Mel Krupin, the longtime Duke Zeibert’s maitre d’ and restaurateur, died this morning at age 90.*
In 1968, the year Krupin arrived in DC, the Washington dining scene was ruled by places you went to see and be seen. There were no celebrity chefs, but there were celebrity maitre d’s like Krupin—early power-rankers whose table choices were a reflection of a diner’s social status.
For decades, there were few dining rooms that were clubbier, or more crammed with famous faces, than Duke’s, which sat at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and L Street, Northwest. A big part of the appeal, especially for the restaurant’s many regulars, was Krupin, a Brooklyn transplant with a wickedly deadpan sense of humor and a ringmaster’s hold over the room.
At Duke’s, tables were ranked for desirability—the ones in the front were most coveted. If Krupin led you to the back—as he once did actress Kelly McGillis, before another diner clued him in about Top Gun—well, sorry, you were in Siberia.
In 1980, the building that housed Duke’s was torn down, and the restaurant closed. With Zeibert’s encouragement, Krupin opened a place of his own—called Mel Krupin’s—just down the street. It was a fast success…until Duke’s unexpectedly reopened in 1983.
Krupin went onto work at the Tenleytown deli he opened with his brother, Krupin’s. After a brief retirement, he went on to oversee the room at McCormick & Schmick’s on K Street.
*A previous version of this post stated that Krupin was 89 when he passed away; he was 90.