D.C.’s power lunchrooms: Then and now

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imagejfk The Solomon Scandals mentions the Sans Souci, where so many members of the D.C. elite plotted and dined.

In real life JFK almost surely ate there on occasion, and aides such as his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, most definitely came.

So did dealmakers and celebrities like the late Art Buchwald, seen in the right photo. A humor columnist and Kennedy-family friend, he invested with a real estate mogul who in some ways resembled Sy Solomon.

The Sans Souci shows up in Scandals’ first chapter when George McWilliams, editor of the Washington Telegram, threatens to boycott the Sans if it won’t honor the wishes of an embittered politician and name a baby shark after McWilliams.

image But life and tastes in restaurant move on. The San Souci is gone from 17th Street, and Ristorante Tosca is now where many of the highest-priced lobbyists and lawyers drink and dine.

Elaborate rituals exist for seating the current set of manipulators. Some rules have changed over the years—expensive “sit-down” lunches are no longer practical as mini-bribes of legislators—but the hierarchical nature of D.C. survives and perhaps is even worse. Lobbyists, it’s been noted, are even lobbying lobbyists. Think about that next time you read of your tax money going for pricey corporate bailouts, or you overpay for health insurance.

image Here’s a modest proposal. Let’s pass a law saying that all  lobbyists must eat at separate McDonald’s so it’s harder for them to scheme against the commonweal. No more power concentrations! Look, nothing against Tosca—just all the sellouts going on there.

Could hierarchies, formal and informal, have a little to do with it? The late Meg Greenfield, editorial page editor at the Washington Post, has described life among the D.C. elite as like high school, and if that’s so, then we might think of Tosca as the new lunchroom. No food fights, but lots of jockeying for power and status. Beyond-the-Beltway, moreover, as she saw it, was the equivalent of the distant “real world,” to use an old high school term. What is Torsca but—like the old Sans—an upscale high school lunchroom?

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