Georgetown Time Machine: Rive Gauche

Last week Washingtonian magazine asked whether Georgetown was actually cool again. There are lots of conflicting opinions on that question, but I thought it fitting that for today’s Georgetown Time Machine we visit an era when there wasn’t really any question that Georgetown was just about the only place to be. The time is the 1960s (or about) and the place is Rive Gauche.

Rive Gauche was an elegant French restaurant that stood at the corner of Wisconsin and M (the recently vacated Banana Republic building). And it set the standard for fine dining in the nation’s capital during the Kennedy years (and beyond). For generations of Washingtonians, Rive Gauche was often their first experience with an elevated “white linen cloth” restaurant. As Washingtonian wrote in 2020:

For decades, Washington’s fancy restaurants were French. And this Georgetown dining room was the fanciest, Frenchest of them all. Crazy expensive and hard to get into, it set the standard for special-occasion dining in the era when butter and cream ruled.

And how expensive was it? Here is a vintage menu showing the restaurant’s offerings:

Rive Gauche menu page 2

The beef entrees range in price from $3.25 to $6.00. Sounds like a steal now, but if this menu is from roughly 1960, the inflation adjusted price for the filet mignon is nearly $60. Sacré bleu!

Rive Gauche was opened in 1956 by Blaise Gherardi de Parata, a native of Corsica. The restaurant became a favorite of JFK pre-White House, which probably helped propel the restaurant to its fame. The restaurant became the proving grounds for a large number of DC chefs, who later went on to success elsewhere. Gheradi retired from running the restaurant in 1973 and the establishment itself closed ten years later. (Here’s a great article about Rive Gauche and some of the other fancy DC restaurants of its day).

Funny coda: In 1973, Tony Greco bought the restaurant from Gherardi. He apparently paid $400,000 for it ($2.7 million in today dollars). After closing the Wisconsin and M location, Greco apparently started licensing out the name (and phone number) to Michel Laudier, a former Rive Gauche chef, to run a restaurant with the same name at the Georgetown Inn. Laudier was paying $1,000 a month ($3,000 in today money) to use the name and phone number. Laudier got sick of the arrangement and renamed his restaurant Les Ambassadeurs. Greco took the name and phone number back and used it for his own restaurant Maison Blanche, at 1725 F St. (which was appropriately a stone’s throw from the White House).

The phone number they were fighting over was 333-6440. Surely there was a time when the average Cave Dweller knew that number by heart. Sadly nowadays it’s no longer in service.


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