- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

Pull up a stool

Washington has never looked better, and that’s important considering the nation’s capital is the destination for this week’s Society of American Travel Writers’ conference.

One popular event: a tour of some of the city’s more intriguing political haunts (watering holes, if you will), starting with the Round Robin Bar at the Willard InterContinental, onto the rooftop terrace of the Hay-Adams Hotel overlooking the White House with head concierge Jack Nargill, and finally into Nathan’s and Billy Martin’s Tavern, the oldest saloon in Georgetown.

Besides libations, conventioneers were served political and presidential lore at every stop. Former President Ulysses S. Grant, for example, liked to escape the White House with a brandy and cigar in the Willard InterContinental hotel lobby, where would-be power brokers approached him for favors. Grant, recalled Round Robin bar manager Jim Hewes, labeled the pesky intruders “lobbyists,” thus coining the term that remains so popular (or unpopular) today.

At Nathan’s, convention-goers saw how owner Carol Joynt, a former writer for Walter Cronkite and producer for Larry King and Charlie Rose, exhibits above each booth historical black-and-white photographs (Fidel Castro and Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney) snapped by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Hume Kennerly. Our favorite: former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton “wincing” at the White House. (We can only imagine why.)

Billy Martin Jr., was on hand at his mahogany-lined tavern opened by his great-grandfather, William S. Martin (all four generations were named Billy Martin), who came to Washington from Galway, Ireland, during the late 19th century.

He pointed to Booth 1, “the Rumble Seat,” where John F. Kennedy read the newspaper and ate Sunday brunch; and Booth 3, “the Proposal Booth,” where Kennedy’s girlfriend, the stunning Jacqueline Bouvier, accepted his proposal of marriage.

Richard Nixon always ate meatloaf in Booth 2; Lyndon B. Johnson and former House Speaker Sam Rayburn liked to huddle in Booth 24; while Harry and Bess Truman preferred Booth 6.

In fact, Billy Martin’s is where spies Alger Hiss and Elizabeth Bentley conducted their covert business. It is entirely possible that in the early 1940s, with then-Sen. Truman eating nearby, Bentley wasn’t far away eavesdropping on government officials. Come to think of it, Hiss might have walked right past Nixon at the front door.

Real’ football

That was Italian Ambassador Giovanni Castellaneta doing his part to attract more interest among Americans in World Cup soccer by hosting a Saturday afternoon “luncheon and game viewing” for invited guests at the embassy.

As it was, the heavily favored Italians managed only a 1-1 tie against Team USA, giving the Americans their first-ever World Cup point in Europe and the opportunity to move into the tournament’s second round.

Singing the blues

The Stephens Group in Washington and singer Bonnie Raitt are teaming up to offer backstage passes in exchange for a contribution to the Freedom to Travel Campaign, which works to lift U.S. travel restrictions to communist Cuba.

“I am looking for Freedom to Travel Campaign fans who would like to make a contribution to the cause in exchange for a pair of really good tickets to the Bonnie Raitt show on July 5th at Wolftrap,” writes Sarah Stephens. “The tickets come with after-show backstage passes. This is Bonnie’s way of helping Freedom to Travel, and it could be your way of doing the same and enjoying a great summer night of music.”

As we wrote Friday, the campaign, founded in 1993, didn’t have much to celebrate last week. Two congressional amendments to end travel restrictions to Cuba went down in defeat, while another was withdrawn for lack of support.

Potty mouth

Somebody is upset enough with Maryland Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to go to such lengths as to hire a large crane to hoist this message way above Interstate 95 near Baltimore: “Flush You, Governor Ehrlich.”

Art imitates life

“And how about this: We will hear a band of congressmen singing: ‘You’ve Got to Change Your Evil Ways.’ Not making this up.”

— White House pool report in advance of this year’s congressional picnic on the South Lawn of the White House, hosted by President Bush.

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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