The Way M Street Was
Georgetown in the 1960s was not the bustling haven for upscale shopping and tourism that it is today. It's hard to imagine a dapper Harvard grad sitting down for a beer with a few burly bikers in a small watering hole on M Street, but that's exactly what happened when the young Stuart Davidson decided that Georgetown deserved its own neighborhood saloon. The eccentric aristocrat would lease the two-room B&J Restaurant, rename it after the Scottish river Clyde and transform it into a place for diners and drinkers who, like himself, "would rather eat in a saloon than drink in a restaurant."
The Tradition Begins
The very same summer that brought the "I Have A Dream" speech to Washington, Clyde's opened and immediately began transforming the city's bar scene. When fall arrived, John Laytham, a bright, ambitious Georgetown University student, was hired as a dishwasher at the company he would never leave. Introducing Georgetown to Sunday brunch would not only win Laytham a coveted spot as a bartender, but became one of the many reasons why, in only five years, he would become Davidson's partner and co-owner.
The Bid That Changed Everything
In 1970, the former boarding house stand-around bar, Old Ebbitt Grill, stood one city block away from the White House. What started out as a trip to bid on a collection of antique beer steins at a tax auction for the oldest saloon in the city, resulted in Stuart and John becoming its new owners. Their business acumen was paired with just the right aesthetic sensibility that would transform the Old Ebbitt into the busiest saloon in DC and one of the top-grossing restaurants in the country.
A Good Idea Becomes An Iconic Group
The success of Clyde's and the Old Ebbitt Grill inspired the intrepid owners to test the strength of their neighborhood bar concept outside of the District. The hope was that their cache in the region would extend beyond the city and embrace the region's rapidly expanding suburban communities. Clyde's of Columbia, Maryland opened in 1975 and became a fixture of its community. Five years later, building a 21st century Virginia roadhouse in Tysons Corner, Virginia would add something totally new to the family and celebrate the unmistakable style that had come to define the newly-formed Clyde's Restaurant Group.
Three Legends Join The Family
Now with four successful properties located throughout the DC metro area, Clyde's Restaurant Group turned its sights back to its birthplace. Revitalizing the 1789 Restaurant, The Tombs, and the Art Deco nightclub F. Scott's involved a takeover that would preserve the identities of the three properties but upgrade their facilities, services, and menu. Not unlike the Old Ebbitt, the properties underwent extensive renovation. 1789's French cuisine was traded out for an upscale American regional menu rooted in classical culinary tradition, while The Tombs would carry the Clyde's pedigree with a menu of classic bar food, entrees, and homemade desserts.
In 1987, Davidson and Laytham's next transformation would be internal. By moving primary training for service and management personnel to a single corporate training center in Georgetown, the company would initiate an exhaustive training effort that would yield better consistency and reinforce the quality that had made them a success. Next was to confront the '91 recession head-on. Despite the economic uncertainty, Clyde's of Reston, Virginia in the new Reston Town Center opened and soon thereafter, The Tomato Palace in Columbia, Maryland would be Clyde's foray into family dining.
A Lasting Legacy
Clyde's of Chevy Chase, Maryland would be the last restaurant designed by the late John Richard Andrews, the independent architect who had become known throughout the city as "Clyde's Architect." Every one of Clyde's properties was infused with the spirit of saloon dining and Andrews was able to create gathering places with a sense of that history. However, Andrews' final creation for Clyde's would depart from the bar-focused dining rooms of their previous collaborations by offering Chevy Chases's mixed-age audience an experience of "yesteryear's travel." Despite the loss of Andrews, the century would close by taking his inspired craftsmanship to the next level.
Ushering In a New Era
Exactly 35 years after Davidson unlatched Clyde's on M Street, the doors would open at Clyde's at Mark Center in Alexandria, Virginia. Five unique dining rooms memorializing sporting life on the water were gloriously outfitted in a way that would showcase an evolution from restaurants to full-scale sensory experiences. With an "outdoor" bar reminiscent of the beach, patrons enjoy a casual escape right here in Alexandria.
Loss of Our Founder
… and inspiration. Stuart Davidson died on August 1st, 2001 while on a holiday in Norway. Stuart guided the company from a good, visionary idea in 1963 to the time of his death. Bringing in John Laytham as a partner was a perfect fit, a partnership which proved magical in expanding a company reflecting unique insight into current trends, new ideas, and varied beautiful venues. Stuart loved the company and enjoyed working with John and the immensely talented staff they had pulled together to create the institutions reflecting his signature remark that "people would rather eat in a bar than drink in a restaurant."
Bringing the Adirondacks to Maryland
When Tower Oaks Lodge in Rockville, Maryland opened in 2002, yet another Clyde's habitat was on display, this time overlooking a 21-acre nature preserve and built inside a 200-year-old, two-story timber barn from Vermont. Tower Oaks Lodge embodies CRG's creative approach to dining and competitive corporate culture. Once again it brought a new and exciting dining experience and boosted perceived value at no added cost to the customer.
Back Home and Out to the Broadlands
For the first time since 1970, Clyde's returned to Washington, DC and located their next restaurant directly in the middle of the rejuvenated Penn Quarter and Chinatown's colorful Friendship Gate on 7th Street. Only a year later and thirty miles northwest of Georgetown, Clyde's would open Willow Creek Farm in Broadlands, Virginia in 2006. As with Chinatown, Loudoun County was becoming an attractive commercial wellspring, whose tech and telecom professionals were in need of an inviting dining and bar experience.
Making Room for Music
Radically different than previous concepts, The Hamilton pairs live musical entertainment with a high-volume, high-energy American bistro. Located just blocks from the White House at 14th and F Streets, this two-level musical emporium is an exploration of imagination, where guests will find talent both on stage and in the kitchen. With the opening of this venue, Clyde's Restaurant Group has proven, once again, that they can transform any space into a bustling, dynamic experience that goes far beyond dining.
And more music for Columbia, Maryland with opening of The Soundry
Adjacent to Clyde's of Columbia, The Soundry is Howard County's premier live music and events space. The vision is simple - put the music first, and everything else will take care of itself.
Every show at The Soundry is unique, and the rotating selection of food and local craft beers means that you'll never have the same experience twice. Even if you've seen an act a thousand times before, there's always something new at The Soundry.
Loss of a Legend
With his family by his side, John Laytham passed away peacefully on January 3, 2019 after valiantly fighting a heart condition for many years.
From his dishwasher days to his CEO days, John was an intuitive leader with a creative spirit. He believed in giving people the freedom to take risks and the room to make mistakes. By empowering his employees, he earned the respect and loyalty of thousands. And it is these employees who will carry on his legacy of creativity, kindness, and trust.