15 places in DC where lobbyists talk turkey

Whether hosting clients at a business lunch, sealing a deal over after-work cocktails or hopping between political fundraisers, lobbyists are never far from Washington, D.C.’s restaurant and bar scene.

“Sometimes I feel like I eat out for a living,” said Michael Herson, the president and chief executive officer of lobby firm American Defense International.

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There are more than 11,000 lobbyists in Washington and an ever-growing assortment of places for wining and dining, from the smoke-filled rooms for which the DC is famous to trendy cocktail lounges and four-star restaurants.

There are some venues, however, that have emerged as staples for K Street business.

“The hospitality scene in DC has come a long way in the last five to 10 years,” said Ben Jenkins, of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. “It’s simply exploded, and cocktail culture has been a critical part of that growth.”

Above all, lobbyists say that location and ambiance is key. The most frequently visited watering holes are close to where lobbyists — or the people they’re lobbying — work: on Capitol Hill, near the White House or downtown corporate offices and the spots located just in-between.

The lighting is often dim and spaces for private conversations are a must, according to K Streeters.

“There's always a business theme, even underlying happy hours,” said Scott Talbott, the senior vice president of government relations for the Electronic Transactions Association. “You're never off the clock in this town.”

While each of the roughly two-dozen lobbyists that responded to The Hill’s inquiry for their favorite places to dine, drink and do business had their own favorite spots— The Monocle on Capitol Hill, Brasserie Beck on K Street, Pearl Dive Oyster Palace on 14th Street, Sidecar at PJ Clarke’s and Poste in Chinatown deserve honorable mentions — Washington boasts 15 places where lobbyists are almost definitely expected to be found. 

They are listed here, in no particular order:  

Charlie Palmer Steak

101 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001

The restaurant was helped off the ground by a handful of K Street investors and, only steps from the Capitol complex, it remains a must on any lobbyist’s list of places to go. 

“You can walk in any given night and see someone that you know,” said Scott DeFife, the executive vice president for policy and government affairs at the National Restaurant Association.

The masterminds behind the restaurant’s bar scene – bartenders Brad Gamble and Heather Moshier – got shout-outs from their devoted clientele, who say that even after skipping a few weeks or months, the duo always remembers names and drink orders. 

Tosca

1112 F St. NW, Washington, DC 20004 

“Maître d’ and part owner Paolo Sacco is the de facto Mayor of K Street,” said Andrew Rosenberg, a partner at Thorn Run Partners.  

Tosca has become the restaurant where lobbyists go to be seen and has attracted a devoted set of loyalists.

“I love the food there and the staff is just phenomenal,” said Kelly Bingel, a partner at Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen Bingel & Thomas, who frequently visits. “They make everyone feel like they're the only ones coming that day.”

Johnny's Half Shell

400 North Capitol St. NW, Washington, DC 20001

A short walk from both the Capitol Dome and Union Station make this among the top destinations for fundraisers, according to data collected by the Sunlight Foundation. The Hill found that more than 85 political fundraisers, parties and events were held at the seafood hotspot.

Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab

750 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20005

While Joe’s Stone Crab, a Miami-based institution, only opened this January, it quickly attracted the attention of some of Washington’s post powerful players. Its proximity to the White House and the Treasury Department has endeared it to Executive Branch officials, and many lobbyists cite it as a favorite. It’s also said that this is a new haunt for House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFormer Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock From learning on his feet to policy director MORE (R-Ohio).

“I have been wanded by [Secret Service] security details on my way into Joe's more than once,” DeFife said.

Bullfeathers

410 First St SE, Washington, DC 20003

Not all of K Street’s hangouts are plush, clubby havens. Bullfeathers gives lobbyists a place to relax – with a large selection of spirits and beers and tasty bar food – right next to the House office buildings. The understated patio is popular during the warmer months.

Morton's (Connecticut Avenue location)

Morton's The Steakhouse

1050 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036

The second-story location of this restaurant – stationed between Dupont Circle and downtown Washington – vaunts a covered patio area popular with the city’s cigar smokers. 

Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar

223 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Washington, DC 20003

This Capitol Hill wine haven has emerged as another destination for lawmakers to court donors. The venue has held at least 21 political events during the 2014 election cycle, according to an analysis by The Hill of Sunlight Foundation records.

Palm Restaurant

1225 19th St NW, Washington, DC 20036 

The Palm, as its commonly known, is literally plastered with the faces of Washington powerbrokers. Small portraits of politicians, journalists, lobbyists and other notable figures devoted to the spot are painted onto the wall.

Rich Gold, a partner at Holland & Knight, is one who holds that distinction – along with his wife and daughters – but his history with the establishment goes back way further. 

“My first quote-unquote 'girlfriend' in third grade was the owner’s daughter. So literally, the first girl I ever played spin the bottle with was Andrea Bozzi,” he told The Hill. “So that created a lifetime loyalty with Tommy and the Washington Palm.”

Gold says he dines there at least twice per week.

Scott Parven, a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, whose offices are nearby, says the restaurant is “classic Washington in a good way.” 

 “I wish I were at the Palm right now,” he added.

Bobby Van's (both locations)

Bobby Van's 809 15th St NW // Bobby Van's Grill 1201 New York Ave NW

Each spot is valued in different ways, and most lobbyists say they enjoy the bar scene at both restaurants, but specifically called the bar at the Bobby Van’s Grill location an “open and friendly kind of atmosphere” that it attracts a diverse set of people. 

Manny Quinn, a bartender at the New York Avenue venue, fosters that vibe, a handful of lobbyists said. 

Capital Grille

601 Pennsylvania Ave NW Washington, DC 20004

Located right off the National Mall, this clubby atmosphere has long been a part of how K Street operates.

“Best steak in town is Capital Grille, with the best waiter in town taking care of you, Tom Stevens,” says Matt Keelen, the founder of The Keelen Group.

BLT Steak

1625 Eye St NW, Washington, DC 20006

Even lobbyists love a good happy hour – and many told The Hill that BLT has it. The restaurant is also situated close to both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the White House, making it a key destination for influencers as well. 

Rasika (both locations)

Penn Quarter: 633 D St NW, Washington, DC 20004

West End: 1190 New Hampshire Ave NW Washington, DC 20037

Rasika, known for its upscale take on traditional Indian fare, appeals to more lobbyists on a personal level — rather than from a business or networking perspective. 

Bruce Mehlman, a partner at Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen Bingel & Thomas, sometimes lunches at the Penn Quarter location and calls the palak chaat, a fried spinach dish, “vegetable-based crack.”

Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse

950 Eye St. NW, Ste 501, Washington, DC 20001

This 18,000-square-foot restaurant had been highly anticipated before its opening this September – and K Street protests it has not disappointed. 

The restaurant boasts a 1,200-bottle wine selection, windowless private rooms and a secret entrance for VIPs and their security details – though lobbyists just walk through the door.

Fiola

601 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20004

Another restaurant with high-up ties, Fiola features K Street titan Tony Podesta of the Podesta Group as an investor. The Italian-themed joint is located in the Penn Quarter neighborhood, which is situated just between downtown and Capitol Hill. 

Podesta is invested in several restaurants, including Centrolina, the upcoming Italian restaurant and market creation of chef Amy Brandwein. Lobbyist and Democratic strategist Harold Ickes of The Ickes & Enright Group is also involved, Podesta told The Hill via email from Italy. 

Old Ebbitt Grill

675 15th St NW, Washington, DC 20005

As one of the oldest known saloons in Washington – originally opened in 1856 on the edge of present-day Chinatown, and moved several times until it landed at its current location in 1983 – Ebbitt likely attracts as many lobbyists as tourists inside its doors. Although bustling, the breakfast scene is the perfect chance to hold meetings in hushed tones before the rest of Washington gets ready for the day. Old Ebbitt is also home to four different bars for the after-work crowd.