Washington is filled with power-dining places, but most would frown on diners grilling the celebrities over chicken cordon bleu. Not so at Nathans in Georgetown, which is developing a name for its insightful Q&A Cafe luncheon series.
Owner Carol Joynt, a longtime journalist who inherited the business when her husband died in 1997, launched the cafes after 9/11 as a way to discuss complex issues and educate patrons.
Diners gather roughly every week for a $30 prix fixe lunch in the saloon’s back room—recently remodeled “to look more like Washington,” with iconic moments captured in photographs by Joynt’s friend David Hume Kennerly.
In a thoughtful style, Joynt interviews newsmakers and takes written questions from the audience for an experience not unlike a live taping of NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross.
Joynt, who hosted her 100th Q&A Cafe in March, has assembled a who’s who to interrogate, from Jack Valenti to Tina Brown to Mayor Tony Williams; in mid-March, she hosted a lunch for Marion Barry’s 70th birthday. While the topic often is politics, featured guests have ranged from Kenneth Feinberg, special master of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, to Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to five actors from the movie A Mighty Wind to Fred Smith, founder and head of FedEx.
“In the most affable way, he made running a multibillion-dollar global corporation seem like a job any of us could do,” Joynt recalls.
The appeal of the lunches is affordable food, access to top newsmakers, and getting back to work almost on time.
“You get some information behind the scenes,” says Philip Huber, a painter who is a regular with half a dozen friends. Audio highlights from the lunches are posted on the restaurant’s Web site, nathansgeorgetown.com, where patrons can also sign up to receive e-mail alerts about speakers.
As for the 60-person crowd at the lunches, such names as Linda Daschle, Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame, and AOL cofounder Jim Kimsey regularly stop by. Kimsey says he’s learned something from every lunch he’s attended.
And paying $30 to have lunch with Tim Russert is about $49,970 less than it regularly costs to hear him speak.