Clyde’s started as not much more than a one-room saloon on M Street in Georgetown. That was the summer of 1963. It was the vision of gentleman saloon owner Stuart Davidson, who wanted to give DC something it didn’t have: a swanky but populist bar with a New York City vibe. In little more than a week it will celebrate its 50th anniversary. In those 50 years, Clyde’s has bloomed into a small industry, opening 14 restaurants in the Washington area. One of them, Old Ebbitt Grill, ranks among the highest-grossing restaurants in the nation. Just consider these two numbers. The original Clyde’s grossed a strong (for then) $250,000 in its first year. The entire Clyde’s group expects to close out 2013 with a gross of $130 million.
Fans will want to mark their calendars for 8 AM on Monday, August 12. That’s when Clyde’s on M Street will open for a two-hour free breakfast of popular egg dishes, juice, and coffee. Breakfast will transition into an all-day menu of memory-lane items, such as London broil, filet Béarnaise, beer-battered shrimp, and cocktails such as the Brandy Alexander and the Sidecar, with prices that will range from $5 to $25.
Anyone who has been to Clyde’s likely has a Clyde’s story. One of our favorites is how a visit produced a hit record. When you go, ask to sit under the gold record in the Atrium room. The gold record was for “Afternoon Delight,” a Grammy-winning hit 1976 single by the Starland Vocal Band and written by a member of the band, DC resident Bill Danoff. Danoff and his wife named the song after the appetizer menu at Clyde’s. No word on whether it will be included among the anniversary menu specials.
It’s notable about Clyde’s that in 50 years in business the company has never closed a restaurant nor franchised. It is still owned by Davidson’s widow, Sally, who is chairman of the board, and her co-owner, CEO John Gibb Laytham. Their experiences and memories are the basis of a commemorative book, How We Do Business, that includes in the discussion both Laytham’s wife, Ginger, who is senior executive officer to the president, and the company’s president, Tom Meyer. There’s lots of restaurant business advice, photos from the scrapbook, and even a recipe for “Clyde’s famous chili.” It lists for $24.95 and is for sale in the restaurants.
In the text, the book’s author, J. Garrett Glover, himself a longtime Clyde’s employee, talks about the impact of Stuart Davidson, who died in 2001. “Davidson’s concept of the neighborhood saloon—‘it’s more fun to eat in a saloon than drink in a restaurant’—is still the cornerstone of Clyde’s unique approach to the saloon business, an approach ersatz saloons have copied and benefited from.”