Wed 14 Jan 2009
As millions of visitors pour into DC this weekend, they’ll have a lot on their agendas. Goal number one? See the brand new President with their very own eyes. After that it’s all probably gravy. Hard-core foodies will be seeking out unique DC dining experiences (our tips are here). Others may want to add to their list of first hand brushes with history, which is what we’re all about today. The beauty of living and eating in a city like DC is that your very table could bear witness to some amazing history. Would you like to slug a beer in the same booth where JFK proposed to Jackie? We’ve got you covered. Want to chow down on a burger in a restaurant where the bathroom window turned into a major Cold War PR debacle? Check. Ever think you’d have a spicy tuna roll in the same building John Wilkes Booth conspired to assassinate Lincoln? You can. Read on!
Wok N Roll
Before I go any farther, I want to share an important DC visitor tip with you: There are no good Chinese meals to be had in DC’s Chinatown. Really. Mike and I have eaten at Wok n’ Roll in Chinatown several times and it is at best serviceable. BUT this post is as much about historic dining opportunities as it is about food. Wok n’ Roll, a Chinese/Japanese restaurant, is in the very same building where the plot to assassinate President Lincoln was hatched by John Wilkes Booth. Back then it was the Surratt boarding house owned by Mary Surratt, who was later executed for her involvement in the assassination. The photo to the right shows the original boarding house and how it appears today. Wok n Roll has a sushi happy hour for those looking for a dining bargain.
Wok n Roll
604 H St NW
Washington, DC 20002
More dining tips for history and trivia buffs after the jump!
Care to drink and dine in the shadow of America’s presidents? Make a point to visit Georgetown institution Martin’s Tavern. Every president starting with Harry S. Truman to the guy currently packing his books and DVDs has dined here and several even had regular booths. The star attraction though, is Booth #3, where you can munch a hamburger in the very spot where JFK proposed to Jackie. A tiny brass plaque next to the booth commemorates the event. JFK was a regular at Martin’s throughout his bachelor years as a young Congressman living in Georgetown (at 3260 N St NW, among other townhomes. Check out the walking tour here) and ended his bachelor days (if not lifestyle) in the same restaurant. As far as we can tell, the food selection may still be the same as it was that fateful night. There’s nothing trendy about the menu which includes American classics from potato skins to french onion soup to broiled flounder.
Five Guys, Georgetown
Just a few blocks down from Martin’s Tavern is Five Guys Burgers. Long before designer burgers became all the rage in DC with Good Stuff Eatery and Ray’s Hell Burger, Five Guys set the standard. Dishing up fries, jumbo burgers and peanuts, Five Guys has been expanding across the country but got its start right inside the Beltway. This Georgetown location is a double-billed feature: As the Cold War moved into fever pitch in 1985, the restaurant was the site of a major spy ring debacle. The location was a mediocre French restaurant called Au Pied du Cochon. Vitaly Yurchenko, a KGB spy who had defected to America, abandoned his meeting with his CIA handler, escaping through a bathroom window and running up Wisconsin Ave to the Russian embassy, into the (somewhat) welcoming arms of his comrades. You can read more about the story here.
Bring a little Hollywood to your visit with a quick trip to the area around Georgetown’s campus. Just around the corner from campus at 36th and Prospect lies The Tombs. The name comes from a TS Eliot poem, but it’s an apt description as well. To get into the restaurant you need to slink down a steep set of concrete stairs, below the high-end 1789 restaurant. Offering plenty of beer and pub-style food, the Tombs is a popular stop for Georgetown students, alums and faculty. The Tombs was also portrayed in 1985 Brat Pack favorite St. Elmo’s Fire. While you’re in the neighborhood, keep strolling down Prospect and you’ll find yourself at the top of the Exorcist Stairs, made famous by the 1973 horror classic The Exorcist, written by Georgetown alum (’49) William Blatty. Not in the mood for pub food? No problem. Head down the Exorcist stairs and turn left down M Street where you’ll find a myriad of food options.
Peking Gourmet Inn
If you don’t mind the drive to a DC suburb, Peking Gourmet Inn offers some of the best Chinese fare in the DC area. The house speciality, not surprisingly, is duck but all dishes we’ve tried here are full of flavor. Service is efficient and friendly. The lobby is always crowded (Oh, you had a reservation? You’ll be waiting, too) but you can amuse yourself testing your miltary knowledge with the photos on the wall of decorated military diners. George HW Bush apparently fell in love with the place when he was head of the CIA and continued to visit throughout his Presidency. I only wish they delivered to Capitol Hill.
Round Robin Bar at the Hotel Willard
The Hotel Willard has been a tall member of DC’s hotel and schmoozing scene since the time of Lincoln. The lobby of the Willard was a hot spot in its day (today its a bit more subdued) and is believed to be where the term “lobbyist” was coined by Ulysses S. Grant. He was referring to the political movers and shakers who hung about the lobby to gain access to him when he frequented the Willard for a glass of brandy and a cigar. You can do the same at the Round Robin Bar, located just off the lobby. The Round Robin would scream old school sophistication, if screaming weren’t such a low class thing to do. The polished mohogany, attentive service and plush setting is perhaps more remisicent of a Bette Davis film than political wheeling and dealing. Still, this is an ideal place to enjoy the craft of the cocktail (mint juleps are a specialty of the house but Inauguration visitors may opt for something warmer) and enjoy being part of a political crowd that has floated around DC for hundreds of years
Round Robin Bar
1401 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20004
Across the river into Old Town, VA you can find an honest-to-goodness themed dining experience. Gadsby’s Tavern was a favorite of George Washington and hosted other bold names such as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Open since 1770, today the Tavern celebrates the colonial era with costumed servers and a menu true to the culinary tastes of the Revolutionary period such as ham and biscuits and peanut soup, although the more cautious diner can also find familiar items like crab cakes and lamb chops.