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Hill Eateries Sweating Reforms

Sam and Harry’s General Manager Lesley Gallagher said that her upscale steakhouse, located near Dupont Circle, was not concerned about a drop in sales.

An investor in the Penn Quarter’s Caucus Room, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject for lobbyists, agreed.

“With the exception of Capital Grille and maybe one or two other places,” he said, “I think the reality is ... most [restaurants] are not packed table to table with lobbyists and Members huddling over the latest legislation. A good snowstorm will do a lot more [to cripple business] than a meal ban will.”

For the record, Capital Grille, located just blocks from the Hill on Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, wasn’t talking. An official with Fleishman-Hillard, the restaurant’s public relations firm, said the restaurant had no comment.

Meanwhile, Voltaggio of Charlie Palmer Steak said his restaurant’s biggest concern was the possibility that Members could be banned from fundraising in D.C. With PAC events accounting for 25 percent of Charlie Palmer’s business, “that would hurt us a lot,” Voltaggio said.

Neither party is proposing that at the moment, though ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) suggested such a move.

Some reforms, if they pass, could even give restaurants a boost to certain portions of their bottom lines.

So far, none of the new proposed gift limits applies to campaign contributions — so meals purchased at restaurants as fundraisers would still be exempt from any of the proposed gift rule changes. Rather, such events would be subject to the same limitations as contributions from PACs — up to $5,000 per year to a leadership PAC and up to $10,000 per election cycle to a campaign committee.

With its five private rooms, a rooftop terrace with views of the Capitol and access to other spaces in its prime 101 Constitution Ave. NW location, Charlie Palmer Steak could stand to benefit in a big way if lobbyists began hosting more fundraising events at area restaurants.

Others, however, suggested the market for such events was nearly maxed out.

At The Monocle, located less than a block from the Hart Senate Office Building, owner John Valanos said his restaurant typically hosted about six fundraisers a day when Congress was in session. “I wouldn’t think it’s going to increase,” he said.

As for the potential $20 gift limit, some D.C. restaurateurs said that lobbyists would still have options if they insisted on picking up the tab for a lawmaker or aide.

The Monocle currently offers an extensive selection of small plates ranging from $6 to $12, which include everything from sliced tenderloin to grilled shrimp, that can be ordered both at the bar and in the dining room, Valanos said.

Charlie Palmer Steak, like La Colline, has long had a prix fixe menu in place. Priced at $20.06, it would slightly exceed the proposed $20 limit.

But Voltaggio isn’t worried.

“I’m sure they can splurge six cents out of their own pocket,” he laughed.

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