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Question for all DC people...

If you guys went on a DC work trip for 3 days and wanted cool, historic places and cool "hole in the walls" that had an interestin story....What eating places have the coolest stories and what should we order???

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  1. Yenching Palace Chinese Restaurant in Cleveland Park (3524 Connecticut Avenue, NW) was the site of several secret meetings between the Soviet Union and the US during the Cuban Missile Crisis...

    1 Reply
    1. re: dartmouth05

      Yenching Palace is closing soon. According to a story I read on the WTOP website last week, it is slated to become a Walgreen's Pharmacy.

    2. Nathan's in the center of Georgetown, where more policy has been made than will ever be known.

      1 Reply
      1. re: New Division

        thanks for the replies...what is good at nathans and Yenching?

      2. Is it Nathans- hot dogs?...maybe a dumb question?

        7 Replies
        1. re: captainzero5

          No, Nathan's is a local restaurant that calls itself a salooon b/c it's a bar and also a sit down restaurant that serves american fare.


          You might also want to consider the Palm restaurant, which is a chain steakhouse, but has caricatures on the walls of the local power players in this area. Last time I was there, I saw Stephanopolous chowing down. Supposedly serves the best porterhouse in town, and although it's not my favorite cut, I must admit it was pretty good.


          Another place where the powerbrokers go is the Capitol Grille on Penn. Ave, which is a stone's throw from Capitol Hill.

          1. re: Chownut

            But these are only "to be seen" places, and have no poltical history, which is, I believe, what the OiP was seeking.

            1. re: New Division

              Maybe not as much Capital Grille, but surely the Palm has some history. People don't get their caracatures on the wall for not being part of DC's history. I mean, what kind of history does Vienna Inn have besides some vets/civil servants who stop by off and on to chew the fat?

              Also, two more places to consider in DC/DC area are the Cactus Cantina where the Bushes go for their Tex Mex.


              ...and the Peking Gourmet near Bailey's Crossroads where many political powers go also. The Bushes, both senior and dubya, love to frequent this place. There are tons of pics on the walls.


              If you care about the Bush Twins, their favorite hangout was Smith Point in Adams Morgan.


              1. re: Chownut

                Just a quick correction to this post, if you are looking for Smith Point, it is in Georgetown and not in Adams Morgan.

          2. re: captainzero5

            Hardly the hot dog place, my child, since Nathan's sits on the SW corner of M and Wisconsin, NW, literally the center of Georgetown, and has been there - in all its dynastic glory - for many years, maybe even longer than the hot dog guys with the umbrellas. That said, the food is pretty good, but quite secondary to the ambience and whatever happens to be going on that day.

            Another spot that you might enjoy - but which requires a car and a bit of a drive into Virginia is a trip to the Vienna Inn in Vienna, VA. The old guys who sit at the bar are veterans of government and military jobs and they can tell you stories, if you are their kind and if they are so moved and if you're buying the beers at 8 in the morning or afterwards, you'll get an education in what the Cold War was about, what's going on in the Middle East today, and what's going to happen next.


            1. re: New Division

              Vienna Inn would be the place to get chili dogs.

              1. re: Chownut

                Not my favorite item on the menu, I must admit, since the original owners, the Abrahams, were friends of mine and confided that they used turkey dogs. Ugh. But, maybe the new owners have seen the light.

                Frankly, no one goes to the Vienna Inn - never did - for the food. It's not the same, though, without Mollie and Mike Abraham there, we oldtimers agree. Ask the guys at the bar about Mollie and Mike, if you didn't know them personally. What a remarkable couple they were.

          3. Billy Martin's Tavern in Georgetown was a hangout for politicos of previous generations. I believe they have booths said to have been Nixon's favorite (when he was in congress) and some others like that. Most importantly, you can sit in the very booth where JFK proposed to Jackie, which might especially appeal if there are any ladies in your group. Of course, maybe you weren't even born by 1963.

            Should you go, the food is good, elemental and slightly upscale bar food. They have a hot brown, the only place in the DC area I know of that offers that particular hot sandwich, and it is worth trying provided you're not too worried about calories. Good burgers too.

            It's on Wisconsin about 4 blocks north of M.

