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A new book looks at the entire story behind the building, from the lives of its famous and powerful residents to its kitchens and parties.

Abbey White
February 21, 2018

You probably know the (in)famous Watergate Hotel complex for its major role in several political controversies. But a new book from author Joseph Rodota is opening the lid on other parts of the D.C. hotel’s history, including its culinary past.

The Watergate: Inside America’s Most Infamous Address approaches the history of the complex from a simple, but rarely explored angle: the building itself, as well as the lives of those who inhabited it, for however long. Rodota says that he got the initial idea for the book one day after walking by it on his way to the Kennedy Center, and realizing it had a barrel of stories hiding “in plain sight.”

“It struck me that it was part freshman dorm and part pressure cooker,” Rodota told The Washington Post. “You have all these immensely successful people living next door to one another. You have lawyers and lobbyists and ambassadors on the co-op board.”

The book begins with the hotel’s funding origins—which are tightly linked to the Vatican—before Rodota unveils accounts of the often forgotten, quirky, fun, or even underhanded events that have transpired under its roof since 1965. When it comes to the hotel’s food history, in particular, there’s apparently still a lot to tell. Tracing the tenure of chef Jean-Louis Palladin at the complex’s restaurant is one of the many significant ways the author approaches history from a food perspective. To get more intimate and exclusive culinarily-inspired stories, Rodota turned to a longtime concierge of the Watergate.

Both well- and poorly-catered parties held by U.S. government officials are discussed, including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s holiday parties, which saw her husband Marty prepare game-based dishes based on what was caught by Ginsburg’s colleague, Justice Antonin Scalia. While Ginsburg’s parties may have been the talk of the town, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice’s soirees earned a different kind of reputation. Allegedly, former White House adviser Karl Rove recalled opening “the Triscuit boxes to find something to put the cheese on” at one of Rice’s gatherings.

Beyond politicians, the book also features anecdotes about the hotel’s more traditional celebrity guests. That includes Katharine Hepburn, who was seen whipping up her own breakfast of steak and eggs from the Watergate supermarket, or Bette Davis who once was spotted in the lobby drunk and carrying a paper bag of flight-sized alcoholic beverages.

If you’re interested in taking a bigger bite out of Watergate’s juicy (food) history, the newly released The Watergate: Inside America’s Most Infamous Address is available for $19 on Amazon.