn't do much business. It's not like they're tearing down the arch in Chinatown... It's just an old Chinese Restaurant with a famous sign and a little history... Put a sign outside that explains the history of the Cuban Missle Crisis and let it become a Walgreens. And I'm not going to cry about a big corporation closing down a mom-and-pop business because, honestly, it sounds like mom and pop are going to be raking in the dough on this deal, and it's entirely their own decision to sell the place.

Another thing... This will be the first Walgreens in DC, and I'm all for anything that cuts into CVS's near monopoly in this area.

CBK said...

I never ate there, but I do love the Uptown! I saw Godzilla, Volcano, Starship Troopers, and the rereleases of Star Wars 4-6 there on their opening days. What a great theater!

Tivey said...

Drugstores grow like kudzu down here in NC. I just noticed an Eckerd's being built across the street from -- another Eckerd's. It reminds me of that line from "Best In Show" where Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock are talking about how they met. "We met at Starbucks. Not the same Starbucks: we were in Starbucks across the street from one another."

jason evans said...

Sad. What a storied place.

mad said...

You can't have enough drug stores, I always say.