Monday, August 11, 2014

Washington Social Diary

Happy Birthday, Kevin Spacey.
Richard McCooey And His Georgetown Legacy
by Carol Joynt

Richard McCooey died last week at the age of 83 and after a long illness. His name may not be widely known beyond Washington, but he made a significant mark and left a wonderful legacy at the edge of the Georgetown University campus. There, at the corner of 36th and Prospect streets, you’ll find 1789 Restaurant, a formal white table-cloth “Old Georgetown” establishment that charms with fireplaces, wood and leather décor and fine American dining, and in the basement one level down, The Tombs, a casual pub resplendent with college sports paraphernalia, cozy booths and a great square bar. McCooey created both in the early 1960s, after he graduated from Georgetown University.

Richard McCooey at his 50th anniversary party in July 2012
At a 50th anniversary party in July 2012, McCooey smiled broadly at his wife, Karen Magnier McCooey, and a tight group of friends who had surprised him. “I am so appreciative,” he said. “I did all I wanted to do. As a freshman, walking along this street, I had that dream. I kept the dream.”

Getting a restaurant right is not easy. In fact, it’s often a marvel, like winning the lottery. McCooey got it right, and twice, and even a third time when you count the adjacent Art Deco nightclub, F. Scott’s, which now opens only for private parties.

1789 is always on my list for out-of-towners who want a “real Washington” dining experience, and also for families celebrating occasions, and for lovers, especially in the romantic Pub Room. It’s ideal for quiet conversation.

President Barack Obama
took German Chancellor Angela Merkel there for dinner. My son and I go as often as possible and particularly for Thanksgiving, with another family, and Easter, too. Movie star and GU grad Bradley Cooper favors the more boisterous Tombs. When he’s in town he slips into a back booth. It’s ideal on Sunday afternoons to watch multiple NFL games, sip a Manhattan and nosh on a juicy cheeseburger.
To the left, 1789, and to the right and down a flight of stairs, The Tombs.
Families and friends gather on Thanksgiving Day in the main dining room of 1789.
McCooey sold the whole lot in 1985 to John Laytham, a good friend and president and CEO of the Clyde’s Restaurant Group. It was John and his wife Ginger Laytham, along with Karen, who organized the surprise party. “I had given it 25 years, a quarter of a century, and that was all I had to do, all I could do,” McCooey said of the decision. The selling part was a cinch, though. He recalled the conversation with Laytham. McCooey said: “John, I’m thinking of selling 1789.” Laytham’s reply: “You just sold it.”

McCooey died in Greenwich, Connecticut. A memorial service is being planned for September at Holy Trinity Church, only a block from the restaurants. In the meantime, a visit to either is a thoughtful homage. At 1789 the staff are inviting patrons to share in a toast to the man who started it all. "We continue to tell stories and reminisce at every menu class," said manager Molly Quigley. "His spirit fills our halls."
Adjacent to 1789 and The Tombs is another McCooey creation, F. Scott's, which is open only for private parties. Walk inside and it is a perfectly preserved disco, circa 1970. When it was open for regular business it was DC's go-to singles bar.
The Talented Mr. Spacey

Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey was a legendary political groupie for years but it was only with the arrival of “House of Cards” that the Washington establishment took enthusiastic notice of him. The Netflix hit is, after all, about them, a decidedly self-involved community. Spacey appreciates the narcissism and finds the charm in it, even exploits it brilliantly as the devious fictional character Francis Joseph “Frank” Underwood. It would be a spoiler if revealed his current title, but let’s just say the man is quite an effective politician.

The show, Spacey, his co-star Robin Wright, producer and writer Beau Willimon, and others involved in the production are up for Emmy Awards when they are handed out on August 25.
Spacey, as Frank Underwood, with Robin Wright, who plays his wife. Photo from Netflix. Both are nominated for Emmys.
There’s an irony, though, about this “Washington” drama. It is actually more Maryland than Washington, at least in terms of what you see on the screen. Due to lucrative tax credits, the production is Maryland based, with locations in and around Annapolis and Baltimore serving as subs for Washington. A lot of the credit for that goes to lame duck governor and potential 2016 presidential candidate Martin O’Malley who, by the way, is also matinee-idol handsome. The rewards were not lost on him. “We’re going to keep the 3,700 jobs and more than 100 million dollars of economic activity and investment that ‘House of Cards’ generates right here in Maryland,” said O’Malley when the deal was struck for filming to continue in the state for a third season.
In this Netflix photo, director David Fincher works on a "House of Cards" scene with Kevin Spacey in the DC subway, one of the rare series scenes shot in Washington.
There are some scenes shot in Washington – mostly B-roll and the occasional subway two-shot – but it’s difficult to do much more. DC and the federal government make the permit process a frustrating obstacle course for any production company that wants to shoot here. A three-block scene can require permits from three different agencies and tedious red tape. For any long-time Washingtonian, the not-really-DC element can make “House of Cards” tough to watch. Baltimore has a unique look, as does Annapolis, and neither looks like Washington. It’s the same with the HBO series “Homeland,” which cast Charlotte, NC as Washington.

