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Published: June 22nd 2014
Political intrigue….back room deals…..off 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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
Reflections on a sunny day
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
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……
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