Upon entering 1789 and seeing its tall gas lamp and English Tudor-style foyer, you feel as though you're not in Georgetown anymore. Or even in this century.
Its storied history as a restaurant began in 1962 after Georgetown University alum Richard J. McCooey bought two businesses in the 19th century Federal townhome and opened the basement pub, The Tombs, where parents and faculty could grab a burger and a beer. The upstairs evolved into a formal restaurant, with six dining rooms that are chock full of antiques, early maps, paintings and prints from the 1800s that were part of McCooey's personal art collection.
In the 1960s McCooey purchased two adjacent properties that are now F. Scott's, an Art Deco-style nightclub. Clyde's Restaurant Group purchased all three restaurants in 1985.
1789 General Manager Rich Kaufman recently took Eater on a tour of the two-story building. Here are some of highlights.
The Pub. Bill and Hillary Clinton are said to be fans this room, where English caricatures from the 1800s line nearly every inch of the wall and a gas chandelier sets the mood for diners looking to be whisked away to an earlier time. The room also has a couple of oddities, including a pendulum wall clock, or Parliament clock, and a wooden puppet juts out of one corner of the ceiling. That's Punch, of British puppet show Punch and Judy.
A 16th Century monk's prayer bench from Ireland holds wine bottles at the bar. The bar's marble top was once part of the Washington Evening Star's newspaper production room.
The John Carroll Room Tables near the working fireplace of the 150-seat main dining room are highly coveted in winter. Even actress Julianne Moore requested one. The room is dotted with antiques, including a large German credenza purchased by Clyde's Restaurant Group CEO John Laytham in the late 1970s. Currier and Ives prints from George Washington's days as president and early maps of the city hang on the walls. The room is named for Georgetown University founder Archbishop John Carroll, who purchased the original site in, of course, 1789.
The Manassas Room: Kaufman refers to this room with dark wood and bright red leather seats as the "underrated" and "sleeper dining room." Civil War memorabilia adorn the wall, including one offering young men $415 to join the war. There's also a weathered portrait of Union Major General Henry Slocum with holes - bullet holes, perhaps? The reconditioned wood on the walls comes from an 1860s Maryland barn.
French double doors join the Wickets and Garden Room, on the second floor. Wickets is the room for cozy, intimate dinners and tete-a-tetes. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel dined here in 2011. A private staircase leading from the foyer to the room is one reason why dignitaries like it. Or it might be could be due to the oak paneling, (more) 19th century caricatures and three-tiered black metal chandelier.
The restaurant opens up The Middleburg Room for private events and during times when the restaurant is especially busy, such as Restaurant Week. The wood on the ceiling comes from an old barn in Vermont. The room gets the most dressed up during the holidays and the restaurant keeps the vines and lights on the ceiling up through Valentine's Day. The walls are busy with prints depicting hunt scenes. You'd never know that there are two secret doors: one leading to a kitchen and another to a hidden bar. —Julekha Dash
Correction: Rich Kaufman is the general manager of 1789.