Now That Lunching Out Is In, Washington Bigwigs Meet to Eat at Tony Greco's Maison Blanche

updated 03/15/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/15/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

It's called the hot shots' hot spot," beams Brooklyn-born Tony Greco, 58, of his Washington, D.C. restaurant, Maison Blanche, named for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, just across the street. Tony claims as many key decisions are made in his place as in the White House mess. He could be right.

"Before the AWACS decision, Saudi Prince Bandar Bin Sultan was in here four times," Tony notes (at least once with ex-National Security Adviser Richard Allen). David Stockman hasn't been by recently ("He's keeping a low profile," Greco notes sagely). That only leaves more room for the White House troika—Ed Meese, Jim Baker and Mike Deaver—to say nothing of Attorney General William French Smith and White House Social Secretary Muffie Brandon.

"When the real news is going on, this place is like a beehive," says Greco, whose restaurant seats 180. News-gathering regulars include columnists Joseph Kraft and Robert Novak, who admits, "I try to get a corner table which is hidden from view." Art Buchwald, however, lets it all hang out; his table (No. 14) is the best in the restaurant for seeing and being seen.

Maison Blanche was not always so bustling. When Greco opened it in January 1979, Jimmy Carter had given three-martini lunches a bad name, and the Georgians were leaning toward nearby Kay's Sandwich Shoppe. "People said, 'Wait till the Reagans get in, you'll be mobbed,' " Tony recalls. "They were right." Buchwald sparked the trend when he transferred his allegiance from the Sans Souci restaurant later that year, and nowadays Greco must turn away as many as 50 customers at lunch (while grossing more than $2 million a year). But, Tony notes, lunchtime drinking is still out. Columnist Novak agrees. "A few years ago it went from martinis and Scotch to white wine spritzers. Now it's just iced tea, water or Perrier."

Part of Tony's success derives from exquisite service from a staff of 55, plus three top French chefs and an un-crowded ambience. "Like the President said, 'This town is one big ear,' " Tony explains. "Well, here the ears are a little farther apart." He also likes to credit part of the restaurant's appeal to Italian warmth. The son of an immigrant bricklayer, Tony was a high school dropout and Marine Corps veteran of the South Pacific who "came into the restaurant business through the back door." He started out repairing refrigeration equipment and eventually began building and then owning restaurants. Among them—since sold—were Tiberio, one of the capital's top Italian restaurants, and Rive Gauche, a longtime favorite of Henry Kissinger's.

Even today Tony likes to run his restaurant family style. His wife, Senie, sometimes arranges the flowers, and daughters Anne Hartley, 35, and Terry Gover, 30, are hostesses. Tony is taking it easy since a recent bypass operation, but he predicts no slowdown for Maison Blanche. "All they have over there is an eight-year option," he says, nodding toward the other White House. "Me, I plan to be here 20 years from now."

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