Bar Room Politicos and Back Room Deals in D.C.

Published: June 22nd 2014
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Political intrigue….back room deals… the record discussions…..research for newspaper articles that quote, “unnamed sources.” In Washington D.C., this is most likely business as usual for the past 150 plus years in this town of politicos, lobbyists, elected officials, congressional staff members and the like. The question becomes, “where does all this occur?”

When in the District of Columbia and in search of an adult beverage you might find some fun in exploring political bars and pubs, as this is most likely where quite a bit of this sort of activity occurs. Being the intrepid travelers that we are, along with a twisted curiosity, we set out over several weekends to discover these “dens of political dealings” using the cover of tourists exploring museums and monuments in our nation’s capital.

As a bit of a disclaimer, these places are generally buzzing during week day lunches and evenings when all the politicos are in town. We’ve been told the best time to see a politician is between 5pm and 8pm Monday through Thursday. Our research is taking place on weekends, which most likely will not allow us to witness much in the way of discreet banter in the booths in dark
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Capitol Hill
corners of these establishments, but we attempted to learn as much as possible by doing the next best thing…..sitting at the bar and peppering the bar keeps with numerous questions to quench our political thirst.

If only we could hear snippets of the conversations and decisions that have taken place in some of these bars. Would we hear blackmail, espionage, scandal and learn of adultery? Have spies sold secrets from these very chairs? How many clandestine meetings have occurred behind these walls? How many illicit and covert plans have been dreamed up? Have political assassinations been planned? Larceny, slander? One has to wonder how many reporters have sat in these rooms and written stories, found the angle, verified sources or just simply made crap up.

Our take on DC is that it is alive and energetic. People seem to be rushing around, walking with a purpose, papers and briefcases in hand. Men and women, a variety of ages, wearing business attire, fancy shoes and bags all used to create an image, an impression. As you look around the streets one has to wonder how many of these people live here year around? Congressmen and Senators are seasonal. They
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Goldfinger Bond Car
come and go throughout the year bouncing between DC and their home city. Political interns come and go. Some stay in the news for years.

The one thing that all of these famous watering holes have in common is ambiance. The dark wood and elegant surroundings suck you in and make you want to stay. It feels safe and cozy…..maybe that is why so many secrets are shared. That and the fact that just maybe, you won’t be noticed……..

As we sit here one has to wonder about the draw of power. We don’t understand that need but many seem to be pulled into the dark den of power and many become corrupted. Do they all start out thinking they can make the world a better place for people? Is their intent pure? Did they become romanced in high school by reading the constitution and thinking they would like to govern? Do they enter this world thinking they are the ones who can make others follow simple rules and guidelines only to wander from the path at some point? When they cast a vote are they really voting for what the people of their region believe in or
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The Tombs
are they casting a personal vote? Or are they casting a vote based on seedy backroom deals made is parking garages, sleazy hotel rooms or one of these famous political bars in the District of Columbia? Are cloak and dagger meetings occurring or is that in our imagination because of Hollywood’s influence? Have you seen the House of Cards? Not just Hollywood but the front pages often talk of government corruption….sadly.

Many of these watering holes have made the best of list by Forbes, Esquire and others news agencies. Recently when reading a Jack Reacher book by Lee Child, he stated that most Senators and Congressman think they are important and famous….and that everyone knows them but in reality most people don’t know who they are especially outside of their district. We imagine that is true because we couldn’t tell you the name of a Senator or Congressman from Idaho, Nevada or Arkansas if we had to. They could be sitting next to us in a bar and we would not have a clue.

The Round Robin Bar

The Round Robin Bar is located within the Intercontinental Willard Hotel (1850) We’ve read that it has
The Round Robin BarThe Round Robin BarThe Round Robin Bar

The Willard Hotel
been a meeting place for DC’s social elite since the days of Abraham Lincoln. We bellied up to the bar Dave ordered a beer and MJ had some red wine. The walls are beautifully decorated with portraits of famous people who have stayed in the hotel and had a drink or two in the bar. We jumped up and down a few times to get a better look at some of the photographs and to confirm that the portrait was who we thought it was. The waiter brought us a bowl of nuts and they were addictive. Before us came such people as Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Buffalo Bill, P.T. Barnum numerous reporters, politicians and many tourists. The dark wood, green accents and low lighting embrace this room. It is said that Martin Luther King finalized his “I have a dream” speech while at the Willard. We wonder if that is true and where he was sitting. As usual we began talking with a gentleman sitting at the bar-- who is from Brisbane, Australia but now working in Abu Dhabi. We love hearing stories of overseas work and travel.

