News & Politics

Ashok Bajaj on His First Time Hosting a President at His Restaurant

“I think I’m good at working the room, but he’s brilliant.”

Bajaj wondered, “Is it like in London if you’re going to see the queen, don’t touch the queen?” Photograph courtesy of Ashok Bajaj.

“It was 1993, a Saturday. We were really busy at the Bombay Club. I got a call from the White House saying, ‘We need a table for President Clinton.’ I was new to the country, and I’d never had a President visit. We didn’t have the internet back then to see what we should do.

“I had a friend at the Washington Post, Ken Ringle, a writer for the Style section. I said if anybody would know, he would know the proper etiquette. Is it like in London if you’re going to see the queen, don’t touch the queen? Should I give the bill? Should I send extra food? Shall I get a red carpet? How do I get a carpet? He was laughing. He said just be yourself.

“Two hours prior to the visit, there were a lot of Secret Service. They appointed people at the back door, by the kitchen, by the bathrooms. The Clintons came with [associate] attorney general Webster Hubbel and his wife, Suzanna. They were friends from Arkansas.

“He wanted a chicken dish, and we ended up giving him all the chicken dishes on the menu. He was amused by that. Mrs. Clinton, she likes spicy food. I remember he had a Kingfisher beer, and she had the mango Bellini. We made him the flambé cobra coffee at the table. It was such a festive evening. If you ever met President Clinton, he always makes you feel very comfortable.

“During the meal, he was going to the rest­room, and he ended up talking to every table in the dining room. The New York Times offices were right next to us, and a lot of reporters were there. As he was leaving, he ended up sitting with them, talking with them for a while. The Secret Service did not like that. Then he came outside, and he didn’t get into his limousine. He met somebody he knew and put his arm around the person and just walked back to the White House.

“I think I’m good at working the room, but he’s brilliant.”

This article appears in the September 2021 issue of Washingtonian.

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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.