Do you remember Comet Liquors in Adams Morgan? Located on Columbia Road between 18th and 19th Streets, it had a distinctive neon sign. Most who remember the business don’t realize it was opened by a Jewish immigrant in 1940 and continued to be Jewish-owned throughout its existence.
When Oscar Gildenhorn opened Comet Liquor, the neighborhood was not yet called Adams Morgan, but the name had caught on by the time Gildenhorn’s son-in-law Howard Speisman took over management 25 years later.
Sidney Drazin bought Comet in 1980. Drazin, a native Washingtonian, had served in World War II and then run a few different businesses before buying Comet.
In 1989, as neighborhood demographics changed, Drazin added a deli counter. Earlier in the 20th century, it was common for Jewish grocers in Washington to move into the liquor business, but now, a few decades later, a liquor man was adding food to his business. the deli offerings like white fish salad and lox with a bagel hinted at the Jewish ownership.
Shortly after this change, Drazin brought in a chair so he could sit while at work. He quickly found that customers wanted to sit and chat, so he set up a table and a few chairs by the entrance. These extra pieces of furniture changed the atmosphere of the store. The Washington Post wrote that Comet became a “kind of plastic-chaired neighborhood salon.” Regulars came from all walks of life—from blue-collar workers to investment bankers—to sit around the table, socialize and debate.
Drazin was a popular neighborhood personality. One regular told the Post that “Sid was the surrogate parent to all the lost souls of Adams Morgan, all the single people who needed a confidence boost.”
When Drazin died in 2005, in a show of community affection, Rabbi Ethan Seidel’s eulogy ran in The InTowner newspaper. Drazin’s widow Bernice shut Comet while the family sat shiva, and a shrine of flowers and cards grew outside the door. After running the store for a few months, Bernice decided to close Comet permanently.
Drazin’s niece, Stephanie Silverstein, who worked for the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington at the time, alerted the Society’s archivists to the impending loss of Comet’s historic materials. JHSGW staff embarked on a rescue mission to document the business, Jewish-owned for over 60 years. A professional photographer was hired to take exterior and interior photographs before the store closed. The iconic neon sign was purchased by a local restaurateur and now hangs at his restaurant, Comet Ping Pong on Connecticut Avenue NW.
Top photo: Comet Liquor and Deli, 2006. Photo by Fisher Photography