            1. How about Au Pied du Cochon on Georgetown on Wisconsin Avenue? It, like Yenching Palace, apparently has quite a bit of history -- stories of spies exchanging secrets, etc. The food is not particularly memorable, but it's modeled on French bistro dining. Actually, the best thing about it is that it's open 24 hours.

              I'm scratching my head for other historic places, but I think probably a lot of the originals have closed, e.g., the restaurant spaces at the Watergate have been through umpteen changes.

              Otherwise, the Florida Avenue Grill is a famed DC spot, with pretty good soul food. Some on this board turn their noses up at it, but the meals I've had there have been wonderful, and the service was very warm.

              2 Replies
              1. re: FoodieGrrl

                If you're looking for Au Pied du Cochon, you haven't been to G'town in awhile. It was replaced by Five Guys in '04.

                1. re: Mister Big

                  LOL! You're right -- I avoid G'town like the plague since I've never been able to navigate the ripped up roads and the traffic (both vehicular and foot). Well, that's not entirely true -- I did venture to the edge to have brunch at the Four Seasons -- and let me tell you, the orange juice alone made it all worth it.

              2. Just to be clear: You should not actually order any "food" at any of these places, wonderful or historic though they may be (or might have been).

                1 Reply
                1. re: MartyL

                  I agree that the food is nothing special in any of these places, with the obvious exception of my recommendation to order a hot brown at Billy Martin's. Try one sometime! I'll grant it's a Midwestern/Southern type thing, but good nonetheless.

                  BTW, are the unwashed masses such as us still allowed to dine at the Senate cafeteria and eat the famous bean soup? I don't recall, but probably not--another casualty of our current national phobia.

                  For purposes of the OP's original request, not-so-great food that was, however, eaten by the famous ones during their era when nothing was so great to start with, may be OK for what they want to accomplish. For example, if you're from, say, Missouri, and you go to Florida Avenue Grill and see John Ashcroft's picture on the wall (which it is), that's a better story to tell your friends than going home and telling them what great soul food you had at, say, Oohhs and Aahhs, n'est pas?

                2. The business of Washington, that sets it apart from other American cities, is politics with that little bit of spycraft thrown in.

                  The Spy Museum is terrific and there are some exhibits there that are food related - restaurants in DC like Yenching Palace where you can still eat for a few more months (standard Chinese fare) or the now-gone Pied au Cochon - and some tips on how adversaries were poisoned. Actual "dark ops" types I know from the Agency, now retired, used to go to places like Hot Shoppes, or just leave things by fence posts which doesn't help Chowhounds.
                  Zola next door is a good bet for lunch or dinner.
                  There are some Spy Tours available that are fun that you can sign up for. Every now and then there are events at the Russian Embassies (new and old) by invitation (not hard to get.)
                  Other Embassy events are often available to the public.

                  The political world is more open.
                  There are 540 Senators and Members of Congress who live among us so we take them for granted and don't even recognize most of them unless we have memorized the "face book." We see some of them in their bathrobes when they take out their garbage or shop in the same grocery stores. And there are frequent sightings in certain restaurants.
                  The same holds true for Administration Officials - from the Bush Administration as well as famous faces from the past. We have media celebrities and Hollywood types more and more frequently.
                  Here are some likely hunting grounds:

                  You can eat in the cafeterias in the Senate and House Office Buildings which you can enter with normal picture ID. The Members rarely eat there. It is possible to eat in the Senate and House Members' Dining Rooms in the Capitol Building but access is more difficult. Call your representatives' offices about getting entry. Guess you should have Senate Bean Soup once in your life.
                  The Supreme Court Cafeteria is also open to the Public. State Department and most other Departments are not.

                  The Monocle is the closest watering hole to the Senate floor and has been a hangout for lobbyists, senior staff and Senators for decades. Much of the action is in private rooms but the comings-and-goings are still worth watching as people work the rooms. Good steaks and burgers, stiff drinks.

                  In the 200 and 300 blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, there are a lot of bars serving food that are frequented by Members and staff. The Tune Inn is always on lists of America's top dives. Hawk and Dove and Capital Lounge are good places to find out the inside story on Hill politics.