The Off the Record Bar

The Off
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Hay- Adams Hotel
the Record Bar in the Hay-Adams Hotel (1920’s) – heading into the basement of the 5 star hotel located across the street from the White House we stood and listened. As it is said this is a great place to be seen and not heard. It was a quiet Saturday afternoon and there were plenty of open seats at the bar. Dark wood and leather captain’s chairs filled the thickly carpeted room. This bar was the same vintage and felt similar to the Round Robin bar. Again lots of portraits of famous people hanging on the walls. We had a wonderful afternoon talking with our bar tender and we met a gentleman from Bakersfield California. We really enjoyed his company and hearing what he had been seeing while he was in town. This gentleman was thrilled to be visiting our nations capitol.

When we are in a bar or pub we always ask the bartender three questions.

What is your signature drink? The one you make really well?

What drink do most people order?

Which drink do you dislike making?

Almost all bartenders hate making a mojito! Some dislike making it because it
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Georgetown, DC
is time consuming and others dislike making it because they think it is an overrated drink. Our bartender at the Off the Record says his signature drink is a margarita so we will have to go back.

The Old Ebbitt Grill

The Old Ebbitt Grill is a famous restaurant and bar. When we walked in it was crowded and full of tourists. We put our name in for the dining room and were told there would be an hour wait. The bar was packed but we learned it was on a first come first serve basis so we stood quietly and hovered waiting for people to finish their lunch, the drinks and relinquish their seats. Once we obtained a seat we place an order a drink. After perusing the menu Dave ordered hummus and pita and MJ a bowl of black bean soup.

This establishment has been around since 1856 but the location has moved several times and is now located across the street from the White House. It is known for parties hosted by famous actors and singers. It has been written in books and showed in scenes from movies such as In the
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International Spy Museum
Line of Fire with Clint Eastwood. Due to its close proximity to the White Hose we’ve read that it is a frequent stop for Secret Service agents but after being there we find it hard to believe they would go some place so touristy. But then again, aren’t Secret Service agents supposed to blend in with any crowd?

The Hawk 'n' Dove

The Hawk ‘n’ Dove was a quintessential American dive bar that has recently been remodeled. We’d been in this bar about 18 years ago for the first time and it had an ambiance that is missing now that it has been remodeled. With that said, we can tell they took great care to attempt to have some of the old look and feel even though they’ve cleaned it up and it looks rather new and slick now. Next time we see our friend Andy who lives in the Capitol Hill area we will have to get his take on the changes with this bar and if the crowd who hangs out here likes it as well as they did in the old days.

We enjoyed our visit to this bar so we went back a
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few weeks later. We spent part of the afternoon chatting it up with their new General Manager who has been in place for about three weeks. After our conversation with Randy we think this place is in good hands and we are eager to go back in a couple of months to see if we can tell any difference. Randy says his best drink is a Sangria. We will be back to sample it.

The Bullfeathers

Bullfeathers garnered some fame by serving a number of congressional members, staffers and lobbyists. The name of this fine waterhole came from President Theodore Roosevelt as he used to us this term instead of bullshit. We were happy to sit at the bar and order some Bullfeathers amber. Dave had the French onion soup MJ the Manhattan clam chowder and we shared the strawberry and feta salad.

The Capitol Lounge

Capitol Lounge was as the name may suggest not far from the Capitol building and just down the street from the Hawk and Dove. Again the dark woods and mahogany bar feels comfortable and alluring. This is one of those places you could sit for hours
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The reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial
enjoying conversing with people at the bar as they come and go. The food looked mighty good but we had already eaten so we may need to go back.

