One of the best parts about the annual Freddie Awards being held in Washington, D.C., this year was that I could indulge my inner U.S. history and politics nerd.
Someone on a cable TV political talk show said something about “getting a drink at The Hay-Adams (Hotel).” I looked it up and discovered the place in question is a bar called Off the Record — a place “to be seen but not heard.” Cute, right?
Congresspeople apparently frequent Off the Record. (That’s what I read, at least.) I guess it’s a go-to place for some people involved in politics.
So, I decided to give it a shot!
Where is Off the Record?
You’ll find Off the Record in the lower lobby of The Hay-Adams Hotel, which is located at 800 16th St NW, Washington, DC, 20006. (Basically: 16th and H Streets). It’s just north of Lafayette Square and a short walk from the White House (which was inaccessible that night because of a state dinner).
Enter the hotel’s main lobby and look for this door.
I arrived just past 8:30 PM. (This was shortly after I checked into my room at the Grand Hyatt a few blocks away.) Black and deep red are the joint’s signature colors. Caricatures of politicians current and past line the walls.
The bar was very busy and loud. I feared I wouldn’t be able to find a seat. (I was also quite hungry and wanted dinner.)
I somehow snagged the last open spot: a table nestled away in a corner near the bar! Perfect!
A server delivered these bar snacks and a glass of water.
The chips were awesome and I loved the assorted nuts. I’m one of the only people in the world who doesn’t like olives (but I like olive spread and olive oil), so I left those alone.
The drink coasters themselves are souvenirs. Each is a caricature, just like the ones on the wall. (There’s a fun story about John Boehner visiting Off the Record and getting a coaster of himself.)
Mine featured California winery owner and state governor Gavin Newsom.
I ordered a bourbon cocktail with some sort of pear liqueur and a cinnamon stick. It came with a small serving of caramel corn!
That was a fun touch — and made the drink pop. I could really taste the pear. That said, it was maybe just a little too sweet. Good, but very, very sweet.
I ordered the “OTR Burger” (caramelized onions, mushrooms, bacon, and cheese) for dinner. It came with a side of delicious fries and a great pickle.
The burger itself was good — but nothing special. At no point did I go, “Wow!” But I was hungry and enjoying the people-watching.
I ordered a Buffalo Trace on the rocks for an after-dinner drink and took in more of the atmosphere. By 9:30, the place was packed.
Like most businesses — especially in the hospitality industry — it was busy but understaffed. That said, most of the waiters and other staff work very hard. They’re kind of old school. They’re not going to kneel down next to your table, get all bubbly, and say, “Hi! I’m gonna take care of you tonight! Can I get you started with appetizers or maybe a soda?!”
No, no. They smile, quickly welcome you, and then ask what you want.
One of the bussers was a friendly guy named Freddie. He asked how my day was going, if I was enjoying the place, etc. I told him I flew in from Los Angeles that afternoon and was happy to finally be in D.C. again. He talked about how much he loves all the great music from California. He asked if I play any instruments. I told him I know some guitar. He said he’s a trumpet player in a group called the Sivirian Band — and that he plays “Happy Birthday” when guests are celebrating at Off the Record. He loves doing that.
“Wouldn’t that be crazy if it were my birthday?” I said.
“Really? Is it?!” he said.
I raised an eyebrow and grinned as if to say, No, but if you want to play some trumpet…
“I gotcha!” he laughed.
A few minutes later:
Bar patrons clapped, a few wished me a happy birthday, and someone shook my hand. Some guy offered to buy me a drink (which I politely declined because I was tired and wanted to get back to my hotel). Note to self: it needs to be your un-birthday more often.
The final bill (after a decent tip) came to about $95 — and I was by myself.
Keep in mind that this is an upscale bar inside a fancy hotel in a big city. The bar is an attraction itself. So, you’re paying for all of that.
I didn’t recognize any politicians or TV reporters or anyone else, for that matter. Freddie was the celebrity that night!
Will I visit it again Off the Record the next time I’m in D.C.? Maybe, if I’m with someone who really wants to go. But I got it out of my system, enjoyed my dinner and drinks, and took in some great people-watching.
Have you been to Off the Record. Please share your experience below in the Comments — which will be on the record.
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Nice write up Chris. I love reading stories like these. No credit card adds, no nonsense. Just your take on a place that most have probably never heard of.
For everything you received that evening (at the Hay-Adams, no less!), it seems like $95 is kind of a bargain. Thanks for another excellent review.