Where NYC's Politicos Drink and Dine

January 23, 2014
by Kathleen Squires

A lot can be told about people through their choice of restaurant or dining quirks - even more so if they are in, or running for, office. Raise our taxes. Mess with our health care. But spell potato wrong or take away our big sodas? When politicians start playing with our food, New Yorkers pay attention. Here, we gather some of the notable faux pas, photo ops and most historic dining moments from NYC's political history. 

Keens Steakhouse

Open since: 1885

Claim to fame: More than one politician inhaled here, as this restaurant is the keeper of the largest collection of clay pipes in the world - over 50,000 of them, many of them hanging from the ceiling. Members of the “pipe club” here included Theodore Roosevelt, and even Michael Bloomberg was issued one (ironically, the day before his city-wide restaurant smoking ban took effect in 2003). The restaurant also devotes an entire room to Lincoln artifacts, including the blood-drenched program he held when assassinated in 1865.

What to order: Mutton chop has been the highlight here since the chophouse’s early days, though it is no longer actually made from mutton. It's a saddle of lamb.

Fraunces Tavern

Open since: 1762

Claim to fame: This historic Financial District tavern was the neighborhood watering hole for our founding fathers - everyone from Alexander Hamilton to John Adams and George Washington raised a glass here. The nation’s first president, as a matter of fact, made a historic toast here when he said farewell to his troops on December 4, 1783, in the tavern’s Long Room (above). 

What to order: The menu points out that George Washington’s “favorite” was the pot pie, though the museum director says there’s no solid evidence for that claim.

Peter Luger Steak House

Open since: 1887

Claim to fame: When love gov Eliot Spitzer resigned in 2008, lieutenant governor David Paterson took over the top seat in NY State, leaving his prior position filled by several “acting” state senate members. On July 8, 2009, however, Paterson decided to put an end to the resulting, chaotic, senate leadership crisis by appointing Richard Ravitch to become second-in-command… right in the middle of Ravitch’s dinner at Brooklyn’s Peter Luger. Between courses, Ravitch signed his oath of office and was secretly sworn in, so the steakhouse became a de facto state capitol that night. Ravitch reportedly told one of Luger’s owners, Marilyn Spiera, “This is my favorite restaurant, and I wouldn’t take the oath of office anywhere else.”

What to order: The house specialty for a century: the porterhouse steak.


Open since: 1927

Claim to fame: Contrary to popular belief, the 1,200 portraits on the wall don’t just feature stars of the Great White Way. Every mayors from James J. Walker through Michael Bloomberg have a caricature on the wall representing their time in City Hall. President Harry Truman and Eleanor Roosevelt were among some of the other political figures who also were considered “friends of the house.” Bill Di Blasio, however, still needs to make time to head to the Theater District and sit for his portrait.

What to order: The cannelloni au gratin - which stuffs crêpes with a meat filling and tops them with a signature "Sardi" sauce - has been on the menu for over a half a century.

Viand Café

Open since: 1968

Claim to fame: Conveniently located around the corner from his Upper East Side townhouse, this humble spot is Mike Bloomberg’s go-to for power breakfasts. He’s been spotted at his regular table, booth 14, with local politicos from former governor Eliot Spitzer to schools chancellor Joel Klein. Newspapers gleefully reported when the cafe received poor marks from Bloomie’s newly installed health department grading system, however, in 2010. At a press conference, when asked if he would continue to dine at Viand, Bloomberg’s spokesperson answered, “The whole system was designed to avoid a rush to judgment, and that’s just what the mayor will do.” Now out of office, Bloomberg continues to frequent booth 14.

What to order: Mayor Mike likes the soft-boiled eggs and “well-done” toast. Don’t even think of getting a large soda.

Sylvia’s Restaurant

Open since: 1962

Claim to fame: So many dignitaries loved Sylvia Woods’ down-home cooking and charm: David Dinkins, Charlie Rangel, Nelson Mandela, Michael Bloomberg, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Bill Clinton all came for comfort from the “Queen of Soul Food.” Clinton even addressed the congregation at Woods’ wake at the Abyssinian Baptist Church when she passed away in July 2012. “When people came to see me from all over America and the world and wanted to know what Harlem was like, I sent them to Sylvia’s, and they were made to feel welcome and at home,” he said. Woods died in 2012 shortly before she would have celebrated her 50th year in business. The Harlem landmark continues to thrive without her.

What to order: Fried chicken, collard greens, black-eyed peas with rice.

Il Mulino

Open since: 1981

Claim to fame: This old-school red-sauce joint was the scene of a political bromance when Barack Obama and Bill Clinton dined in the restaurant solo in 2009. No aides, no advisors and no other patrons filled the room, which drew tons of fly-on-the-wall speculation from the press. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that health care and the economy were the main topics of discussion, while Clinton told the swarm of reporters waiting outside the Village restaurant, “We had fish, pasta and salad. It was very healthy. Even I was healthy.”

What to order: What Bill said, though you can’t go wrong with classics like veal piccata and spaghetti vongole here.

Blue Hill

Open since: 2000

Claim to fame: The world discovered that Barack and Michelle were card-carrying locavores when they swooped into chef Dan Barber’s Village restaurant for a “date night.” Dining within a full house, fellow patrons had no idea the President and FLOTUS were coming in for a romantic meal, and in typical NY-style, no one bothered the couple. It was the President and Mrs. Obama’s first NYC visit as the Presidential couple, and given her passion for the farm-to-table movement, we're guessing that Michelle chose the restaurant.

What to order: The Obamas went with the tasting menu, always a good bet when Dan Barber is cooking. The POTUS opted for the wine pairings with dinner, while Michelle is apparently a two-martini gal.

Dominique Ansel Bakery

Open since: 2012

Claim to fame: Even the Pentagon is crazy for Cronuts, the croissant-donut hybrid phenomenon. According to Ansel’s spokesperson, they have received special orders from the U.S. Department of Defense headquarters. Most exciting for Ansel, however, was a surprise visit from the French first lady, Valerie Trierweiler, who passed her cell phone over to Ansel in order for President Hollande to send his good wishes… and to perhaps send a few Cronuts back from SoHo with his woman.

What to order: Duh.

Goodfellas Old World Pizza and Pasta

Open since: 1992

Claim to fame: Our newly elected mayor’s very first scandal occurred here during his first week in office, when Hizzoner dug into a slice with a fork and a knife. Enter "Forkgate." We’d expect as much from Donald Trump; he’s fancy. But what explanation could our own mayor have for eating pizza… with utensils?! “In my ancestral homeland, it is more typical to eat with a fork and a knife,” Bill Di Blasio answered in defense. The famous fork now hangs on the pizzeria’s wall, along with photos of some of the other political notables who have popped in - such as Mike Bloomberg, Rudy Giuliani and Governor Pataki. No utensils were reportedly used during their visits.

What to order: Di Blasio had the Smoking Goodfella, piled with smoked mozzarella, roasted red-pepper cream sauce, roasted red, yellow and green peppers, sausage, onions and pecorino cheese. A classic Margherita, however, is more along the lines of what he’d find in his “ancestral homeland.”

historic restaurants
barack obama
bill clinton
bill deblasio
michael bloomberg