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As Republican Wave Hits Washington, a Change in Tastes


From international tourism to federal employment prospects, every new president alters the fabric of life in the nation's capital.

But for local restaurateurs such as Ashok Bajaj, a new White House administration is just another president waiting to be fed.

"It takes a little while for the administration to find a restaurant," Bajaj, the owner of several Washington establishments, told VOA's Russian Service. "For the first month or so they are trying to find out what is going on in the White House, and then they are trying to understand what's around, what are best places to eat, best places to drink. With every new administration, we go through that transitional period, too. We lose our old friends and get new ones."

FILE - People take photographs as President Barack Obama, center, and first lady Michelle Obama walk into the Oyamel Cocina Mexicana restaurant in Washington for dinner, May 28, 2016.
FILE - People take photographs as President Barack Obama, center, and first lady Michelle Obama walk into the Oyamel Cocina Mexicana restaurant in Washington for dinner, May 28, 2016.

Located just a stone's throw from the West Wing, Bajaj's aptly named “Oval Room” regularly hosted staffers from the Obama White House.

While the list of visitors from President Donald Trump's administration remains short, press secretary Sean Spicer once stopped in for a glass of wine. Bajaj's nearby Italian eatery, Bibiana, has already feted Trump’s former campaign rival and nominee to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson.

FILE - This June 8, 2016 photo shows Riverby Books, a small independent bookstore located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington D.C.
FILE - This June 8, 2016 photo shows Riverby Books, a small independent bookstore located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington D.C.

Barkeepers on Capitol Hill say they're also feeling the shift. Cocktail-swilling Democrats who flooded the city under Obama have given way to a batch of Republicans who, laboring under the weight of a first-term administration, don't have a lot of free time. They'll hit the bars for a quick drink, usually ordering beer or vodka, say local bartenders.

"There has been a lot more Bud Light. Mostly 25- to 35-year-olds who often work on the Hill and meet here for drinks after work," said Bryson Lefmann, events manager at Capitol Lounge.

But the lull that can coincide with a presidential handoff, he says, doesn't mean bars will be empty for long.

"You can tell who the new folks are when they come in. A lot of our staff gets to know regulars by their first name, they know what they drink and what kind of music they listen to," he said, describing the transitional window as a kind of protracted courtship.

"For the new folks, it's like a new date," he added. "Like 'Hi, nice to meet you!' We are still getting to know them and they’re still getting to know us."

The Capitol Lounge in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy Capitol Lounge)
The Capitol Lounge in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy Capitol Lounge)

At Capitol Lounge, the majority of patrons say they're there on “political business.” Some came for a conference on healthcare reform, while others came to meet with the new administration or get a job on the Hill.

"I am here for a conference for an Affordable Care Act," said Carol Cain Bush, a community health professional from West Virginia who's targeting professional opportunities in Washington. "I did a little bit of research, I was looking for a place where I might encounter a variety of thinkers, people who are actually working in government. I really wanted to pick up on the local vibe."

Texas-based attorney T.J. Mayes said he's in town to convince Trump officials on the benefits of maintaining NAFTA.

"Right now, we want the administration to understand how beneficial the North American Free Trade Agreement is to Texas economy. It injects billions of dollars into our local communities, which means jobs and cheaper goods," he said. "It's been very beneficial to Texas and San Antonio specifically. ... We do not want to do anything that will take us backwards in terms of our trade relationship with Mexico."

For Capitol Hill intern William Barry, the mark of good Washington pub is sanctuary from political discourse itself.

"The slogan of this bar is, 'No politics, No Miller Light,' so I kind of like that," he said. "It's a big bar, so I meet here with Hill staffers after work. Everyone leaves politics at the door and communicates in friendlier atmosphere, and that's certainly something we need more at this point in our country."

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Russian Service.

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