The great thing about being in Washington, D.C., at the dawn of an administration is that there are so many new backs to stab. Every four or eight years, fresh faces come in from all over America, and some old faces come back after having piled up mountains of private-sector cash. All of us who live here permanently have to figure out how we can welcome these people, how we can befriend them, help them, and then suck them dry before sending them back to the miserable little places from whence they came.
All of this takes restaurants. For the turning of an administration is a time of accelerated power-lunching. Journalists have to cultivate new sources, whom they will eventually betray. Lobbyists have to find new committee chairmen to flatter and fund. As for the think-tank johnnies, anyone who has ever written an op-ed piece suddenly becomes convinced that he is in line to be named deputy assistant secretary of commerce for Arctic Circle affairs, and so he has to begin subtly assassinating the character of the other wonks around town competing for the same position. I had a friend who said he was looking forward to getting a top administration post just so he could take people to lunch and deny them jobs.
Fortunately, two new restaurants have opened to take advantage of all this mealtime careerism. They come from opposite ends of the great schism that divides the Washington establishment. This schism is not between Republicans and Democratsboth restaurants, in fact, have bipartisan ownershipbut between lobbyists, who worship money, and publicity hounds, who worship fame. The Caucus Room (401 9th St. NW; 202-393-1300) is owned by a group of megalobbyists, including Haley Barbour, former head of the Republican National Committee, and Tom Boggs, Democratic lobbyist extraordinaire. In their company, no politician has ever been forced to pick up a check. West 24 (1250 24th St. NW; 202-331-1100) is owned by super-pundits James Carville and Mary Matalin, the First Couple of camera envy.