House Restaurant

As far back as 1834, Congress made arrangements for food and drink in the Capitol. The relatively undeveloped neighborhood and Congress’s regimented work schedule made the availability of food on site a necessity. In a room referred to as the “refectory,” local restaurateurs served menus of popular favorites such as oysters, beefsteak, and partridge, along with coffee, tea, beer, and spirits.

In the Restaurant of the House of Representatives, Washington/tiles/non-collection/2/2004_085_003-2.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
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This print shows the noisy, convivial atmosphere of the House Restaurant in the late 19th century.

The House Restaurant Today

Eventually, food service became more formal when it moved to rooms H-117-120, which included two dining rooms, a bar, and dumbwaiters to ferry food from the basement-level kitchen. Today, the House Restaurant continues to operate out of the same rooms used since 1858, when Speaker James Orr directed that the House use them to offer “wholesome refreshments,” and includes a space open to the public, and the Members’ Dining Room, which is reserved for Representatives and their guests.

The two largest dining rooms are named for Ernest S. Petinaud and Charles E. Bennett. The public room of the House Restaurant commemorates Ernest Petinaud, who immigrated to the United States from Jamaica in the 1920s and began his career in the restaurant as a busboy. He retired as head waiter in 1973, and the space on which he left his mark was named for him. The Members’ Dining Room honors Representative Charles E. Bennett, who worked in the Capitol almost as long, serving 44 years, outlasting any other Floridian Representative in the House. The chandeliers he donated to the House of Representatives in 1991 decorate the room that bears his name.

Lunch on Your Boss

Bill Goodwin began his service as a Page with the U.S. House of Representatives in 1953. In this interview he recounts his memories of arriving at the Capitol and dining with Representative George Dondero in the Members’ Dining Room.

Bill Goodwin, Page, U.S. House of Representatives Interview recorded November 2, 2009 Transcript (PDF)

Next Section: Capitol Dining in the 19th Century