Little Tavern and J. Edgar Hoover

Image: “Female Trouble”, 1974, John Waters, director

Harry Duncan founded Little Tavern at the age of 28 and moved to Washington DC in 1928, settling in the then brand new “New Quinn Apartments” at 3800 New Hampshire Ave NW (apt 103). As the chain grew and prospered, he moved to 6805 45th St. Chevy Chase, MD in 1930, and was living at 4807 Colorado Ave NW Washington DC in 1935. Through the 1940s, he lived at the Kennedy Warren 3313 Connecticut Ave NW.

In the early 1950s, Duncan moved to 4955 Linnean Dr. NW, a house that backed up to 4936 30th Pl NW, the home of J. Edgar Hoover. Whether they bonded over their politics or their love of horse racing is unknown, but the two became fast friends. Every Saturday, Duncan, Hoover and Clyde Tolson would meet for breakfast at Hoover’s house,  visit one of the horse tracks in the area (Duncan specifically opened Little Tavern locations near Pimlico and Laurel race tracks), then return to DC for dinner at Duncan’s house.  The three dined at each others houses every night of the week and had a rotating schedule where each would cook two nights, with Hoover making up for the extra meal with Saturday’s breakfast. This arrangement lasted for the better part of twenty years, until Hoover’s death in 1972.

“In the box with G-men Hoover and Tolson was Harry Duncan, an earnest horseplayer who gets his betting money from a chain of hamburger stands, all called Little Tavern. Athough he had the advice and counsel of the heads of the FBI, plus tips from a dozen senators and Gov. Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin of Maryland, who paid visits to the Hoover Box, the Hamburger King took a painful fiscal beating.
He was a miserable and downcast man when he left the track with his hosts. Even the sage observation of J. Edgar Hoover that there would always be another day failed to comfort him. He looked as if he was sure this was to be the last.
They had ridden but a short distance when they came to one of his hamburger joints. Mr. Duncan commanded the chauffeur to stop. He dashed into the Little Tavern and remained there about five minutes. When he emerged, he was smiling again.
Director Hoover asked what caused the pleasant transition. ‘Oh,’ replied Mr. Duncan modestly, ‘my great business acumen has come to my rescue. I told them in there to leave the pickle off the hamburgers for a few days until I get even.'” – Panama City News Herald, May 29, 1954

Hoover Tells Boys of High Crime Costs
“The cost of crime in the United States is nearly twice the cost of education, J. Edgar Hoover, FBI director, told an audience of trustees of the Boys Clubs of Washington last night. Hoover, speaking at a dinner meeting in the Shoreham Hotel honoring founders of the Silver Spring Boys club, said only $1 is spent on education for every $1.89 spent fighting the forces of crime. The Nations crime bill of 20 billion dollars a year is 10 times the amount given to churches, he declared. Experence has shown that whenever a boys club has been established there is a marked drop in juvenile delinquency in the area, Hoover said. ‘The greatest service we can give the youth today is to give them their justly deserved heritage,’ he added. He congratulated the trustees on, ‘the magnificent civic contribution’ of the club. Hoover presented a plaque to Harry F. Duncan, the original chairman of the Silver Spring Boys Club and one of the 34 founders honored last night.” – The Washinton Times Herald, October 28, 1954

“G Man J. Edgar Hoover may be asked to investigate his best friend, Harry Duncan, who runs the Little Tavern hamburger stands. The two men are inseparable companions. However, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has complained that some Little Taverns have refused to serve Negroes. The complaint may be forwarded to the FBI.” – (Associated Press story, 1957)

“. . .At the unveiling of a portrait of Silver Spring Boy’s Club leader Harry F. Duncan. Hoover, a personal friend of Duncan, said it is preferable to build good citizens through boys’ clubs than to rehabilitate broken lives. The ceremonies took place at the Harry F Duncan building” – (Act of Treason: The Role of J. Edgar Hoover in the Assassination of John F Kennedy by Mark North)

“On Saturdays, Tolson and two other men, Harry Duncan and George Allen, met at Hoover’s for breakfast. after the Director’s SAC delivered Bureau mail, the foursome set out for the track, two agents close behind in a support car. Once there, Hoover and Tolson retreated to their own skybox to watch the races. Presumably lunch was taken in the executive lounge atop the enclosed stands. After the races, they went to one of the four’s house for dinner.” – (Act of Treason: The Role of J. Edgar Hoover in the Assassination of John F Kennedy by Mark North)

“Harry Duncan, a neighbor of Hoover’s, was a close friend for many years: “We spent many, many very pleasant and wonderful years together. He was good at any kind of talk. He was the greatest guy there was for conversation. And he was quite a jokester and trickster. He got a big kick out of life and joking with people. He was a great practical joker. (p.22, The Director: an oral biography of J. Edgar Hoover, Ovid Demaris)

James Craford (Hoover’s driver): Saturday morning, there probably would be Mr. Harry Dunca – he lived behind Mr. Hoover – Mr. Tolson, probably Mr. George Allen would meet at Mr Hoover’s house for breakfast, then they’d go to the races, wherever they were running: Bowie, Pimlico, Charlestown, Laurel, Havre de Grace – it’s closed now. There is something going the year around. After the races we’d go to Mr. Duncan’s house for dinner. Then on Monday nigh, Mr Duncan and Mr. Hoover would eat at Mr. Tolson’s house, and that would be all for the three of them for that week”(p35, The Director: an oral biography of J. Edgar Hoover, Ovid Demaris)

“Hoover shared his last days with a few friends. ‘You are honored by your friends,’ he liked to repeat, ‘and you are distinguished by your enemies.’ He was ‘very distingished,’ he’d boast.  But he was honored as well.  He spent ost of his leisure time with two old friends, bachelors like himself, Clyde Tolson and Harry Duncan.  Their evening meal together became ritualized.  On Mondays and Fridays, Tolson was the host.  Duncan had Wednesdays and Saturdays.  It was Hoover’s turn on Sunday nights and Saturday mornings.  He would plan the meals himself, writing out the menus in his shaky, old man’s hand for his housekeeper, Anna Fields.  Saturday usually was reserved for Hoover’s most celebrated vice: the horse races.  The three bachelors would meet at Hoover’s home for breakfast, and then proceed to Maryland’s Pimilico racetrack.  He never bet more than $2 on a race”  – Aug 19 1973, the Orlando Sentinel


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