Odessa Madre with her lawyer, 1952 (courtesy of the Panache Report)

Ever heard of the club owned by “the Al Capone of DC” on 14th and W? Club Madre, owned by Odessa Madre, was a popular nightclub where Moms Mabley, Count Basie, and Nat King Cole played in the 1940s. Now, after years of being empty, 2204 14th street houses Bicycle Stations.

The story here really isn’t Club Madre, but rather the Madre herself. She ran a bookmaking operation, was the madam of multiple brothels, trafficked narcotics, sold bootleg liquor, and had her fingers in other organized crime ventures. In her prime in the 1940s, she made $100,000 a year. The legend goes that at every party she threw, she set out a number of bowls of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana for her guests. She often made an entrance to a party or club dressed in fur and diamonds from head to toe, surrounded by her call girls. Many believed she was a lesbian.

She had the MPD so under her thumb, one story says, that when two officers refused to take a bribe from Odessa, they were demoted and reassigned. Of course, she was arrested often. By 1980, Madre had been arrested up to 30 times on 57 charges over 48 years, seven of them spent in a federal prison. To celebrate one time when she got out of prison, she bought a Cadillac, another a Lincoln Continental.

Madre died in 1990 at the age of 83 of kidney failure. She had been very generous to the area’s poor and spent nearly all the money she had, leaving her penniless at her death. Her friends could only scrape together $51 for her funeral.

Club Madre, now Bicycle Station

Madre said of her life of crime, “You say was it worth it? Child, you wonder does crime pay? I’ll tell you, yes. It pays a helluva lot of money. And money is something. I don’t care who you are, when you got money you can get a lot of doors open because there’s always some larcenous heart who’s gonna listen to you. And when you show ’em that money . . . if you got a wad, honey, they’ll suck up to ya like you was a Tootsie Roll.”

A feature in which I look back at the history of buildings in the U street area.