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On Brag Walls, Politicians Get Framed

Andrew Satter/Roll Call
Past and present politicos adorn the walls of the Monocle.

There are two of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who lives just down Massachusetts Avenue, one in what looks like her first lady days and another that appears to be more recent. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) hangs next to a boutonniered Willard Scott. The menagerie includes House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a stern and snowy-haired former Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). A picture of President Richard Nixon, now yellowing, might have been the first in the collection. 

But the tradition of hanging pictures might — like slow-curing the brisket for the deli’s famous sandwiches — soon become extinct elsewhere. “It’s a dying art form — you don’t see it as much,” Fuchs says.

In today’s hyper-sensitive climate, some politicians are hesitant to hand over their pictures to tack up, he notes, fearing that it might look as if they’re endorsing a private business.

And, he says, modern shoppers like a more streamlined look, with fewer of the tchotchkes common in older stores.

Still, the wall stays.

Friendly Faces

Dozens of the photos lining the walls of the venerable Senate-side restaurant the Monocle are inscribed to the subjects’ “friends at the Monocle.” And it’s clear they didn’t mean the tribute in the way Sen. John McCain casually tosses around the phrase “my friends” in speeches (although the Arizona Republican is on the wall, with darker hair and more of it than he sports now).

These are friends of owner John Valanos and longtime maitre d’ Nick Selimos in the way of people with whom one has broken bread and shared a drink, a ritual repeated many times.

Among the hundreds of images, a photo of Speaker John Boehner, slimmer and with piercing blue eyes, looks like it could be the Ohio Republican’s high-school yearbook mug.  Under his face, Boehner scrawled, “Nick, you’re a great American.”

“He loves that picture,” Selimos says.

Here, bipartisanship rules. A picture of former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) hangs near one of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). “I try to mix them up,” Selimos says. “By party and with some in office and out of office. Many of the ones who’ve left office still come around.”

Some are too tempting souvenirs, says Valanos, who once caught a patron trying to lift a portrait from the wall.

And sometimes, the vagaries of public life demand a little redecorating. Selimos says he took down a picture of a former Member who “got in a little trouble.” Of course, like the discreet man he is, he won’t say whose misdeeds warranted the demotion.

“Then he comes in and asked where his picture was,” he says with a laugh. “What am I supposed to do?”

The beams in the main dining room are inscribed with painted quotations. One of them, not attributed to any historical figure, seems to apply to the Monocle and its treatment of its patrons — famous or not: “I give special consideration to everybody.”

Video: Roll Call visits some of the D.C. area’s best Power Walls

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