Even the leader of the free world has to eat. For D.C. restaurants, hosting a president for a meal is a chance to get into the annals of Washington dining history. And some restaurants are so classic that multiple U.S. presidents have visited over the years.
Tommy Jacomo, executive director of The Palm DC, has hosted every president from Richard Nixon through George H.W. Bush, and even though he's been in the business for over 40 years, he still gets excited when a president walks through the door. "It's the buzz of the restaurant," Jacomo told Eater. And presidents are just like us in one regard: "They just want to come out and have a good time," Jacomo said.
For those who want to follow in their footsteps, here's a round-up 11 still-open restaurants that have been presidential favorites, from an inn that was frequented by George Washington to favorites of modern day Commanders-in-Chief.
Gadsby Tavern Inn: Not only was this Alexandria restaurant a favorite of George Washington, the tavern played host to the first five presidents, according to Visit Alexandria. The circa-1785 tavern was a center of political life in Alexandria, holding dances, meetings and theatrical performances.
According to the Gadsby Tavern Museum, George Washington attended two annual Birthnight Balls held in his honor. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and the Marquis de Lafayette all visited the tavern. Today, you can visit the museum or have a meal at Gadsby's Tavern, which serves classic American fare like burgers, peanut soup and a dish called "George Washington's favorite" with grilled duck breast, scalloped potatoes and corn pudding.
Old Ebbitt Grill: D.C.'s oldest bar, The Old Ebbitt Grill was founded in 1856 but hasn't always been in the same location. According to the restaurant's website, when Old Ebbitt's was located in Chinatown, Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and Warren Harding are all said to have had drinks at the bar. This may be apocryphal but the restaurant's animal heads in the main bar were reportedly bagged by Teddy Roosevelt.
The Occidental: Built in 1906 and known as the place "Where Statesmen Dine," The Occidental counted Franklin D. Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge among its guests. The White House-adjacent restaurant's walls are lined with portraits of its famous patrons.
Martin's Tavern: This 82-year-old restaurant in Georgetown counts every president from Harry S. Truman through George W. Bush as visitors, according to Martin's website. Ask for booth three, where legend has it that JFK proposed to Jackie in 1953. According to the Georgetown BID, Nixon was a fan of booth 2.
The Monocle: Senators John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon were regular customers at The Monocle, which opened on The Hill in 1960. According to an article in The Hill on The Monocle's website, someone once stole a framed photo of Nixon off the wall, ripped his photo to shreds and left the evidence in the women's restroom.
The Palm: This restaurant's very existence came about because of a president. According to The Palm's website, George H.W. Bush, who was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations at the time, encouraged the New York owners of The Palm in 1972 to bring their "good American fare" to Washington. The steakhouse was a hit, and became a stop for multiple presidents. The most charismatic of them was Bill Clinton, Jacomo said. "He walks in the room, he’s an amazing personality. He went in the kitchen and took pictures with the back of the house. He's very charismatic," he said. And while the restaurant remains a D.C. power spot, the circus around the presidency has changed over the years. "Jimmy Carter was very low-key. It was a lot different back in those days," Jacomo said, noting that there wasn't as much press back then.
Positano Ristorante Italiano: Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan were regulars at this low-key Bethesda restaurant, according to Fodor's.
Peking Gourmet: George Bush dined at this Chinese restaurant at a Falls Church strip mall more than 50 times during his tenure as vice president, president and former president, according to an article in The Hill. He had a standing, four-course meal including Peking duck that the staff would set out for his table without him even ordering, called the Bush menu. George W. Bush (who tended to stay in rather than go out to restaurants generally during his presidency) visited the restaurant as well. The reason that the Bush family discovered Peking Gourmet was because George H.W. Bush's son Marvin lived near the restaurant in Alexandria and brought his father to visit one day.
Meiwah: Wondering where presidents order take-out? Bill Clinton is said to have been a fan of delivery at Meiwah, and his standing order was chicken and broccoli.
Bombay Club: The Clintons dined often at this D.C. institution, which has also hosted George H.W. Bush. And even sometimes former first ladies have to wait for a table. "I mean, in the last five years, Mrs. Clinton has come in several times. One time she came in without a reservation and we didn't have a table. We had to make them wait! That still lingers in my mind," owner Ashok Bajaj told Eater in 2013.
Equinox: Every president since George H.W. Bush has dined at Equinox, according to Fodor's.
That brings us to current day, and as for President Obama, he's dined at a plethora of D.C. restaurants. Check out Eater's past postings for a good idea of where the president and first lady have visited around town, including Komi, Taylor Gourmet, Rasika West End and Minibar. And because this is a president who loves a good burger, consult Eater's very helpful guide to the Obama family's burger eating in D.C. Plus, a special map of Michelle Obama's restaurant visits.