Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

From Protests to Pinot Noir, 1789 Endures

LEONEL DE VELEZ FOR THE HOYA 1789 faced heavy opposition from the neighborhood at its founding, but it has since become an area mainstay.
1789 faced heavy opposition from the neighborhood at its founding, but it has since become an area mainstay.

Attracting President Obama and prominent locals, the premier Georgetown restaurant 1789 has become a District hotspot for upscale dining. But neighbors weren’t always the eatery’s biggest fans. In the buildup to its establishment nearly 50 years ago, management went head to head with community leaders wary of a new eatery in an otherwise tranquil residential neighborhood.


In 1960, Richard “Dick” McCooey (C ’52) began purchasing the buildings that would later house 1789, The Tombs and F. Scott’s.

McCooey envisioned an establishment at 36th and Prospect Streets that would capture the Georgetown spirit.

“Dick McCooey wanted to provide for the university what Mory’s provided for Yale: alternative dining plus a reputable watering hole,” said Fr. R. Emmett Curran, S.J., a prominent university historian and professor emeritus of history.

But before he could open up shop, McCooey was caught up in a battle for the establishments’ liquor licenses. A group of Georgetown residents signed a petition objecting to the venture on the grounds that it would “alter the residential character of the neighborhood.”

Anonymous anti-1789 letters were sent to neighbors, according to an article titled “ABC Hears Final Debates; 1789 Decision Anticipated,” published in The Hoya on Dec. 7, 1961.

Opponents argued that the restaurant’s location was too close to Holy Trinity School, adding that the university would profit from its alcohol sales. Residents feared that the restaurant would foster a drunken atmosphere, diminishing the character of the high-end neighborhood.

McCooey’s attorney called the protesters’ efforts “a campaign of almost military precision, unparalleled in [his] 25 years of legal experience,” according to the Dec. 7 article.

Concerned neighbors launched a two-pronged effort to halt 1789’s progress. After attempting to prevent McCooey from obtaining liquor licenses, the neighbors turned to the Progressive Citizens Association of Georgetown and petitioned to revoke the remodeling permit McCooey had already been granted.

“There was a great deal of apprehension about and resistance to the university’s expansion into the neighborhood in the early 1960s,” Curran said. “Neighbors began referring to ‘imperial Georgetown.'”

According to The Hoya’s article “1789 Sets Construction With Zoning Board’s OK,” published Oct. 26, 1961, neighbors contested the construction project, arguing that it would not adhere to zoning restrictions and that it lacked adequate parking space.

According to Curran, local residents appealed to powers beyond the local government and alcohol board.

“One resident wrote to the Archbishop of Washington: ‘The clock on Healy Hall strikes … pealing forth over our neighborhood the ominous suggestion that our days as a residential community are numbered and soon … Georgetown University will extend all the way to Rock Creek,'” Curran said.

Eventually, McCooey secured Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration’s approval, finally launching his businesses in early 1962 and establishing what is now widely regarded as the culinary cornerstone of the high-end neighborhood.


Once established, 1789 quickly won over neighbors.

“The restaurant was a success from the beginning,” Curran said.

Fr. William McFadden, S.J., a theology professor who came to Georgetown in 1963, recalled meeting at the restaurant for a lunch interview when it was first opened.

“It was not yet a fine French restaurant, [but] it was a wonderful addition to the area as a place to meet,” McFadden said. “It was the only place in town [and] a lot of people thought it was great to have somewhere that students [could] go for a night out that was close to campus and safer.”

By the 1970s, the restaurant began building its brand by attracting high-profile chefs. At the time, Alain Taulere, a member of French culinary arts academy Chaine des Rotisseurs, oversaw the restaurant as its chief saucier. He went on to own a ski resort in the French Pyrenees, according to an article titled “Dali’s Half a Loaf” published in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on Oct. 26, 1975.

Such talent and recognition drew the D.C. elite’s business, but not without controversy.

Then-Speaker of the House Thomas “Tip” O’Neill (D-Mass.) allegedly misappropriated his funds for lavish dinners there in the mid-1970s, according to McFadden.

In the ’80s, McCooey sold 1789 to Clyde’s Restaurant Group, and the recognition of 1789 as a top destination continued to grow.


Despite neighborhood concerns voiced at 1789’s founding, the restaurant did not foster the rowdy behavior many residents feared.

According to current general manager Dan Harding, the restaurant’s management has received only one noise complaint over the past year.

“The community trusts us,” he said.

Longtime 1789 employee Molly Quigley, who has worked for Clyde’s Restaurant Group since she began as a waitress at The Tombs in 1998, pointed out that the neighborhood did not realize the potential benefits of the establishment at the time.

“You can see why [opening a restaurant with a liquor license] would be an issue, [but] any controversy that existed was quickly forgotten,” Quigley said. “The community craved [1789] without knowing it. They didn’t realize what they lacked.”

The upscale eatery’s neighbors affirmed Quigley’s theory.

“I think it’s an incredible mainstay for fine dining,” Executive Director of Georgetown Business Improvement District James Bracco said. “It has always been a favorite place for me and my wife.”

Jennifer Altemus (COL ’88), president of the Citizens Association of Georgetown and a vocal opponent of the university’s campus expansion, praised the restaurant.

“We all love it,” Altemus said. “I had my wedding reception there. It’s a real gem.”

Altemus said 1789’s efforts to cooperate with surrounding residents have contributed to its success.

“They’re very, very good neighbors. They support our initiatives and fundraisers. They keep the place clean and keep the historic building well,” she said. “They’re very responsive, and if there’s a problem, they’re the first to jump and fix it.”

According to Quigley, 1789 acts as a helping hand to the neighborhood at large; for example, staff members often shovel for nearby residents during winter snowstorms.

“We are a neighbor,” Quigley said. “As management, we operate as homeowners.”

For Harding, despite past neighbors’ reservations, the 1789 complex has not diminished Georgetown’s residential charm.

“It’s cool to live around the block from 1789,” he said. “People who live around us are proud to have us here.”

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