The Tombs

The Tombs in Georgetown was described in one article as DC’s version of Cheers and indeed it does have that look and feel about it. It’s a favorite hangout of many Georgetown University college students in search of a beer and a burger. We shared the pork belly tacos and they were excellent. Most pubs don’t have a reputation for good food but this one does. Their Tombs Ale was top notch.

While there, we enjoyed talking with a young graduate of Georgetown University who was our bartender. She has a degree in English and plans on heading to Law School soon. We asked about the brass nameplates along the bar and we learned that they were the names of previous staff members of the bar. To be worthy of this recognition you had to work for them two years and …not get fired. She was proud to report she had worked there for 3 years and one day her name would be on the same bar as her father and uncle who had both worked there in the 1960s.

Martin's Tavern

Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown is perhaps best known as the place John F. Kennedy proposed to Jackie in one of the booths looking out on the street. They feature a gold plaque on the booth these days so certainly we had to take a quick photo. As Dave sipped his beer and MJ sipped some tea we had a short conversation about spies. I guess a little Earl Grey made us wonder about British Secret agents and then onto the topic of double agents. It is one thing to imagine someone spying for their country but pretending to spy for one country when really spying for another is very complicated. Serious Cold War stuff….As always, we enjoyed talking to fellow patrons. While there, we talked to the people sitting next to us. The gentleman was from West Virginia and his wife from the Republic of Georgia. They’ve lived in DC for 20 years and it was great to hear their stories. We always enjoy meeting new people.

All this talk of spies made us think about a

Capitol Hill
recent visit to the International Spy Museum. A bit pricey at $22 per person, but nonetheless, a visit worth making. We had an up close view of all the spy toys and gadgets that have been used since the beginning of time. Among the many exhibits was a room full of James Bond information along with a replica of the car driven in the movie, Goldfinger. We watched several interesting videos on personal stories of spies. It was indeed fascinating.

Washington DC is a city that has a real and palpable energy. We are excited to be here. There are a few more restaurants and political bars on our list to stop by for a drink, so stay tuned……

Additional photos below
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Washington Monument

Washington DC
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The Tombs Bar

Name plates along the bar
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John Kennedy & Jackie

The big proposal
In GeorgetownIn Georgetown
In Georgetown

The Tombs
Cruising the pubsCruising the pubs
Cruising the pubs

Hawk 'n' Dove
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Dining alfresco

The Capitol Lounge
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Research for our blog is hard work!

Off the Record Bar
Attention getterAttention getter
Attention getter

One can only imagine how good the lunch special are!

22nd June 2014

Thanks, Dave and Merry for making of Washington a must destination, I hope to be able to visit in the near future
22nd June 2014

Hello Frank,
Hopefully you will come while we are still living in the area and we can spend some time showing you around.
22nd June 2014
The Willard Hotel Lobby

Shady deals in plush locales...
I must admit I'm not a bar person, but I love the names of these bars--Hawk 'n' Dove, Off the Record, and Bullfeathers. Pretty surprising that Sangria and Margarita were fave drinks prepared--I would have thought martinis were more suited to the suit set. And I totally think that the shady deals of our corporate-controlled, so-called democracy are carried out in these plush, off-the-record surroundings. Bravo to you intrepid reporters.
22nd June 2014
The Willard Hotel Lobby

The Underbelly of D.C.
Who knows what really goes on in some of this places but it is grand to make up stories. I like the ambiance in these places and it is not uncommon for me to sit and sip tea or wine. I love grand old hotel bars that offer history and romance.
22nd June 2014

Bar Room Politicos
Keep up the excellent research!
22nd June 2014

It is a tough job but someone needs to do it and we will continue to suffer through just as we did in Napa and Sonoma.
23rd June 2014

What a fun read
I wish I had been able to assist in the research for this blog. I am glad you went to so many places, and what great names. Hopefully you will have some more on this subject soon. And darn the spy museum looks fun.
23rd June 2014

