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Scenes from the Past...

Fun During Prohibition at Thomas Circle’s Krazy Kat Club & Speakeasy

A “Bohemian” club located just steps away from Thomas Circle in the teens and 1920s must have been an unusual sight to behold for those lucky enough to know about its whereabouts and to locate its entrance during the era. It was located at what was then No. 3 Green Court, across from what is today’s Green Lantern gay bar, located in an old stable building in the alley just southeast of Thomas Circle. It was coined the Krazy Kat.

The club’s entrance was alongside of what is today’s Green Lantern building leading out to Massachusetts Avenue, with a small sign that read “Syne of ye Krazy Kat” seen in the images here, taken on July 15, 1921, along with a warning at the top of the door that read, “All soap abandon ye who enter here.” Inside, patrons found a tree house reached by a precarious ladder, pebble floor, and al fresco dining. It was the site of frequent artist exhibitions and painting classes.

The establishment was described by the Washington Post in 1919 as “something like a Greenwich Village coffee house” that had “gaudy pictures created by futurists and impressionists.” Its name came from a popular comic strip at the time titled “Krazy Kat,” whose main character was copied for use on both the front door and on shirts worn by the waiters. The strip was the genius of artist George Herriman, who created a stir at the time because he stated that Krazy Kat was androgynous — sometimes Krazy was a male, and sometimes a female, willing to be both. The cartoon strip ran in major newspapers throughout the country, and featured two protagonists, Krazy Kat and Ignatz, a mouse.

The androgynous namesake of the club seems to have been a green light for early gay people in Washington to rendezvous with like-minded persons without exposure. The Krazy Kat club was mentioned in the published diary of Jeb Alexander titled, Jeb & Dash, written by a gay man living in 1920′s DC. He wrote that the club was a “Bohemian joint in an old stable up near Thomas Circle . . . [where] artists, musicians, atheists, professors [gathered].”

Despite prohibition, the club offered liquor to its patrons, and was raided several times during its existence from about 1918 to about 1925. The Sheppard Act introduced prohibition of intoxicating liquors in Washington, DC effective on November 1, 1917, a full two years before a national prohibition. Both were repealed in 1933.

One raid in February of 1919 was initiated when a police officer heard a gunshot coming from the club at 1:00 a.m. The raid resulted in “25 prisoners, including three women — self-styled artists, poets and actors, and some who worked for the government by day and masqueraded as Bohemians by night,” according to report in the Washington Post of February 22, 1919. Most of those arrested faced charges of drinking in public.

The club was run by Cleon “Throck” Throckmorton, seen at the easel on the terrace of the club, and outside the entrance. He had been born in Atlantic City in 1897, and studied engineering at Carnegie Tech and at George Washington University before embarking on a career as a landscape and figure painter. His parents, Ernest U. and Roberta Cowing Throckmorton moved to Washington and resided at 1536 Kingman Place, NW, just off of Logan Circle.

After a few years he turned to the theater, assisted on the designs for Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones (1920), and later created the sets for many of O’Neill’s plays, including All God’s Chillun Got Wings (1924), S.S. Glencairn (1924), In Abraham’s Bosom (1926), Burlesque (1927), Porgy (1927), Another Language (1932), Alien Corn (1933), and others.

By his retirement in the early 1950s he had designed sets for over 300 plays. Throckmorton also drew up architectural plans for such summer theater as the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts, and the Westport (Connecticut) Country Playhouse. He also served as the first art director for CBS in the early days of television. He died in 1965. His widow, Juliet Brenon, was a stage and screen actress in the 1920s. She was later a contributor to Yankee magazine, writing, among other subjects, about Eugene O’Neill, E.E. Cummings and other well-known people who had frequented her husband’s Greenwich Village studio.

While the building that houses the Krazy Kat is no longer there, replaced by a one occupied by a gym today, several artifacts from the club do remain. Throckmorton’s lusty dancing girl sketches are displayed at Volare, located in New York’s Greenwich Village, at 147 West 4th Street. The owner reports that the pictures conveyed with the establishment about 1984; previously, it has been called Mother Bertolotti’s, which had been established in 1939, and before that, a restaurant called Polly Holliday’s.

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