Gathering your besties for eggs and bottomless mimosas on Sunday morning is a quintessential Washington tradition. But DC’s brunch scene wasn’t always a thing. Clyde’s of Georgetown would like to take credit for starting it.
No, Clyde’s did not technically invent the concept of brunch itself. Depending on who you believe, brunch has its origins in English hunt breakfasts or Catholics’ post-mass feasts. But there’s a strong case to be made that Clyde’s helped turn DC brunch into the social event it is today full of free-flowing booze, hearty hangover fare, and prime people watching.
Before he was an owner and CEO of Clyde’s Restaurant Group, the late John Laytham was a foreign service student at Georgetown University. He took a job with the then-new Clyde’s in 1964 as a dishwasher and quickly moved his way up to busser, then server. Bartender gigs were hard to come by, but Laytham saw an opportunity on weekends.
“I became a bartender because I talked the general manager into letting me open on Sundays for brunch. It was 1965 or ’66, and no one had ever heard of being open on a Sunday,” Laytham told Washingtonian in 2012.
As the story goes, the saloon added some egg dishes to the menu, and Laytham opened jeroboams of Champagne to make things more lively. The Kir Royales and mimosas flowed freely.
Ginger Laytham, John’s widow who also was an executive at Clyde’s, recalls that DC’s liquor laws had recently changed at that time. Previously, as she remembers it, you couldn’t stand and drink at a bar, or even have multiple alcoholic beverages on a table at the same time.
“Things were changing very quickly, and John being the businessman that he was, and I think having the foresight about food and decor and entertainment… it all sort of pulled together,” says Laytham, who started dating her future husband in 1976.
Clyde’s brunch was an instant hit, drawing people from all walks of life and turning Sunday into the busiest day of the week. Laytham says many hotels had brunch at the time, but “that was a very different thing—much more formal.” By contrast, Clyde’s brunch was a place to see and be seen.
“It was just an immediate success with people who wanted to come in and socialize at that time of day in that manner—not at midnight and after the Kennedy Center,” Laytham says.
According to Washington Post article from 1966, Clyde’s was one of the few bars in town open all day. The favorite drinks were “Black Velvets”—a mix of Guinness stout and Champagne—and Beaujolais sours. Alongside John Laytham, the place was being run by a young crew of mostly Georgetown students and a 25-year-old manager who “has that tousled Dublin look which demolishes girls like dominoes,” the Post wrote. Meanwhile, the chief chef—who served omelets and $1.35 cheeseburgers—was a “young girl who was expelled from college for a prank and whose family is under the impression she is working for a manufacturing firm.”
Laytham went on to become a general manager at age 22, and then a partner in the business, helping to expand the company to 13 local restaurants bringing in $135 million a year. He passed away in 2019 at age 74.
Clyde’s VP of Marketing Maureen Hirsch, who’s worked with the company for 38 years, says Laytham told the tale of how he “made brunch in DC happen” in training classes for new employees.
“He did take the credit for it,” she says. “I don’t know if there was anything else open at the time. He instilled in our minds that he created it in DC, whether it’s true or not.”