Fun around DC
We wish you had been with us also. The spy museum was entertaining. it is amazing what we are willing to do in the name of research. The bars do have cute names. Hope to see you soon.
23rd June 2014

by your exhaustive research. Also a really fun read!
23rd June 2014

We were going for the entertainment value this time. D.C. is a great city.
23rd June 2014

bars and deals
Wow! Thanks for the pics inside of these places where all the political deals get done!
23rd June 2014

Bars and Deals
One can only imagine all the craziness that has occurred in these locations. It certainly allows the imagination to take over.
23rd June 2014

I think you need a research assistant...
...and I think I'm the person for the job! :)
23rd June 2014

Hiring research assistants
Please forward your CV for our serious consideration. We will be hiring immediately.
23rd June 2014

Not that Washington
Your pub-crawling sounds like such great fun! My trips to Washington once involved my Aunt Peggy, who was married to a prominent patent attorney and in the Social Register, so at that age it was the Capitol, the Zoo, and the Columbia Country Club. Your writing is wonderful and thanks for the update!!
23rd June 2014

Bar Room Politicos
Glad you enjoyed the blog! We actually make a point of visiting the more traditional sites like museums before repairing for adult beverages at some of the more famous watering holes in our nations' capital.
23rd June 2014

Another great post. I have not been in DC since childhood and your pictures and descriptions really make me want to go back. Dave - wasn't sure which was the real Bond in your pic with Sean Connery
23rd June 2014

Bar Room Politicos
Hard to tell the difference, eh? You should consider a visit down here! We'd love to show you around!
23rd June 2014

Great Idea!
I'm going to have to copy your idea of touring the D.C. politician bars. For one reason, I love old bars...the older the better. Of course the other reason is to see the places where the politicians do their deeds. Of course the city is alive with all kinds of people. It's where all our money is. The Washington D.C. area is the wealthiest in the USA. All those lobbyists with sacks of money draw people like flies.
23rd June 2014

Hello Bob
D.C. is full of historical bars and pubs. Love all the dark woods and the stories about famous people and politics. It was fun seeing where John and Jackie Kennedy got engaged. Come on down and we will buy you a drink.
24th June 2014

So you're in DC
Loved the blog and research subject …..I have a cousin who lives in the DC area (Towson MD) but haven't visited there for several years. Maybe we'll finally catch up with you there. I think you know we traveled to Nepal and Bhutan in March (wonderful trip) and are headed to France (barge trip on the Midi Canal) and Italy (Cortona and Lake Como) in September. Then in May we are going to Borneo for 2 1/2 weeks. Maybe between those trips we will make it to DC. We'd really love to see you and compare notes. Our best, Sonja
24th June 2014

Please come to D.C.
We really want to catch up with you and talk travel. Sounds like you've got a wonderful plan for this year! Eager to hear all the details.
25th June 2014

We visited Martin's Tavern in April and had a wonderful experience there. We're heading back to DC in August and will check out some of the others! Thanks for sharing your visits!
25th June 2014

Hello Gwyn
Glad you enjoyed our blog. Let us know when you will be in town and we'll try to meet you for a drink if you are interested. Lots of research can be done in this city.
26th June 2014

I loved your blog on DC. I feel that I have missed out on some good bars and restaurants. The spy museum looks interesting.
26th June 2014

Come back
There are many things you still need to check out. One of those restaurants we suggested was on the list of political hot spots but we're glad we went to Nora's.
27th June 2014

Much more than a pub crawl...
Wow! What a great blog! Loved the idea! Looks like you put a lot of effort into searching up these places and what interesting stories they have... Your blog just makes me wanna go back to DC and follow in your footsteps for sure! Thanks for sharing!
27th June 2014

Follow in our footsteps!
Anna come to D.C. and we'll join you for a drink. So much history, scandal and mystery associated with this city. All is well as our research was fun.
28th June 2014

Drinking in the Capitol
Hiya. Great post on bevy haunts. I can affirm that yes, locals do eat/drink/converse during the work week… We used to all the time when I was at NAS. ;-) Surprised you didn't have the crab cakes at Ebbits… They are amazing.
29th June 2014

Crab cakes
Looks like we have a reason to go back to Ebbits. Where are you now?
29th June 2014

Crab cakes
Looks like we have a reason to go back to Ebbits. Where are you now?

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