                  BTW, in the very top of the Capitol dome, just under the Statue of Freedon, there are two small light, one for each house. If they are in session, the light is on and Members are more likely to duck out for quick meals or drinks at close-by places like the Monacle or Capital Hill Club than a leisurely meal at the Capital Grille, Charlie Palmer's, or Caucus Room.

                  The Capital Hill Club is the private Republican Club but staying at the Capital Hill Suites Hotel gets you free access and it has decent food. Easy Metro access and good rates.

                  The Love-It/Hate-It Italian place is AV Ristorante and it's another one soon to be lost to the wrecking ball and replaced by condos. A number of Supreme Court Justices judge it OK http://www.hillnews.com/thehill/expor...

                  In Georgetown, Nathan's has good burgers and a series of Q&A Lunches organized by Carol Joynt, the owner and widow of the founder. She a former top journalist and invites newmakers and interesting people to these events which are open to the public by reservation. Bob Woodward is scheduled for sometime in January. Nathan's may be closing when the current lease expires which would be another sad loss for DC.

                  Cafe Milano gets the See-and-Be-Seen crowd. Hollywood, national political figures, top administration folks - current and past, all sorts of Bold Face Names.

                  The Fourth Estate restaurant at the National Press Club is open to non-members. Sometimes it is possible to get access to press conferences there.

                  Local Political types hang out at Georgia Brown's and the same places that everyone else does. In addition, add U Street, near the Reeves Center and Penn Quarter.

                  Don't miss Ben's Chili Bowl, the classic greasy spoon, for their half-smoke with chili and cheese fries. Maybe some Tums. A long time hangout for local politicians, civil rights leaders, celebrities, students, neighborhood locals. And, yeah, tourists, because everyone has heard about it. You never know who will show up at 2 PM or 2 AM. Don't veer far from the mainstays of the menu.

                  The food in these places is fine. Good, solid, not great. Certainly not trendy. They are just part of Washington. That's why people have been going there for so long.
                  Every place in town is thrilled to have our celebrities eat there and hangs their pictures on the walls. You may not even recognize them. I have no idea who some of them are.
                  The places I've given you are sort of "hot spots" where sightings are most likely - at least of people you have some chance of actually recognizing.

                  1. How about Viet Nam era Hawk and Dove on Capital Hill? One entrance for Hawks, one entance for doves.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: rcooperman

                      Yep, same place. Birds of a feather still tend to flock together inside the place. Especially if TVs are on.

                      Do you remember Slick Willy's during the Clinton Administration?
                      Now it's named The Pour House (319 PA, SE). It's 3 levels - Top of the Hill upstairs, the Pour House on the street level, and Scheisshaus downstairs which we shall leave untranslated. Same ownership as Trusty's (1420 PA, SE) and 18th Amendment (613 PA, SE).
                      Congress is thirsty. Capital Hill has lots of neighborhood bars.

                    2. How about Bob & Edith's diner -- the original one -- on Columbia Pike in Arlington? Was the site of a few spy drops.

                      1. Dumb question, but has A.V.'s closed yet? It was always surprising who you could see in there. I once ran into Clarence Thomas entertaining a group of young-looking people (who I assume were his clerks).

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: pgreen

                          And a few months ago I was there for lunch and ran into Scalia with a small entourage of what appeared to be his clerks. Hmmm - a conservative lunch venue??
                          And as far as I know it is still open and will be open 'til summer 2007 or later.

                        2. If you are going to the Hawk and Dove I think you have to go to the Tune Inn for a cheap beer. It's just up the street. How can you beat dead animals on the wall and a juke box that hasn't changed in years. And if you have enough drinks, the burger isn't half bad. Nothing left like this place in DC.

                          1. For a watering hole with history after dinner, I would recommend for beer to go to the Brickskeller. I don't recommend eating the food there.

                            1. I don’t know if it is true, but I remember hearing that the bar on the old tv show “Murphy Brown” was modeled on the Hawk & Drove. Well, anyway, if that is not true, the Hawk & Drove is a bar from the past! I do not mean that in a bad way.

