Raucous restaurateur Duke Zeibert, who put his pickles out to pasture two years ago after a wrecking ball chased him from the dining room he dominated for 30 years, will reopen his restaurant next spring on the same old block.
Zeibert said yesterday that he will be back in business with his son Randy as his partner in the nearly completed Washington Square building at Connecticut Avenue and L Street NW.
The new Duke Zeibert's will be on the second level of the $100 million office and retail complex, with an outdoor cafe overlooking Connecticut Avenue and a six-story-high dining room at the base of the glass atrium at the southeast corner of the building.
"We're gonna come on like we came on for 30 years," said Zeibert. "The same bill of fare, the same menu, but a lot nicer surroundings in a fabulous building."
Zeibert's original place closed its doors in May 1980 when the La Salle Building was torn down to make way for Washington Square, a joint venture of developers Theodore N. Lerner and Albert Abramson. Zeibert had a dozen years to run on his lease, but the developers paid him off and Duke retired to play golf and the horses.
As it turned out, pounding golf balls for a living wasn't half as much fun as slapping the backs of customers, and Zeibert got tired of constantly being asked to open a new place.
"Every week, somebody would call me up and want me to move to some place like 22nd Street," he sneered. "This is the greatest corner in the world. It's the only building I would ever want to be in."
Zeibert said he firmly intended to retire when he sold out, but at 77 couldn't adjust to doing nothing and began talking to Lerner and Abramson last summer about going back in business.
"People want to know why I'm taking this gamble at my age," he said without being asked. "I'm not doing it for me, I'm doing it for my kids."
The boiled beef, sour pickles and celebrities will be the same, but the new restaurant will be a little bigger than the old one -- 450 seats instead of 400, said son Randy, who's spent 10 years working with his father and who plans to pass the new place on to his son.
Though the decor for the new quarters will not be the same brown and blue ("the color of a bruise") as the old place, not much else will change, Zeibert said. "I'm even bringing my old chef back out of retirement, Joe Kerriou, and Bennie the waiter's gonna come back."
One veteran who won't be back is former manager Mel Krupin, who opened his own place a block up the street with the same menu, many of the same staff and much of the clientele from Zeibert's.
"I'll be losing a good customer" when Duke reopens his own place, said Krupin. His old boss is going to find that downtown Washington has become "a little saturated with restaurants," he added, carefully avoiding any jibes at Zeibert.
"People talk about a feud; there's no feud," Zeibert said. "Mel Krupin runs a nice restaurant. There. I said it, and I'm glad I said it."