Meet the Guy Who’s Been Handling VIPs at the Monocle for 50 Years

Nick Selimos started his job at the Capitol Hill power spot during the Watergate hearings.

The Monocle’s Nick Selimos handles partisan divides with finesse. Photography by Evy Mages .
When Nick Selimos started as maître d’ of Capitol Hill’s the Monocle, he wore a tuxedo, the three-martini lunch was very much in vogue, and the dining room was filled with the cigarette smoke of political power players. Fifty years later, all of that is gone—except Selimos. The 73-year-old is one of the longest-standing fixtures of DC’s restaurant scene.

Selimos started his job at the yellow-painted steak-and-seafood restaurant (107 D St., NE) in the midst of the Water­gate hearings. “Every time they had a break, they would come down,” he says, referring to key players including judge John Sirica and minority counsel Fred Thompson. In the decades since, the Monocle—mere steps from congressional office buildings—has acted as a backroom to history, with newsmaking regulars including Tom Daschle, John Boehner, and William Rehnquist.

“People were political, but at five o’clock they forgot their politics. Democrats or Republicans, staff, members, it didn’t matter—they got together, they drank together, they ate together. It was a totally different environment,” Selimos says of his earlier years. “Things started changing in the ’80s, I think. I don’t know why. It’s not like they’re not friendly with each other, but you don’t see that.”

As gatekeeper, Selimos sometimes found himself in the middle of politics. He recalls two senators who always wanted the same table. But if he held it for one and that person didn’t show up, the other felt slighted. “So finally I said, ‘Listen, guys, I cannot put a reserve at the table. First come, first served,’ ” Selimos says. “ ‘You work it out amongst you.’ ”

Maître d’s have largely been replaced by the likes of OpenTable and Resy, but Selimos understands the nuances of a seating chart the way an automated algorithm can’t: “Let’s say you’ve got a few Democrat senators sitting here discussing whatever. I’m not going to put a Republican right next to them.”

As for why Selimos has stayed half a century? “I have felt not as an employee but as a family member,” he says. He was hired by fellow Greek Americans Constantine “Connie” and Helen Valanos, who opened the restaurant in 1960, and he now works for their son, John Valanos. The family saw him through lung cancer nearly 14 years ago. When he was stuck at home again during the pandemic, Selimos says he was going out of his mind: “I didn’t know what to do with myself. I don’t have to work anymore, but what am I going to do if I stay home? I’ve got to be around people.”

This article appears in the May 2024 issue of Washingtonian.

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.