Lingering on the Palate: Harvey’s Restaurant (1858 - 1991)

Also known as the “Restaurant of the Presidents,” Harvey's is notable for both its longevity and its place in restaurant history.

Harvey's Oyster House is one of the most famous Washington restaurants of all time. Founded as Harvey’s Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Oyster Saloon by brothers George Washington Harvey (1840-1909) and Thomas Harvey (1830-1872), the restaurant opened in 1858 at 11th and C streets NW.

Shortly after opening, the Civil War started. Thus, early clientele included Union soldiers who were in Washington to either guard the nation’s capital or were passing through on their way to the battlefields further south. Harvey’s offered these soliders a cheap, satisfying meal - which was usually the famous steamed oysters that the restaurant was known for. Also known as the “Restaurant of the Presidents,” diners included President Abraham Lincoln, President Ulysses S. Grant, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. But in those early days, in 1863, it was Lincoln who gave the young restaurant its “prestige.” Decades later, Harvey’s was a favorite of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and was hugely popular in the late 1940s and early ‘50s. 

The restaurant moved several times before settling at the southeast corner of 11th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. This would be its location for sixty years, before it was once more pushed out in 1931 by the construction of the Federal Triangle. It then moved to 1107 Connecticut Avenue NW, next to the Mayflower Hotel. In 1970, it moved again, due to the ongoing Metro construction.

Despite these moves, it continued to serve its popular dishes to Washingtonians and famous Americans. In a menu from 1971, dishes and courses included Fresh Shrimp Cocktail on Ice for $1.95, Cape Cod Oyster Stew for $2.75, and Harvey’s Famous Crab Cake Maryland for $3.95. The “Freshly Arrived Luncheon SeaCatch” included New England Clam Chowder, Louisiana Crab Gumbo, Steamed Finnan Haddie, with drawn butter, and Boneless Shad and Roe, with Lemon Butter.

Harvey’s remained in business at its final location at 18th and K streets NW for 21 years, before it went bankrupt during the recession of the 1990s. A branch of Harvey’s opened in Rockville, Maryland, in the 1980s, but has since closed.

This is a stop on the Lingering on the Palate: the Ghosts of the DC Food Scene Tour



Pennsylvania Avenue and 11th Street NW, Southeast Corner