For eight years the White House was occupied by two Texan shut-ins who made no secret of the fact that they prefer the scrub flatlands of central Texas to the bright if low-lying lights of Washington, D.C.
This, to put it mildly, has had a dampening effect on the American capital’s glam factor, which historically waxes or wanes according to the sheen on the First Family occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But Barack Obama’s arrival to Washington will likely alter the trend brought about by the prior administration.
“The arrival of the Obamas, even more than a normal change of administration, has infused Washington with new energy,” says Garrett M. Graff, Editor-at-Large at the Washingtonian magazine. “Everyone is anxious to see how the city changes.”
For one, a fresh spotlight will be thrown on the capital’s fine-dining scene. Unlike the Bushes, the Obamas are known for enjoying a night out, and the First Couple will soon be sweeping through town looking for new favorite haunts. Among the restaurants expected to thrive in Obama’s Washington is the southern cooking hotspot Art and Soul, run by Oprah’s former chef Art Smith, a Chicago transplant rumored to be a leading candidate to head the White House kitchen.
The city’s growing number of environmentally minded restaurants may also see a spike in Democratic power lunches. If Clinton loved Big Macs and Bush Texas barbecue, the Obama generation of Democrats is known for a lighter, healthier, more organic diet. One establishment to watch is the Founding Farmers restaurant located on the bottom floor of the International Monetary Fund building. The green kitchen uses only local products from sustainable farms and fisheries, and is sure to be a favorite with bureaucrats in Obama’s newly reinvigorated Environmental Protection Agency.
“With a more environmentally minded president in power, green-minded restaurants that use local products will be much more in line with the city zeitgeist,” says Graff, of the Washingtonian.
Another restaurant considered a candidate for regular presidential visits is the stylish Ristorante Tosca, located just a few blocks from the White House on F. Street. The acclaimed Italian kitchen is the closest thing Washington has to Chicago’s four-star Spiaggia, Obama’s preferred Italian spot and the place where the Obamas went on their first post-election date.
As for drinking holes, visitors to D.C.’s well-known bars shouldn’t expect to hear too much Democratic policy being hashed out over cognac and bourbon.
“The idea of smoke-filled, dark bars across Washington where people decide global policy over bourbon is only half-real, at most,” says Jim Newell, associate editor at Wonkette, the popular D.C. news and society blog. “A lot of stuff goes on at partisan, members-only clubs, so the power spots will transition from places like the conservative Capitol Hill Club to the National Democratic Club townhouse.”
If you don’t feel like shelling out $1,000 for an annual membership at the National Democratic Club, a good bet for the occasional star-sighting is the Off the Record bar at the Hay Adams Hotel, still a favorite spot for politicians and the lobbyists who love them to be “seen but not heard.”