Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Duke's"

There was no place in Charlotte like it.

There’s no place In Washington like it either, anymore..

Duke Zeibert


But for 44 years, everyone who was anyone went there hoping to be recognized and greeted by a man once described as looking like Ben Franklin impersonating a bookie.


 Duke Zeibert was the owner of a legendary restaurant by the same name in downtown  Washington.  It was the home of the “power lunch” before that term was even coined.


 He filled his restaurant with Washington’s most powerful movers and shakers through his back slapping personality, phenomenal memory (he never forgot a name)  and shrewd flattery

 Every President from Harry Truman to Gerald Ford ate there as well as lawyers, senators, lobbyists, quarterbacks, coaches and columnists.  Later, The Redskins’ Super Bowl trophies were on display in the lobby of the restaurant.

 When I arrived in Washington and worked for WTOP-TV (CBS) in 1961, Duke's was located at Connecticut Ave and L street, only four blocks from the White House.


One truism in the TV business is that it was impossible to not make a lot of money in the 50’s and 60’s if you owned a TV station that was a CBS affiliate. (WBTV in Charlotte was a good example.)

The same was true, not in terms of money, but in recognizability, as far as local TV announcers/newscasters/weathermen were concerned. Washington had only four TV stations during those years. Charlotte had only two.(One, for most of the '50s)

This hit home with me (a nobody compared to the power elite in Washington)  when I walked into Duke Zeiberts for the first time and was greeted loudly by the Duke himself:  “Why It’s Lee Shephard! Good to see you Lee, come right this way.”

That was, as they say, “a pretty heady wine.”

Needless to say, Duke Zeiberts became my favorite restaurant.






Yeah, I knew it was meaningless flattery. I was never really fooled by it.



But damn, it felt good!




So good, in fact, I couldn’t resist wanting to let some of my old Charlotte buddies in on what my life “in the big time” was like.

Jimmy Weller

The opportunity came when one of my oldest friends and CHS classmates, Jimmy Weller,  arrived in town for a business meeting.

He was free one night for dinner, so guess where I took him!

Yep.

The restaurant was pretty busy that night and as we went in I kept looking for Duke.....but didn’t see him anywhere!  It would be just my luck for him to be off on the very night that I was trying to impress Jimmy.

But as we got to the head of the line, I breathed a sigh of relief as I spotted Duke coming out of the kitchen and walking toward us with his hand raised high signaling Jimmy and me to follow him.....and in his customary loud voice,

“Come this way.......so good to see you....Tony!”

Jimmy was too kind to laugh.

And it was little consolation knowing that I had just joined a very small club of people whose names the Duke had failed to remember.

I never did have much success “Showing off."

-Ed