|Constantine George Valanos
Constantine Valanos, Capitol
Hill restaurateur, dies at 93
By Emily Langer, Published: April 5, The Washington Post
Constantine Valanos, the founder and longtime proprietor of the Monocle
Restaurant, a Capitol Hill eatery that has drawn senators, Supreme Court
justices and future presidents for more than 50 years, died April 2 at a
hospital in Boca Raton, Fla., where he had a winter home. He was 93.
He had complications from a broken hip, said his son John Valanos, who
has run the restaurant since his father’s retirement in the mid-1980s.
“Connie” Valanos and his late wife, Helen, opened the Monocle in 1960 and
quickly turned the establishment into one of the most popular watering holes
on the Hill. Former vice president Walter Mondale, a Monocle regular, once
called the restaurant a place “where laws are debated, where policies are set,
where the course of world history is changed.”
The son of Greek immigrants, Mr. Valanos grew up in Washington and
watched his parents run a candy shop and catering outfit in the decades
before World War II. He noticed the dearth of fine dining on the Hill and
opened the Monocle a block from the Senate office buildings, at 107 D St.
The restaurant’s interior, originally with checkered tablecloths and
chandeliers bought from an old casino, was dignified without being too
tightly buttoned-up. The menu, with specialties including crab cakes and
filet mignon, offered fare that Mr. Valanos considered befitting of an old-
time politician — the sort who might sport a monocle.
“If any newly elected member of Congress wants to avoid the dismal
prospect of lunching at his desk and would enjoy a jog or brisk walk of a
few blocks,” Washington Post restaurant reviewer Donald Dresden wrote in
1969, “he can be handsomely fed at the Monocle, a restaurant . . . that
combines the rarity of first-rate food and swift service.”
Regular clients over the years included future presidents John F. Kennedy,
who favored the bay window seat and the roast beef sandwich on a poppy-
seed roll, and Richard M. Nixon, who liked the chopped steak stuffed with
Roquefort cheese. The two men — Nixon with his five o’clock shadow and
Kennedy with his toothy grin — are depicted in a folksy mural in the dining
Mr. Valanos prided himself on running an operation where politicians from
both parties were welcome and where local regulars counted more than out-
Then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson once stopped in, only to discover
that all the tables were occupied. At his request, Mr. Valanos asked over the
loudspeaker whether any diners would be willing to relinquish their table for
the vice president. No one offered, and Johnson never came back.
Democrats tended to spend more money per person than Republicans, John
Valanos once told a reporter from the New Zealand Herald who had come
to the Monocle to understand the ways of American politics. Stricter
lobbying regulations and political vetting processes have dampened some of
the big spending of the early years.
One unspoken rule at the Monocle, whose building is today owned by the
federal government, has remained constant. Most patrons, even the very
important ones, know better than to ask for their photographs to be
displayed on the wall with other political memorabilia. The Valanos family
extends that invitation.
Constantine George Valanos, who sometimes went by Conrad, was born
Oct. 6, 1918, in Albany, N.Y. He grew up in Washington and graduated in
1936 from the old Central High School.
After Navy service during World War II, he studied accounting at George
Washington University. As an accountant, he represented local restaurant
owners and suggested to them that they purchase and renovate a Capitol
Hill restaurant called Station View Spaghetti House.
“What I saw,” he told The Post in 1980, “was an opportunity for a good,
smart tablecloth operation on Capitol Hill.” When his clients turned him
down, he said to himself, “Okay, Valanos, if you’re so . . . sure the idea’s
good, do it yourself.”
His first wife, Helen Anton Valanos, died in 2005 after 53 years of marriage.
Survivors include his wife of six years, Judith Sirkin Valanos of Boca Raton;
two sons from his first marriage, John Valanos and George Valanos, both of
Washington; two sisters; and three grandchildren.