Toasting 50 Years of a Georgetown Institution
Published: Friday, April 13, 2012
Updated: Thursday, April 12, 2012 20:04
Every Tuesday after 10 p.m., The Tombs becomes a battleground. During these late hours, the kitchen no longer serves its full menu, and the bar stays busy filling pitchers of beer. It’s Trivia Night at The Tombs.
However popular it may be, especially with university seniors, this Tuesday night trivia competition only scratches the surface of the tradition that this basement eatery has built on the Hilltop.
“For 50 years, The Tombs has been a bar, a restaurant, a study hall, a dance club, a hangout,” Dan Harding, general manager of The Tombs and 1789 Restaurant, said. “It's anything that its customers want it to be.”
First opened on 36th and Prospect Streets in 1962, The Tombs was founded by Georgetown alum Richard McCooey (C ’52). Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s poem “Bustopher Jones: The Cat About Town,” McCooey chose the restaurant’s name based on the line:
“If he looks full of gloom then he's lunched at the Tomb / On cabbage, rice pudding and mutton.”
But while Bustopher Jones might have experienced melancholy during his dining experience at that tomb, The Tombs in Georgetown has been pleasing crowds of customers since its opening 50 years ago.
Located not far from the front gates, The Tombs remains a popular hangout for students longing for a break from the dining hall. But Harding said that the restaurant’s patronage is not limited to students.
“Our regulars range from university maintenance employees enjoying daily specials at the bar, to Holy Trinity girls coming in for afternoon milkshakes, to GU seniors bonding over study snacks, to 1789 waiters unwinding with post-shift beers. The diversity of people that we welcome through our door continually amazes me,” Harding said.
Since becoming part of Clyde’s Restaurant Group in 1985, The Tombs has found a new place within a group of other restaurants, including 1789, which occupies the floor above The Tombs.
All menu items at each restaurant are created by their respective head chefs, Fred Valentin at The Tombs and Anthony Lombardo at 1789. Although The Tombs and 1789 are two separate restaurants, they share space in the same building, and dishes at each establishment incorporate the same ingredients and can be prepared by members of either restaurant’s staff.
Even amid special seasonal offerings, such as lamb ragu with San Marzano tomatoes, ricotta insalata and meat from Border Springs Farms in Virginia or the rolled oats meatloaf with sundried tomato polenta and asparagus, the most popular offerings at The Tombs include comfort foods like the roast turkey sandwich and The Hoya Salad, served on a warm pizza crust and drizzled with a spicy ranch sauce.
In addition to its food, The Tombs aims to serve up tradition. For many students over 21, Trivia Night at The Tombs is an institution. Eager to prove their skills and claim the illustrious first-place prize, students, alumni and neighbors form groups each Tuesday to compete and answer questions about random topics, such as world geography, European soccer teams and Dr. Seuss’s most popular books.
“I love Tuesday night trivia at The Tombs. It’s great to hang out with friends, laugh and answer random questions,” Laura Bruening said (SFS ’12).
Coming to the door at midnight for head stamps on 21st birthdays has become another Georgetown tradition, as has the 99 Days Club, which requires participants to visit The Tombs and purchase a drink or dish every day for the last 99 days of the school year. Last year, 75 people participated in the club.
Chris Butterfield (MSB ’12), one of this year’s participants, estimated that about 175 started off participating in the tradition this year, though the number has dropped since the challenge started in February. Butterfield, however, said he has yet to miss a day.
“I pride myself on having perfect attendeance,” he said.
According to Butterfield, the tradition is a great way to close out senior year.
“It’s 99 days of memories,” he said.