The Political Landscape of Restaurants

Politics at the Kitchen & Lounge

Politics is part of the conversation at many restaurants and bars. Customers bring their passions and share them with fellow patrons. That’s a good thing. But when political purity tests are enacted, it can be a dangerous trend.

Just blocks from Capitol Hill, Johnny’s Half Shell has slowly become the most political restaurant in Washington. It has hosted 948 congressional fundraisers.

Ambiance GR Kitchen & Lounge

A swanky cocktail lounge that’s Black-owned is now open in downtown Grand Rapids. Inside, customers can sit on plush blue wraparound sofas or at high-top tables that are illuminated with globe lights. The space is adorned with a collage of photos of local landmarks, musicians and celebrities.

Entrepreneur Jamiel Robinson, who along with partners Jonathan Jelks, Lacy Jones, Jamal Chilton and recording artist Willie “Willie” Jackson partnered to bring Ambiance to life in the former Raggs to Riches location at 106 Pearl St. NW, says he’s proud to be a part of the community’s business landscape.

The team plans to offer American food with a Cajun and Creole twist, serve cocktails and host live entertainment. The bar is also hoping to attract tourists who visit downtown Grand Rapids for conventions, festivals and concerts at Van Andel Arena. It will feature a full kitchen starting in March 2022, the owners say. A Facebook post on Nov. 4 cited safety issues as the reason for closing.

Johnny’s Half Shell

When Johnny’s Half Shell closed during the pandemic, it was a jolt for many DC seafood lovers. Chef Ann Cashion and frontman John Fulchino had crafted a beloved dining room that straddled the line between neighborhood joint (naugahyde booths, bocce court, aquarium) and finer seafood restaurant. Its menus focused on repertory cooking, ranging from hearty file gumbo to a crunchy oyster po’ boy at brunch to premium raw and grilled seafood at dinnertime.

But after a few years at North Capitol Street, the restaurant’s clientele, which leaned heavily on private diners, started to decline. So the pair moved to Adams Morgan and kept up the good work, focusing on local ingredients. The menu now includes high-end seafood but also dishes that tread beyond surf, like a hearty, roux-less gumbo and crispy sweetbreads on wilted greens. It’s a reminder that great restaurants don’t have to be constantly reinventing themselves. Embracing a classic is just as satisfying, and more sustainable in an era where labor costs are skyrocketing.

Bistro Bis

Located adjacent to the George Hotel on Capitol Hill, this upscale French restaurant regularly feeds senators, congressmen, celebrities and power brokers with modern French bistro fare. From the smoked salmon salad tossed with apples and golden beets to the perfectly tender braised veal stew, every dish is a harmonious blend of flavors and aromas.

Featuring a zinc bar and a natural cherry interior, Bistro Bis is a wonderful modern version of a classic French bistro. The menu is focused on modern interpretations of traditional fare, enhanced by classic French cocktails and a thoughtful wine list.

This upscale French eatery also features a number of private rooms perfect for small weddings, receptions and corporate events. The special event coordinator can help you to create a private dining menu that is custom tailored to your palate and budget. Parking is available nearby in garages, lots and on the street. Bistro Bis is also easily accessible by public transit.

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