At Clyde's, Treat Yourself to a Good Lunch and Cause: Sending a Kid to Camp

Co-founder Stuart Davidson, left, his wife, Sally, and co-founder John Laytham stand in front of the first Clyde's, in Georgetown, in the late 1960s.
Co-founder Stuart Davidson, left, his wife, Sally, and co-founder John Laytham stand in front of the first Clyde's, in Georgetown, in the late 1960s. (Courtesy Of Clyde's)
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By John Kelly
Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Back in the early 1960s, there was a biker bar in Georgetown called the B&J Restaurant. Now, when I say "biker bar," I don't mean a bar that catered to people in spandex. I mean a bar that catered to people in leather. That's how Georgetown was back then.

After one too many patrons had been thrown through B&J's plate glass window, a new tenant was desired. That new tenant was Stuart Davidson who, on Aug. 12, 1963, opened a little restaurant on M Street called Clyde's of Georgetown. Six months later, Davidson hired John Laytham as a dishwasher.

"I just wanted to make money for dates on the weekend," said John, who at the time was an undergrad at Georgetown University's school of foreign service.

John is about 30 credits short of his degree, which probably isn't a problem because today he is president of Clyde's.

If you know Washington, you know Clyde's. What started as a single restaurant in the heart of Georgetown has grown to number 13 today, stretching from Loudoun to Columbia.

Davidson went to St. Albans and Harvard. He flew in World War II and had worked as an investment banker when he realized that a loosening of the District's liquor laws -- until 1962 there were convoluted rules about what sort of establishments you could drink in, including whether you had to be seated -- might spell opportunity. (He died in 2001 at 78.)

"Stuart wanted the kind of place where you could go and get a drink and have a decent, simple meal," John said. "He always said that people would rather eat in a saloon than drink in a restaurant."

And that saloon should be attractive. Clyde's of Georgetown has the original oak bar from the biker days, plus all sorts of other neat tchotchkes. As each successive restaurant opened, Clyde's brought in designers and artists. John said the artwork in the Tysons Corner location was inspired by nude murals in the Café des Artistes in New York. The Café des Artistes' nudes were painted in the 1930s and now, decades later, have a retro look.

"We thought it would be fun to do a thing from when we were doing it: 1980. Some day it would be wonderfully dated and wonderfully fun. . . . It was very controversial at the time. There was some question whether the state was even going to let us put them up."

It did, and today the murals look like the cast of "Knots Landing," naked.

The gem in the Clyde's crown is Old Ebbitt Grill. The Ebbitt dates to 1856. Clyde's bought it at a tax lien sale in 1971. They had been hoping to buy a collection of old beer steins and some antique furnishings when they walked away with the entire restaurant. It's moved around a bit since then and today sparkles in the old B.F. Keith's Theater on 15th Street NW.

"It's either the fourth- or fifth-highest volume restaurant in the country," John said.

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