Sunday, May 30, 2010

Adieu, Jacques

There weren’t many Excalibur automobiles when Jacques Vivien bought one.  It was beige, with cream-colored leather upholstery and enough chrome to blind an Italian.  Wearing a crisp white linen suit long before John Travolta did his first spin, Jacques would park this paragon of automotive excess blatantly in front of his nightclub, Washington’s very own Whiskey a Go Go, strut upstairs, pose, glad-hand the politicians, diplomats and other affluents who streamed there and danced to bad French rock ‘n’ roll music while watching R-rated film shorts on three screens hanging from the ceilings. Did I mention that he accessorized his suits with a purple macaw?  

This was 1965 and Jacques owned Washington, DC.

He had a rep. He knew the Kennedies and flirted with Jackie. He knew Brando. The French heart-throb actor Alain Delon stayed at his beach house. People who were close to him suspected he might be gay but this was not open to discussion. He squired young women and sported a year-round tan. For a short while he owned a giant catamaran that may or may not have set a world speed record. He was charming, affable, devious when necessary, a pretty good businessman who wrote his own rules, made and lost a ton of money. He had one of the first creperies in the East Coast, and his genius lay in anticipating the next restaurant fad.
Beatrice Patton discovered him after World War II working in a hotel in Morocco. General George Patton’s widow found him smart, handsome and charming, and brought him to the States. He spent the summers at her estate teaching her French and worked in Restaurants in New York and Florida in the off-season. When he came to Washington, DC, in 1955, it was only natural that he would gravitate towards the snobbiest of all restaurants, the Jockey Club. He became maitre d’ there and the important people liked him because he was knowledgeable and discreet.  But discretion had its limits. When invited to parties hosted by Washington’s French community, he kept the guests enthralled with tales of the American high and mighty’s behaviors in his restaurant.  

In 1971 he met a gorgeous young French woman named Colette Vacher, and the two became a staple of the society pages. His good friends suspected the eventual marriage was a convenience for both parties, but there again, this was not discussed. Jacques and Coco were Washington’s It couple.

When his creperies closed (he had one in Georgetown, one in Bethesda and one in Alexandria),  Jacques gave up being a restaurateur, moved with Coco to Key West, and spent his time fishing, cooking and carving driftwood.

I just found out Jacques died last April.

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