The first restaurant in the Capitol, known as the “Hole in the Wall,” was provided for the exclusive use of the members of Congress. In this tiny, circular room, measuring only 10 feet in diameter, Senators Webster, Clay, and Calhoun, as well as others, continued their debates over “ham and bread and...simple eatables.” Oysters—raw, fried, steamed, or baked—were a speciality. By the late 1850s, when the current Senate and House wings were occupied, senators could dine at several restaurants in the Capitol, in various committee rooms, “where they kept such refreshments as they desired,” and at counters provided for them near the Senate Chamber. In the 1860s, Downing’s Restaurant, located on the first floor and occupying two rooms, served the members, their guests, and visitors. Managed by George T. Downing, the restaurant prepared dishes “in a style which would not shame Delmonico himself.” This engraving appeared during the Andrew Johnson impeachment trial, to add a human-interest story to the proceedings. The publication noted that “the grave and reverend Senators are not so much engrossed with their Impeachment responsibilities as to neglect the material comforts of the inner man.”
1. Papers of Isaac Bassett, Office of the Curator, U.S. Senate, 20 F 158.
3. John B. Ellis, The Sights and Secrets of the National Capital (Chicago: Jones, Junkin, 1869), 112.
4. “The Refectory of the Senate, Washington, D.C.—Senators and Their Friends at Luncheon,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 16 May 1868, 139.