Lingering on the Palate: Duke Zeibert’s (1950 - 1994)

With a menu ranging from trademark half-sour pickles to crab cakes, potato pancakes, and brisket, this DC establishment became best known for its stardom and fame.

A pinnacle of the power-dining culture of DC, Duke Zeibert’s opened in 1950 on L Street NW near Farragut Square, by David “Duke” Zeibert (1910 - 1997). Duke first gained a loyal following while working at Fan and Bill’s, a restaurant that he had been with since 1942. Soon, his own restaurant became an institution with a well-known and well-connected clientele that ranged from politicians to entertainment celebrities and sports figures. Duke’s reputation as a restaurateur transcended the food that he served.

Famous diners included President Harry S. Truman, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and radio announcer Larry King. King fit into the defined “seating chart” that Duke himself devised. “Top-shelf” clientele, as they were referred to, were kept in the front of the restaurant, while the average diner landed themselves in the back – which was known as “Siberia.” Writer Nora Ephron was seated in “Siberia” with a friend during the Watergate Era, and is quoted remarking, “Exactly what do you have to do to get a good table in this place?... Be indicted?” One review, from The Washington Post, stated that the restaurant was so full of people all of the time that it became a “table-hopping kind of restaurant where volume is important - volume of people, of noise, of food. If you don’t hear ‘Happy Birthday’ sung at least three times, you’re in the wrong restaurant.”

The restaurant was also known, although less so, for its food, including its trademark half-sour pickles. Other delicious delicacies included boiled beef, matzo ball soup, chicken in the pot, beef in the pot, and brisket.

Duke Zeibert’s eventually grew more famous for its hospitality than for its cuisine, enough so that “no one keeps tripping over the glaring flaws” - even with a small menu. With other dishes like plain or stuffed fish, broiled steaks, and daily specials like goulash at dinner and omelets at lunch, the reviewer Phyllis C. Richman referred to the overall experience, writing, “It’s not a matter of whether it is good food or bad food, it’s Duke’s food.”

The end of Dukes came when the building was slated to be knocked down. Mel Krupin, the maître d' at the time, wanted to start his own restaurant, and Duke placed his trust in him by retiring. Krupin opened his restaurant in 1980, offering a familiar menu – with familiar faces, even Duke Zeibert himself. After a surprise return from retirement and a new restaurant in 1983, Duke Ziebert’s return would begin a media fueled feud between the two. Mel Krupin’s closed in 1988.

The Washington Square location of Duke Zeibert's would close in 1994, and the man behind the iconic restaurant would pass away in 1997. 

This is a stop on the Lingering on the Palate: the Ghosts of the DC Food Scene Tour



1730 L Street NW