                              1. I work on the Hill and used to be a newspaper reporter. In the spirit of this thread, I’ll offer some of what I’ve gleaned:

                                1) Charlie Palmer Steak is probably the best open-to-the-public place to see Senators having lunch. It's new so there's not much history. Frankly, though, you're more likely to see mid-to-high level staffers and lobbyists. The Monocle is a close second and does have some real history. I'm told that JFK ordered takeout when he was in the White House. On the House side, I've seen members at Sonoma (which is the only decent lunch place on that side).
                                2) Senate bean soup is served in all Senate eating units except the Cups and Company in the Dirksen building. Members of the public can eat in the Senate cafeteria after, I think, 12:30 (check to be sure) without an ID. The Senate Chef in the basement of Hart is open to the public all the time. The only Senate-side eating unit not open to the public is a small takeaway counter in the basement of the Capitol.
                                3) The bean soup is only okay and they sometimes burn it. Everything else is pretty bad. If you want to eat in any of the Hill office buildings, eat on the House side. Both large cafeterias are open to the public all the time.
                                4) The food in the Senate Member’s dinning room is so-so. Think of something that would have passed for a top-notch restaurant in a town of 50,000 circa 1970. During recess periods, it's easy to get a letter allowing you to eat there and you likely will get to see members. My office gives them out to anyone who asks and I'd suspect that others do too. Do try the signature desert—a mound of berries topped with a white chocolate Capitol Dome.
                                5) If you know anybody at the White House who is at the Special Assistant level or higher, ask him or her to take you to the White House Mess. It is, by far, the best official dinning room in town and, I’m sure, draws the most influential crowd day to day. The Navy runs it and the White House chef designs the dishes. It has a very good tex-mex menu. Near the White House, the Oval Room, Heritage India and, to a lesser extent, Equinox, draw an official crowd too. Old Ebbitt Grill draws lower-level staff. Also near the White House, the Occidental Grill has a table with a plaque commemorating a back channel meeting that helped resolve the Cuban missile crisis.
                                7) The Fourth Estate is mediocre and rather few prominent journalists are members of the NPC anymore. Probably no reason to bother. A large portion of the membership is made up of the newspaper bureaus that have offices in the building. You are unlikely to see anyone prominent there particularly since the bar (the Reliable Source) remains members only and does draw an occasional TV star. Although I let my membership lapse years ago, I’m pretty sure that The Reliable Source still has a free Friday night taco bar that draws a decent crowd. The tacos are bad. They do not check membership cards and, in practice, you can probably crash it if you look like you know what you’re doing. ☺ Also, because they are desperate for members, you can probably get a rather cheap introductory membership if you really want one. (Anyone can join the press club although rates are higher if you’re not a member of the press.)
                                8) Personally, for D.C. neighborhood atmosphere, I like Florida Ave. Grill and dislike Ben’s Chili Bowl.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: dr3rdeye

                                  The information you have given on the National Press Club is erroneous and/or outdated.
                                  Although they still do have "free" taco night, you get what you pay for, and you have to buy at least one drink. They ask for membership numbers, even from regulars, so crashing could lead to embarrassment. The tacos aren't worth it.
                                  There have never been "introductory" memberships and membership is restricted to the "working media" and certain others with media affiliation who are sponsored by members.
                                  Most of the membership is print press whom people don't recognize by sight. The Press Club remains well-known for its speaker series and lunches which are nationally televised and feature prominent politicians, dignitaries and Heads of State and government.
                                  There are no large media bureaus in the building any longer.
                                  The Fourth Estate revamped the menu a few years ago and is a solid, although not flashy, performer now. Thank God.

                                  1. re: dr3rdeye

                                    I'll reverse you on 8. I found Florida Ave. inedible and Ben's, well, Ben's rocks!

                                  2. Not all of the above is really correct but I don't want to get into it since this is about food. One that's worth correcting: the "associate member" category, in practice, is stretched to include enormous numbers of people. See here:


                                    My grandmother, a legal secretary with no publications to her name, was a longtime press club member.

                                    In my judgement, the food at the Fourth Estate is still pretty bad too.

                                    1. I'm a member of the press club and agree with the first poster about the lousy food there - avoid at all costs. I work with a number of prominent journalists and I can tell you if I told any of them I wanted to take them to the Press Club, they would definitely pass. The Palm is a better place to see prominent TV personalities like Tucker Carlson, etc. I've never had a lunch there where I didn't see someone important. Also, the Willard Room isn't a bad spot to see prominent DC types.

