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Like Elizabeth Taylor and former Sen. John Warner in the last days of their marriage, Hollywood and Washington are eyeing the end of an intense coupling. After eight years of adulation, the stars have a final date with the Obamas at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on April 30. “The White House has done a great job of getting people to come to events who excite and captivate Americans,” says Marc Adelman, a former staffer for the 2004 John Edwards campaign and Democratic National Committee official who does media consulting in L.A. and Washington. “Beyonce at the Easter Egg Roll — it doesn’t get bigger than that.”
Obama made the capital cool, and his presidency overlapped with an explosion of gentrification that launched power dining outposts in such neighborhoods as Shaw, Bloomingdale and Columbia Heights. These days, “If you want to impress, steer away from the tried-and-true Cap Grille and BLT,” says CNN’s Jake Tapper, citing the old-school Capital Grille (601 Pennsylvania Ave. NW) and the steak stalwart (1625 I St. NW), where President Obama has taken Michelle for her birthday. Instead, says Tapper, “Suggest one of the hipper places such as Bad Saint,” a Filipino restaurant in Columbia Heights (3226 11th St. NW).
The Red Hen (1822 1st St. NW), an Italian-influenced eatery by chef Michael Friedman that opened in 2013 in Bloomingdale (home to restored Victorians with iconic cupolas, including those flashed in the opening credits of House of Cards) has seen senators (Chuck Schumer, Mark Warner) and visitors such as Iron Chef‘s Alton Brown, who called it his D.C. favorite. And perhaps the city’s hottest new restaurant is Tail Up Goat (1827 Adams Mill Rd. NW; founded by veterans of Komi and Little Serow, two of Washington’s top spots) — and that’s despite a location on the site of a former gas station in a zip code better known for binge drinking interns than high-end dining.
Back downtown, Equinox (818 Connecticut Ave. NW) crafts fare “in accordance with the Earth’s natural rhythm” and offers a chance to eat alongside such regulars as Hillary Clinton, Jill Biden and Sen. Cory Booker. Bono, Bill Gates and ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser, a regular Obama golf partner, have stopped by. Acadiana, a Creole-Cajun spot at 901 New York Ave., has hosted D.C. luminaries and such visiting stars such as Jay Z and Beyonce.
The Red Hen
In Capitol Hill’s Barracks Row, also identified more with bad bars than good meals, Rose’s Luxury (717 8th St. SE) has a lauded menu of “New American tapas” by chef Aaron Silverman — and a no-reservation policy. The resulting lines have fostered their own status symbol. Eight blocks from the Capitol, where lobbyists pay people to hold spots in lines for important hearings, it’s perhaps natural that Washingtonians not only pay others to stand in the Rose’s Luxury line, but also brag about the insider move. “The ultimate DC power play is having your own line holder,” says one senior Washington journalist.
Still catering to the commuter crowd are locations like Charlie Palmer Steak, at 101 Constitution Ave., a favorite for legislators in part due to proximity to the Senate, and Cafe Milano (3251 Prospect St. NW), “an appointment spot,” says Adelman, who recalls seeing Stephen Colbert at lunch there.
Capitol Hill steak and seafood spot The Monocle (107 D St. NE) is a top destination for such GOP lawmakers as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, former House Speaker John Boehner (he’s still in town) and Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. Bistro Bis (15 E St. NW), near the Capitol and several TV studios, is a haunt for House Speaker Paul Ryan and pundits like Fox News’ Bret Baier. “You might run into anyone and everyone,” says Tapper.
Off the Record at the Hay-Adams hotel
Across Rock Creek in Georgetown, The Four Seasons’ Bourbon Steak (2800 Pennsylvania Ave.) offers an old-school Washington power feel and has its share of influential dinners, including diplomats who favor the hotel. “If you want to eat really well,” says Martha Raddatz, co-anchor of ABC’s This Week, head to the nabe’s Fiola Mare (3100 K St. NW), where the first couple has dined with top aide Valerie Jarrett. “Sit on the [Potomac] river side or at the bar.”
On Connecticut Avenue, the bar at the venerable Mayflower Hotel is decades past being a power destination, but the Edgar Restaurant (1127 Connecticut Ave. NW), in the hotel’s lobby, is a popular lunchtime meet for executive branch officials and newspaper bureau chiefs. Meet the Press‘ Chuck Todd likes Off the Record at the Hay-Adams (800 16th St. NW) “if the meeting is less than an hour,” he says. “If you want to linger, Quill at the Jefferson” (1200 16th St. NW). At the Ritz-Carlton, the Westend Bistro (1190 22nd St. NW) is “cozy and surprisingly unpretentious,” says Raddatz. “The window booths are lovely.” Steps away, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell likes Blue Duck Tavern (1201 24th St. NW), where the Obamas once celebrated their anniversary. Mitchell also favors Le Diplomate (1601 14th St. NW), where GM William Washington has bragged about helping senators score tables. “They can’t stand in line the way other people can,” Washington has said. “Constituents will come up and start asking questions.”
Sound familiar? Raddatz notes that Hollywood and D.C. players have more in common than the quest for the best table. “Many people here thrive on power,” she says. “But we also work hard and very passionately to do work we feel is important, informative and makes a difference.” Adds Adelman, “In L.A., people wait years, sometimes decades to get their break and their project made. A lot don’t go anywhere. Washington is very similar.”
A version of this story first appeared in the May 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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