McCooey Milestone: Bar None, He’s Golden
Raise a glass, Washingtonians, to Richard McCooey, who celebrates 50 years in the business world this year, and his 80th birthday on October 14th. You likely have dined at his first classics in Georgetown: 1789 Restaurant or The Tombs, now owned by Clyde’s Restaurant Group.
Today, McCooey and his wife Karen run a restaurant design and consulting business that has left its mark from California to Russia.
It began in Georgetown back in 1960 with the plans to build The Tombs and 1789, where McCooey had been a student. “I always wanted to open a restaurant near Georgetown University since my freshman year there,” recalled McCooey, who had just arrived back in D.C. from Florida, where another restaurant venture was discussed.
He has collected art since college and has worked with Clyde’s John Laytham in art and collectibles for many of Clyde’s restaurants. Laytham liked The Tombs and 1789 so much that he purchased 1789, Inc., in 1985, along with F. Scott’s.
Before McCooey made his archetypes of a student pub and faculty club a reality, he had to convince Georgetown residents that his plan made sense for the community as well. There was opposition to his project. When The Georgetowner’s founder Ami Stewart stood up at a citizen’s meeting to back McCooey, the tide turned. Two restaurants that epitomize Georgetown today were born in 1962. McCooey never forgot Stewart’s support and towards the end of her life would regularly send waiters to her home with meals from his restaurant.
Back in the 1960s, McCooey was the first in D.C. to introduce things we take for granted: pizza and gourmet burgers in a pub, rock ‘n roll music -- with students selecting the music -- and a consistent story throughout the restaurant’s concept, design and decor. By the way, if anyone asks, why the name “1789”? That was the year the Federal government was established, Georgetown University founded and Georgetown, Md., incorporated. And “The Tombs”? Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” In it, “Bustopher Jones, The Cat About Town” likes to lunch at the tomb. (Add to that McCooey’s nickname in the Air Force: “Bustopher Cat.”) As for the now private club, F. Scott’s, it is named after author F. Scott Fitzgerald, a distant cousin of Francis Scott Key.
“A restaurant is a neutral spot,” the soft-spoken and private McCooey says. “It is where people can forget their troubles. I have a drive to delight people by giving them a magical, tasteful and soul-filled space in which to be.”
Years from running a restaurant, McCooey and his wife Karen now use their design talent and an impressive art collection of posters and other artwork in their restaurant design business, Persona Studios. “One of our principal contributions to a project is the basic concept and the art and artifacts that support it,” they say. “The concept can be a unique idea or can flow from the style of food, the general history of the area or even the personalities of the owners.”
“So, we celebrate Richard,” says his wife Karen, “ . . . for his loyal 50-year career in Washington, D.C., for sharing his exquisite gift in designing comfortable, gorgeous restaurants . . . and for dedicating his life to feeding us -- body and soul. He serves up an inspiring example.”
Here is a partial list of establishments where McCooey has been involved: Clyde’s 1789 Restaurant, Clyde’s Tombs, Clyde’s F. Scott’s Restaurant as well as the Clyde’s on M Street, in Reston, Chevy Chase, Gallery Place, Columbia and the Old Ebbitt Grill; The Tap Room, Georgetown Club; Union Street Cafe, Alexandria, Va.; Riverbend Restaurant (Philadelphia Airport Marriott); The Polo Club, Marriott Grand Aurora Hotel (Moscow, Russia); Tap Room, The Greenbrier (White Sulphur Springs, W.V.); Marriott Laguna Cliffs Resort (Calif.).