Get past the location authenticity, though, and these shows about Congress and CIA are fun to watch, according to the devoted fans here.
A dark photo for a dark series, "House of Cards," from Netflix.
Spacey has also embraced the city itself as a good and fertile relationship for his Kevin Spacey Foundation ( Formed four years ago, KSF supports education and grants for ambitious young people on their way up the arts and entertainment ladder. He says the effort was inspired in part by his mentor, actor Jack Lemmon. “Jack had a phrase that he used all the time that I’ve now adopted as my own. He believed that if you’ve been successful in your chosen path, if you’ve been able to realize your ambition, then you are obligated to ‘send the elevator back down.’”
Kevin Spacey at the Mandarin Oriental with colleagues from "House of Cards": Peter Friedlander, John David Coles, Jayne Atkinson, Michael Gill, and Michael Kelly.
Kevin Spacey with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy on the right, and McCarthy's son, Connor, on the left.
Last year Spacey hosted one of the best parties of the year at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel (NYSD 9/30/2013). It was on behalf of the Foundation, and he gave the paying guests an intimate and splendid evening in his company – on the stage crooning, doing impressions, telling stories, and at the tables, circulating from one to the next, being very up close and personal. As much as he is a gifted singer and raconteur, Spacey also has a natural talent for the one-on-one, a more artful version of the grab-n-grin, a skill that is admired by real-life Washington politicians such as House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, who both were at the dinner.
Like a seasoned politician, Kevin Spacey has a gift for the up close and personal. Here he visits Lyndon Boozer's table at last year's Kevin Spacey Foundation dinner.
Those three hit it off so well that McCarthy and Hoyer are the honorary chairs of an upcoming event that grew out of last year’s dinner. This year it is bigger and splashier, moved out of the hotel and onto the stage of the Harman Center for the Arts, with a dinner to follow and an after party. I’ve got my fingers crossed that the evening, called “Kevin Spacey in Concert,” will retain the intimacy of last year.

If it is similar to last year, there will be a big band, and involvement from local youth musical groups, and the guest list will include some of his co-stars from “House of Cards,” as well as politicians, lobbyists, media and socialites. In other words, the whole Washington package.
The talented Mr. Spacey croons at his KSF dinner in 2013.
As a prelude to the September concert, there was a small party the other night on a Georgetown rooftop for KSF program director Steve Winter and co-hosted by Sonia Tower of Ovation network and AT&T’s Lyndon Boozer.

Winter, who is also a producer, has worked with Spacey for ten years, principally in London, where for a decade Spacey has been artistic director of the Old Vic Theatre, and in New York. Guests at the Capella hotel party included White House Social Secretary Jeremy Bernard; Rachel Goslins, the director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, Capella executive vice president Kit Pappas, and an assortment of players that included Heather Podesta, Erik Huey, James Assey, Gerry Harrington, Melissa Moss, Peter O’Keefe, Kimball Stroud, Melissa Maxfield, Mary-Morgan Limperis, Peter Ruffo, Tom Quinn and Lynly Boor.
The rooftop party this summer for the Kevin Spacey Foundation.
“Kevin was going to be here tonight, but he’s playing nasty Frank Underwood,” said Winter, noting that Spacey himself is “annoyingly talented” but “not nasty, he’s a very inspiring guy.” Winter said the Foundation sprung almost “fully formed” as Spacey toured with Richard III and “every country that we went to we found 20 emerging actors, and they worked with Kevin, and we worked in the schools to inspire young people to believe in themselves through the power of theater.”
Lyndon Boozer, Steve Winter, and Sonia Tower welcome guests to a small cocktail party on behalf of the Kevin Spacey Foundation.
White House social secretary Jeremy Bernard is greeted by Lyndon Boozer.
Melissa Maxfield, James Assey, and Gwen Lohse on the rooftop of the Capella hotel.
Lyndon Boozer with friends, singing the praises of the Kevin Spacey Foundation.
Lynly Boor. Heather Podesta.
A custom-made birthday card for Spacey was passed around among the guests, who wrote greetings in celebration of his turning 55.  Forget triple-hyphenate, the front of the card listed his “many hats” – actor, director, screenwriter, producer, artistic director, singer, philanthropist, and musician. The only role missing was Washington darling. That will be confirmed on September 29 at the Harman.
Although he was absent at the party in his Foundation's honor -- off shooting "House of Cards" -- guests nonetheless passed around and signed a birthday card for him. Inset: the front of the card.

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt