Hosting a President for Dinner at Arlington's Liberty Tavern

Hosting a President for Dinner at Arlington's Liberty Tavern

General manager looks back on the day President Obama paid his restaurant a visit.

Eight years of the Obama administration come to a close this week. During their tenure in town, the president and his family were known to venture across the river for dinner on occasion, enjoying meals in Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, and more. On one autumn day in 2011, President Obama found his way to Liberty Tavern for a bite to eat. Here’s a look back on the occasion from the vantage point of general manager Sean Lowder.

“We got a call about three days in advance and (they) said, ‘Hey, we have a high-ranking government official who wants to come in and dine in your restaurant.’ … I figured we had something big on our hands when they said we’d have to shut down for the other guests,” Lowder said.

Obama and his team were visiting Liberty Tavern to make good on a campaign event where voters contributed at least $5 apiece to the campaign and were chosen at random to dine with the president, Lowder said.

“For about three days, we had Secret Service in and out of the restaurant, on the roof, checking out our HVAC system, taking a look at our refrigerators,” he said. “… The day came, (and Obama) came in and had a nice dinner with five average Americans, people from all over the country.”

Though the visit was brief — about an hour, Lowder said — the president dined on a hearty meal of harpoon-caught swordfish cooked Portuguese-style with white beans, sweet peppers, lamb sausage, and escarole, all in a little-neck clam sauce.

The president “completely finished the plate, which we were very happy with,” Lowder said. “… He said he thoroughly enjoyed it, which made the chef very happy.”

Liberty Tavern has preserved the chair the president used and now assigns it out randomly to patrons coming in for a meal. Depending on their guests’ political persuasion, sometimes they are honored by the assignment; sometimes they request a different seat, Lowder said.

As far as personal interaction with the president that day in 2011, Lowder said it was brief, and only tableside.

“I did get to pour some water for him … that was plenty for me,” he said.

And does Lowder think it’s likely that Obama’s successor, President-Elect Donald Trump, will come for a visit?

“I’m not a betting man, so I don’t play the odds too much — we’re here to serve anybody that comes in,” he said.