                                      1. My favorite is The Exchange on G Street between 17th and 18th Street, NW. One of the oldest bars in town and the closest watering hole to the White House. I've been treated to many interesting cameos over the past few years. To name a few:

                                        Helen Thomas seated at the back bar, staring into the middle distance and muttering into a tall Johnnie Black on the rocks after being booted from the White House press room.

                                        Bob Novak, comb-over askew, stalking out in a sputtering rage after meeting with a pair of White House attorneys during the height of the Plame scandal. He looked mad enough to kill.

                                        Wolf Blitzer, looking like a wizened ten-year-old, being helped onto a bar stool by Suzanne Malveaux.

                                        Two of Rumsfeld's Secret Service detail hustling away my drinking companion, who was late for a briefing over at State. This turned out to be the night before we invaded Iraq.

                                        Gotta love this town.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: flavrmeistr

                                          Novak's office is in the tower right above The Exchange - he's there a lot.

                                          The Exchange, when I was at GW back in the 80s, was a complete dive, and a favorite of students because they never carded.

                                          1. re: DanielK

                                            Some things never change. As with many downtown bars, The X has a day scene and a night scene. The day scene is far better for spotting local heavies. Night time, the college kids still rule. The account for the largest portion of revenue, according to the owner. He barely breaks even on the lunch crowd. As he puts it, "Puke on the floor is money in the bank."

                                        2. Au Pied de Cochon isn't really gone, more converted. there's Au Pied Bistro across from the 4 seasons and it's open late (albeit inconsistently). it's a lot cleaner and brighter than its original Wisconsin location. though a lot of the personality was lost in the move, the food remains the same. i hear it has changed hands but i still see pops running around from time-to-time.

                                          if dogs are what you seek, consider ben's chili bowl off U street. one of the few spots that withstood the dc riots with all types of memorabilia to prove it. bill cosby is a regular and a scene from the pelican brief was filmed here. expect delicious but heavy comfort food, not for the sensitive stomach. spicy chili half smokes and burgers w/ chili cheese are a post-clubbing tradition so expect lines in the later hours. no stranger to Duke Ellington and many other legends, this neighborhood was once referred to as Black Broadway. there is a lot of history there to appreciate. you might want to check if bohemian caverns has any jazz bands performing downstairs in the cave when you visit!

                                          enjoy your stay

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: tittsworth

                                            Au Pied Bistro appears to have closed recently.

                                            1. re: Lori D


                                              figured it to be a matter of time. they never really rebounded from that move.

                                              r.i.p., it wasn't really the same anyway. i will miss affordable lobster and crepes at 4am!

                                              thanks but no thanks LORI!! :-p

                                          2. if you like sushi, i am a fan of sushi-ko right off wisconsin. it's obvious they get regular fresh fish shipments from favorable parts of the world but the quality can vary. it's also near two strip clubs if that's your thing but im afraid i can't provide much feedback in that department. kaz sushi bistro is decent, especially when they are running a special event such as miso tasting menu or seasonal fugu. about as good as dc gets, but not world class by any means.

                                            1. The Childe Harold, http://www.childeharold.com/

                                              I recommend the downstairs bar for that interesting, hole-in-the-wall atmosphere. It's likely that someone sitting next to you will have a story or two to tell you about the place. The sandwiches are good, and the burgers are fabulous; I would avoid the pastas, though.

                                              1. Ben's Chili Bowl jumped to my mind... wasn't it a big civil rights history spot with some specific claim to fame? And of course, the Chili Dog (or half smoke I think) is the way to go. LOL at the thought of Capitol Grille, the Palm, Nathans, or Cafe Milano being "holes in the wall"- the OP didn't ask necessarily for political places, just places with interesting stories...

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: MarinaS

                                                  True, but I'm not sure how many places in Washington have interesting stories that aren't political/govt. connected. Maybe a dead body here and there.

                                                  1. re: MarinaS

                                                    Chili is average, tastes like straight out of a can. But, the half smokes are good, and so are the chili/cheese fries.