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Richard McCooey, Founder of 1789 and the Tombs, Celebrates His 50th Anniversary

Friends and former staff hosted a surprise party for McCooey last night at F. Scott’s.

Richard McCooey at his surprise 50th anniversary party. Photograph by Jim Weaver.

To hear him tell the story, 64 years ago, when he was a Georgetown University freshman, Richard McCooey had the idea to open a particular type of restaurant adjacent to the campus. It took 14 more years for him to make the dream come true, but when he did the result was 1789 Restaurant and its basement sibling, the Tombs. Last night in Georgetown, friends and former staff—some of whom flew in from New York and Los Angeles—gave McCooey a surprise 50th-anniversary party, which included a serenade from veteran members of the Chimes, the university’s male a cappella singing group.

“I am so appreciative,” he said to the guests packed into the private F. Scott’s club next door to 1789. “I did all I wanted to do. As a freshman, walking along this street, I had that dream. I kept the dream.” He recalled that when they started work on 1789, “there was no Tombs. There wasn’t a basement. So we had to take the whole inside of the building out to be able to do it.”

In the years since, both restaurants have become community fixtures. McCooey said he wanted both “to reflect the university.” The Tombs, decked out in college sports paraphernalia, appeals to students and families seeking a pub atmosphere; 1789, more formal with fireplaces and “Old Georgetown” decor, is a serene, white-tablecloth setting for fine dining. Last year President Obama took German chancellor Angela Merkel there for dinner.

McCooey no longer owns 1789 or the Tombs. “I had given it 25 years, a quarter of a century, and that was all I had to do, all I could do,” he said about his decision to sell the businesses in the mid-1980s. But when he sold to John Laytham, president and CEO of the Clyde’s Restaurant Group, the deal went down in record time.

McCooey said it was September of 1985 and he and Laytham were at F. Scott’s, coming up the stairs from the lower-level disco. McCooey said, “John, I’m thinking of selling 1789.” Laytham replied, “You just sold it!”

  • Dave Roffman

    Happy birthday Richard McCooey! A true original whose love for Georgetown is unsurpassed.

  • Publius

    What a great and kind man! Mr. McCooey, every good wish on your birthday ... thanks for all you have done for the Georgetown community, or, rather, for the Georgetown communities. The world is a better, happier place for your presence. AD MULTOS ANNOS!

  • Bill Edgerton

    The dean of Harvard Medical School is still angry with you that I didn't gain admission thanks to all of those wonderful late nights singing with the Chimes at the Tombs instead of studying.
    Do you think my parents will see this post ?
    Many thanks for providing the venue.

  • Thank you, Richard... The Chimes are forever grateful for all that you have done for us!

  • dogburn

    Richard, I will never forget the memories of Chimes Nights, thanks to you. When I wasn't upstairs in the Chimes Room, I was downstairs at the Tombs having a "Patty Melt Special", a staple for me all throughout college. I lived within a 3 block radius of the Tombs for 3 years, many of my college friends were bartenders and waiters, and I still wear a Tombs t-shirt today and buy a new one with each trip back to GU. Congratulations and thank you!

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