50 Years of 1789 and the Tombs, and a Party for Founder Richard McCooey

A stunned Richard McCooey upon entering F. Scott's for his surprise party.
Robert Devaney
A stunned Richard McCooey upon entering F. Scott's for his surprise party.

Friends of Richard McCooey who founded two Georgetown classics half a century ago —1789 Restaurant, an upscale fine dining establishment, and the Tombs, a student-oriented tavern—gathered at another joint he started, F.Scott’s, July 23—50 years to the founding day to celebrate the restaurateur and his creations.

The party was hosted by John and Ginger Laytham of the Clyde’s Restaurant Group, which owns 1789 and the Tombs, and organized by Susan Lee Mahan in short order since a good number of McCooey’s old pals were going to be in town that night. Attendees waited at F.Scott’s, while McCooey’s wife Karen, Tom Zito and others bought him into the retro dance club -- much to his surprise. For a moment, the self-described introvert McCooey was speechless — and then he begin to speak and speak some more.

On hand were past and present members of the Chimes, Georgetown University’s a cappella group which holds court at the Tombs. They serenaded the honoree with two songs. Clyde’s Restaurant groupers, such as John Laytham, Tom Meyer and Sally Davidson chimed in themselves with praise for the 81-year-old restaurant designer. It was all a bit overwhelming to which McCooey, a Georgetown alumnus, simply said, “Thanks for the memories.”

Colleagues and fellow art collectors, McCooey and Laytham recalled the lunch that prompted the transfer of 1789 to Clyde’s in 1985. McCooey causally told Laytham he was thinking of selling 1789 to which Laytham shot back before the end of the sentence: “You just sold it.”

Now the owner of 1789 longer than its founder, Clyde’s has held and improved upon the McCooey dining concepts. (President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel dined at 1789 in July 2011.)

The well-wishers were a mixture of older Georgetown neighborhood, business and university friends, from Bud and Jonda McFarlane to restauranteurs Paul Cohn and Stuart Long, to Linda Greenan, a vice president of Georgetown University, and to Sherrie Westin (with the Georgetown Business Association years ago), executive vice president of Sesame Workshop in New York.

Years from running a restaurant, McCooey and his wife Karen now use their design talent and impressive art collection of posters and other artwork in their restaurant design business, Persona Studios.

Before McCooey made 1789 and the Tombs 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 and publisher Ami Stewart stood up at a citizen’s meeting to back McCooey, the tide turned. 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.

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, author of “the Star-Spangled Banner.” ★

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Tue, 29 Jul 2014 02:39:42 -0400

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