Food

A Fried Chicken Bar Inspired by J. Edgar Hoover’s Rumored Lover Is Opening in Downtown DC

Tolson Bird Bar at the Mayflower Hotel is an homage to the former FBI Director's "alter ego"

Fried chicken meal at Tolson. Photograph by Evy Mages

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover famously ate lunch at the Mayflower Hotel every day for over 20 years, and so the hotel’s restaurant is appropriately called Edgar Bar & Kitchen. Lesser known is who usually dined with him: Clyde Tolson, his Assistant Director at the FBI and close companion. On Feb. 25, Tolson is getting his own homage at the hotel with a bar serving draft drinks and fried chicken named after him.

Hoover and Tolson were close—very close. Hoover picked up Tolson every morning from work, vacationed with him, and left him most of his estate. While Hoover was a “very formal, very deep-penetrating guy,” Tolson was the “fun, eclectic” one, says hotel general manager Kori Johnson. “He referred to him as his ‘alter ego.'” As such, Tolson Bird Bar will be the “alter ego” to Edgar Bar & Kitchen. While the latter is dark and moody, Tolson aims to be brighter, more casual, and fun.

Tolson
Korean-style fried chicken sandwich with gochujang glaze. Photograph by Evy Mages

Because the hotel will now have two menus coming out of the same kitchen, the team wanted to focus on a single item. Enter fried chicken. Chef Lindsey VandenToorn will be serving snacks like crispy chicken skins with hot honey as well as two different fried chicken sandwiches (Southern and Korean style). Among the bigger splurges on the menu: a $195 bucket of fried chicken with caviar and Champagne. Diners can choose sauces such as mumbo, “white ‘bama bbq,” or truffle gravy.

Crispy chicken skins with hot honey. Photograph by Evy Mages.
Crispy chicken skins with hot honey. Photograph by Evy Mages

While not much is known about Tolson’s eating and drinking preferences, the menu does nod to Hoover’s tastes. Though he rarely drank in public, Hoover had an affinity for brown spirits. On the menu, that translates to a bourbon drink called “Alter Ego” with Amaro Montenegro, cinnamon, and three types of bitters (Angostura, orange, and chocolate). The drink is served with a chocolate and an ice cube stamped with the bar’s logo.

The “Alter Ego” cocktail is served with a chocolate and an ice cube stamped with the bar’s logo. Photograph by Evy Mages

The FBI Director ordered the same meal every day: grapefruit, cottage cheese, iceberg lettuce, and poached chicken. (He brought his own salad dressing.) Tolson Bird Bar takes the most palatable part of that lunch—the grapefruit—and turns it into an Aperol cocktail with grapefruit juice and grapefruit- and rose-flavored vodka. Thankfully, though, not all of Hoover’s favorite foods are a source of inspiration. “I’m not sure how a cottage cheese-washed spirit would do,” says Marc Rios, creative director of mixology and spirits.

“551K” cocktail with Tanqueray gin, kiwi, cucumber, and lime. Photograph by Evy Mages

Cocktail names also refer to the men’s history. A gin, kiwi, and cucumber concoction is dubbed “551K”—the amount of Hoover’s estate left to Tolson. All the cocktails as well as local beers and predominantly new-world wines will be served on tap.

Tolson will take over an underutilized room in Edgar Bar & Kitchen and have its own street entrance. Beyond his role in the FBI, Tolson was an inventor. His patents for a bottle cap that helped keep drinks effervescent as well as automatic blinds will be incorporated into the decor. The bar will also have a big sign that reads “very truly yours.”

“When Tolson and Hoover used to write to each other when they first started working together, he would always sign ‘respectfully Clyde A. Tolson.’ And you see the progression in the letters later going to ‘very truly yours,'” Johnson says. “There could have been—most likely—something there.”

Tolson Bird Bar. 1123 Connecticut Ave., NW. 202-347-2233.

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Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.

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