Milton Stanley Kronheim was born in 1888 at 4½ and K Streets SW, near today’s Arena Stage. He first observed lawmakers socializing at J. Kronheim’s Capitol Saloon, his father’s popular tavern on Capital Hill. Kronheim dropped out of Business High School at age 14 and, with the help of his family, opened the Maryland Wine and Liquor Company in Georgetown at 3218 M Street NW.
In 1917, when Prohibition put him out of business, Kronheim became a bail bonds man, posting bails for many distinguished offenders and befriending some of the city’s future powerbrokers. With repeal, Kronheim returned to the liquor business as a distributor.
From around 1928 until a few years before he died in 1986 at age 97, this Washington legend hosted lunches in his modest lunchroom at his warehouse on V Street NE. An extraordinary array of friends attended – presidents and diplomats, businessman and boxers, justices, judges, senators, congressmen, lawyers and doctors. The Washington Post wrote, “When Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was invited to lunch…The New York Times took notice, observing that [she] ‘has finally passed muster.’”
Kronheim informally hosted DC’s “who’s who” for nearly 60 years, and his treasured photographs, lining the walls of the lunchroom, were a testimony to his longevity and success. Row after row of famous likenesses guaranteed an air of celebrity and friendship, power and triumph. They made the room inviting and exciting, easy to fill with laughter and conversation. In 1979, Judge J. Skelly Wright told The New York Times, “The first thing we do when we walk in the door is take off our jackets. That sets the whole tone. Anywhere else we would have to walk in frozen-faced.”
As Kronheim built the largest wholesale liquor distributorship in the Washington-Baltimore area, he devoted himself to an array of political and charitable causes as well as national Jewish organizations. He was a major supporter of the Democratic Party giving more than $100,000 the year Truman won the White House. His fundraising for Israel Bonds was so successful that a town, Nachalat Kronheim, was named after him. Kronheim also found time to pitch for his company baseball team, the Kronheim A.C. Bearcats, until his arm finally gave out when he was in his mid-80s.
In 1998, Kronheim’s family donated more than 400 photographs and other items to the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, and the Society produced an exhibition of a selection of them the following year. The photographs are both a pictorial biography of one man’s life and a who’s who of Washington throughout most of the 20th century.
For a peek into the friendship between Kronheim and President Harry Truman, you can read the transcript of a 1968 oral history from the holdings of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Top photo: Counterclockwise from Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg (on phone), Senator Abe Ribicoff, developer Charles E. Smith, Judge David Bazelon, unidentified man, attorney Arnold Shaw, sportswriter Morrie Siegel, Judge J. Skelly Wright, unidentified man and Kronheim at the head of the table (undated photo). Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington.
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