The Palm is 40 years old, which is, what, about 100 in D.C. restaurant years? You can probably count the number of older fine-dining spots on one hand. But the party Tuesday night at the Dupont Circle VIP magnet felt more like a 40th anniversary party for Tommy Jacomo, the executive director and front-of-the-house guy who has been there since the beginning.
Jacomo joked about his long tenure to the crowd of some 250 regular diners who packed the party (a $200-a-head benefit for Share Our Strength). He relayed this compliment from PBS “NewsHour” pundit Mark Shields: “You’re my argument against term limits.” And he imagined what Jack Kent Cooke might have said if he could have been there, imitating the late Redskins owner’s patrician growl: “Dear, dear, Tommy. What a glorious, glorious night!”
Don’t get the wrong idea: Jacomo’s no namedropper. It’s just that so many of his friends are famous! Among those who turned out to schmooze Tuesday: James Carville and Mary Matalin, Gary Williams, Sonny Jurgensen, John Feinstein. The Queens native (age?: “Sixty-[expletive]-eight”) came to D.C. in 1972, when the owners of the original Manhattan Palm decided to open their first satellite, supposedly at the urging of George H.W. Bush; with Jacomo at the helm, it quickly became a power-broker clubhouse.
At a time when most new restaurants are trying to promote their “celebrity” chefs, with their various cookbooks and TV shows, Jacomo may be the last link to an era when out-front guys like Mel Krupin and Duke Zeibert outshone the kitchen staff by knowing the tastes and table preferences of every bigwig in town.
What happened to the celebrity maitre d’? “It’s probably a financial thing,” for restaurants, Jacomo told us. “They can hire a host or hostess much cheaper.”
Best memory of the last 40 years? “Probably sparring with Muhammad Ali in the restaurant.” For fun? “For fun.”
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