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The Most Scandalous Washington Restaurants Throughout History

Seven restaurants and bars that were the site of international intrigue.


classics week logoScandal is as much a part of D.C.'s history as policy victories and Congressional triumphs. Not just the ABC TV show either. Throughout the years, political leaders have been caught in any number of compromising positions or doing anything but right. Sometimes the drama unfolds in courtrooms, Senate offices or in back alleys. Other times it's over a meal or drink.

Here are some of the Washington food establishments that have played host to some of these spectacles:

Chadwick's sign


The place: formerly Chadwicks and now Mr. Smith's, 3205 K Street NW

The scandal: Most knew the former Georgetown Chadwicks as a place to grab a burger before a movie or to gulp down a beer late night. But on June 13, 1985, the eatery was where a CIA counterintelligence officer reportedly sold out his country in one of the biggest betrayals in history.

According to Jason Werden, PR manager of the Spy Museum, the officer, Aldrich Ames met with Viktor Cherkashin, the Soviet chief of counterintelligence for the Soviet Embassy and ended up revealing the names of 100-plus CIA officers working undercover in the Soviet Union.

His payday for doing so came to $4.6 million. Ames was later found out because he began lavishly and carelessly spending this infusion of money around town. Werden says Chadwicks is where the convicted traitor — he's serving a life sentence — got the ball rolling by jotting down names on a pad. Why Chadwicks? Werden theorizes its location under Whitehurst Freeway made it hidden and discreet.

Wok and Roll

Photo: A.R. P./Yelp

The place: Wok and Roll, 604 H Street NW

The scandal: Long before the Chinatown location of Wok and Roll was serving up sashimi and dumplings, it was a place to plot an assassination. From September 1864 to April 1865, during the Civil War, Mary Surratt operated a boarding house, Werden says. Surratt opened her doors to an array of visitors but none more scandalous than the group of conspirators who plotted to take down President Abraham Lincoln. While waiting for takeout nowadays, Wok and Roll customers can glimpse at a plaque that commemorates this shady distinction.

Hay Adams Exterior

The Hay-Adams/Facebook

The place: Off the Record, The Hay-Adams, 1800 16th NW

The scandal: The motto for Off the Record, The Hay-Adams Hotel's swanky bar, is "Washington's Place to be Seen and Not Heard." But one day in 1986, the silence was broken regarding a sketchy political chat. There, conservative fundraiser Carl "Spitz" Channell met with donors to raise money that was used to arm Nicaraguan rebels in the Iran-Contra affair. Channell eventually was busted and plead guilty to conspiring to cheat the government.

Mayflower Sign

The place: The Mayflower Renaissance Hotel, 1127 Connecticut Avenue NW


The scandal: Besides the Watergate, the Mayflower might be the D.C. hotel most synonymous with corrupt behavior. It's where Eliot Spitzer famously spent some quality time with a high-class prostitute, putting a temporary damper on his political career and marriage.

These days Edgar Bar + Kitchen, located in the hotel's lobby, is a power dining spot that's spoofed its seedy past with viewings of the Olivia Pope drama "Scandal."

Cafe Milano Porch

Cafe Milano/Facebook

The place: Cafe Milano, 3251 Prospect Street NW

The scandal: The emphasis at Georgetown's Cafe Milano turned from burrata and souffles to terror plots just a few years ago. Justice officials in 2011 didn't identify the eatery that was the site of an Iranian plot to off the Saudi Arabian ambassador. But the Washington Post's Reliable Sources wondered aloud if it was Cafe Milano, where the diplomat frequented.

Zentan Candles

Photo: Zentan/Facebook

The place: Donovan House and Zentan, 1155 14th Street NW

The scandal: The name Donovan in the title of the Thomas Circle hotel and restaurant isn't random or accidental. Bill Donovan is often referred to as the "Father of American Intelligence." Donovan headed up the Office of Strategic Services, a precursor to the CIA, during World War II and then became the CIA's first director.

Though more of a homage to espionage than the site of spy activity, the Donovan House carries the CIA theme throughout its whole concept. Zentan, whose cuisine skews Asian, is actually the Mandarin word for detective. Continually the restaurant's menu features drink and food items that play on the spy them or reference James Bond. Donovan is such a critical figure in the spy history of this country that there's a regular exhibit devoted to him at the Spy Museum.

Sax Mural

Photo: Amy McKeever/

The place: SAX, 734 11th Street NW

The scandal: Modern French restaurant and lounge SAX may be too new to be the scene for any D.C. scandals yet, but it once paid homage to this town's political sex scandals through decor. Bisnow interviewed the artist who was commissioned to creae "Sax Scandals," a series of murals that pokes fun at the Clinton-Lewinsky affair and other risque parts of D.C.'s past. The controversial murals didn't last long, though. After causing much controversy, they were painted over within two weeks.