Situated directly across Lafayette Park from the White House in the historic Hay-Adams Hotel, Off the Record's location alone guarantees its position as one of Washington's most important cocktail bars. There's a dignified air, intensified by the pressed tin ceilings, the glass cabinet holding bottles behind the oval bar, and the blood red walls, although the mood is lightened somewhat by the dozens of political caricatures on display, donated by editorial cartoonist and author Art Wood, who sketched for the Washington Star, Time and Newsweek. The first time I walked down the stairs and into the bar, I felt like I had invaded some private, moneyed club, and before I got to the bar, someone was going to come over and ask me to leave. Thankfully, they didn't.
The crowd, seated at dark wooden tables or nestled on banquettes in alcoves, includes White House staffers, journalists and local and international politicians (although their names, longtime bartender John Boswell insists, should remain off the record). If you can, grab a stool at the bar and chat with Boswell. You'll also want to be near the smart-looking silver dishes that hold three different kinds of cocktail nuts, which are cheerfully refilled. It's nice to get something free, as martinis - always well made - will set you back about $10, and single malt scotch, cognac or a glass of fine red wine are more expensive. No one ever said power comes cheap.
-- Fritz Hahn (November 2002)