Dobkins Pub in southeast Washington, D.C, was among the first buildings destroyed after the 1968 riots, but it remains a fond memory for many veterans of the U.S. Marine Corps Honor Guard. They remember it as a place where they were always welcome, and they remember Molly Schechter, who owned and operated Dobkins from 1956-66.
“Every woman should have a bar once in her life,” said Schechter, 84. “She’s always being told how beautiful and how wonderful she is.”
Decades later, Schechter is still being told. Marines who scattered throughout the United States continued to write to Schechter, who never lost touch with her regulars. Through the years, they wrote her letters about getting married, then having children, then having grandchildren.
“Whenever the guys get together, your name and Dobkins always come up,” wrote George Hoag, one of the Marines who recently wrote to her. “You were our mother and watched over us while we were away from home, and as you can see, you did an excellent job of raising us.”
Now living with her daughter Shirlee Blanken in Potomac, Schechter received an invitation last April from Paul David Towey, another Marine. He wanted Schechter to join the annual reunion of 20 Honor Guard veterans in Florida.
"Please let me know when you will arrive so that we can roll out the red carpet," Towey wrote to Schechter.
There was only one problem — Schechter couldn’t attend the reunion unless she became a member of the American Legion. She paid the $25 membership fee and made it official. “I had to see if my investment was worth it,” she said.
SCHECHTER FLEW to Tampa, Fla., where she was picked up by Mason Scott, one of the Marines who frequented Dobkins, and Scott’s wife. After a moment, Schechter remembered him. “He doesn’t have that boyish look any more, doesn’t have that crew cut,” she said. “It was that wonderful pat on the shoulder. … It all came back to me how young and beautiful he was at one time.”
The Scotts took her to their annual reunion at the American Legion post. “I have never been greeted that way,” she said. “I was so glad to see them again.”
Seeing all the men in late middle-age — with careers ranging from entrepreneurs to doctors to lawyers — was well worth the admission fee, Schechter said. “They worked in so many different things. They all made something of themselves.”
The Marines paid a tearful tribute to one of the members who died of cancer just weeks before the reunion. They all autographed a banner for Schechter, telling her time and again what an important place Dobkins was in their lives.
“Mere words cannot express the impact you had on our lives,” said Joseph Cirrincione, one of the Marines who wrote to her after seeing her at the reunion. “We were young men trying to stand on our own and act like men. … You provided a safety net, someone who could steer us in the right direction without being judgmental.”
BEER AT DOBKIN’S was 15 cents a glass, 25 cents a mug, and 75 cents for a pitcher. Schlitz, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Budweiser were on tap. D.C. liquor laws mandated that patrons could drink beer only at the bar and had to move to a table to order other forms of liquor.
Schechter, however, played by her own rules. “The reason I was such a success was that I let the Marines break every law,” she said. “I let them feel like it was their home away from home.”
That meant an honor system with bar tabs, or looking the other way if patrons played cards, drank a 75-cent glass of whiskey at the bar, or got up to dance on the tables of the tiny pub, which had a capacity of 75.
One regular was fond of saying, “Molly has 75 children.”
“I said it feels great — I don’t have a stretch mark on me,” she said.
Patrons, she said, included a man who would talk to his reflection in a mirror in the bar’s corner. He once complained to Schechter that a man who sat nearby looked just like him and never answered his questions. Another regular survived the Pearl Harbor bombing, though stationed on a boat that sank.
Another man had once been scheduled to fight a boxing match against heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey. “Thank God [Dempsey] was sick that day,” Schechter said.
“Friday nights they would bring their girlfriends or parents,” she said. “They always brought them in to meet me.”
Schechter’s son-in-law, Bill Blanken, paid a visit to Dobkins when he and Shirlee were first dating. “It was neat, very active, with a lot of people in and out, having a good time.”
The streets were rough-edged around Dobkins, near the Washington Navy Yard at 8th and M streets in Southeast Washington, D.C. Women used to wander the area, looking for a serviceman to treat them to a drink.
But the neighborhood began to worsen by the mid-1960s, and with it, the atmosphere at Dobkins, said Schechter. “Everybody started going to Vietnam at the very end.”
She sold the bar in 1966 and ran it through New Year’s Eve of that year.
Schechter and her husband then opened a carry-out corner store on Georgia Avenue in D.C. They encountered few problems there. “If you treat people like people should be treated, people will take care of you,” she said.
“TOMORROW’S GOING TO BE another day — a better day.” Schechter remains as fond of these words now as she was then.
She lived with her husband near Rock Creek Park in Northwest Washington in the same house for 47 years, until he died in June 2000. She remained in the house until two years ago, when she moved to Potomac.
Schechter continues to care for her son, Michael, 60, who lives with the family. He has mental retardation, and during the years Schechter ran Dobkins, her husband and his aunt helped care for Michael.
Since the Schechters moved to Potomac two years ago, Michael Schechter has gone to the Montgomery ARC from 8:30 to 3:30 p.m., where there is a program for disabled adults. “It’s given him a little bit more independence, and he’s out among people, and he’s out among people who are in similar situations,” Molly Schechter said.
Michael is a very loving son, but he doesn’t speak, Schechter said. “He has taught us more than we could ever teach him,” she said. “Don’t waste what you’ve got. … There’s a reason for everything.”
These days, Schechter is a regular at the Potomac Community Center, where she joins a group of Potomac seniors each Tuesday.
While Schechter’s bartending days are long gone, she remains just as engaging as she was in the days she ran Dobkins. “We go out any place, and my mother attracts all these men, and I’m not talking about old ones,” said Shirlee Blanken.
Schechter cherishes the letters she received from her “children” from Dobkins, and the enduring friendships she maintains.
“It’s so nice to be remembered,” Schechter said. “I’m so glad I was part of the lives of so many people.”