- Occidental is built by Henry Willard in 1906.
- Occidental hosts the Washington Senator's 1924 World Series Victory Celebration.
- In 1962 John Scali meets with Alexander Fomin at Occidental bringing closure to the Cuban missle crisis.
- Occidental celebrates 100th Anniversary in 2006.
- In 2013 the Hollywood film Captain America films at Occidental.
Track Occidental's extraordinary history. Select a node on the timeline to learn more about what makes Occidental an historic Washington D.C. icon.
1906: Built by Henry Willard
Occidental is built by Henry Willard (of Willard Hotel fame) in 1906. In the beginning, it’s operated by Mr. Gustav Buchholz, a German immigrant who had previously worked as a head waiter at the Willard.
1912: Gustav Buchholz, becomes owner
Buchholz becomes the restaurant’s owner in 1912. Under Buchholz, the Occidental became a success. He lined the walls with the autographed photographs of his most notable patrons – Franklin D. Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, Robert Frost and Calvin Coolidge. The photos of presidents, cabinet members, senators, sports heroes, literary greats and celebrities peered down from the walls of the Occidental. Within just a few years, the Occidental became known as the place “Where Statesmen Dine”.
1920s: World War I Era
For a time at the beginning of World War I, Buchholz remained sympathetic to the country of his birth. He hosts the crew of the German submarine Deutschland and the passenger liner PrinzEitel Friedrich at the Occidental, but after America’s entry in to the war, Buchholz changed his attitude and declared the ties that bound him to America were stronger than any other. He works tirelessly for the war effort. The Occidental was the first restaurant in Washington to address the food shortage. Menus read, “Mr. Hoover says: ‘To win the war we must conserve our food.’ During these war times we ask the cooperation of our patrons in the avoidance of all waste in the food supply.” He donates the profits from the Occidental’s cloakroom to the American Red Cross, and he purchases more than $40,000 worth of war bonds.
By the time the war ended, the Occidental was firmly rooted as one of the city’s premiere eateries.
1924: Washington Senator’s 1924 World Series victory celebration at Occidental
In 1924 when the city’s baseball team, the Washington Senators, beat the New York Giants in a 12-inning final game to win their first (and only) World Series, the victory banquet for the team was held at the Occidental.
1925: Occidental markets itself to women
In 1925 newspaper advertisements targeting women touted the Occidental as a place to dine before or after the theatre.
1925: Ownership transfers to Frederick Buchholz
In 1925, Gus Buchholz died at the age of 50. His son Frederick takes over the restaurant and it continues to thrive under his management for the next 20 years.
1933: The Washington Senators host 1933 Championship dinner at Occidental
A favorite establishment of the The Washington Baseball Club and the Washington Senators, they hold their 1933 Championship dinner at the Occidental.
1952: Price Family are in as new owners
In 1952 Fred Buchholz sold the Occidental to the Price family – a New York family with extensive restaurant experience. The new owners keep most of the original furnishings that make the restaurant the showplace Buchholz created. This includes a monstrous black stove in the lower dining room, the first electric stove in Washington.
1962: John Scali meets Aleksander Fomin from the Soviet Embassy during Cuban Missile Crisis
In the early 1960's, Occidental plays a supporting role in the Cuban Missile Crisis. During the crisis, ABC News correspondent John Scali had lunch at the restaurant with the counselor of the Soviet embassy, Aleksander Fomin. At the lunch, Fomin passed papers to Scali indicating the Soviet Union’s willingness to make a deal regarding the crisis. The papers led to the removal of the missile sites in Cuba and ended the crisis. Today, the table where this historic event took place is marked by a brass plaque which reads, “At this table during the tense moments of the Cuban missile crisis a Russian offer to withdraw missiles from Cuba was passed by the mysterious Russian ‘Mr. X’ to ABC-TV correspondent John Scali. On the basis of this meeting the threat of a possible nuclear war was avoided."
1963: Martin Luther King Jr. dines
While staying at the Willard Hotel, Martin Luther King Jr. dines at Occidental Grill.
1971: Original structure demolished and the structures housing the restaurant and Willard Hotel are rebuilt.
By the end of the Sixties, the Occidental was losing its luster. The once hopping area along Pennsylvania Avenue had been in a slow decline. As A. Robert Smith and Eric Sevareid wrote in their 1965 book Washington: Magnificent Capital, “the old promenade was dying and no one seemed to care.”
In June 1971 the restaurant is forced to close down and the original buildings that housed the Occidental Hotel and the Occidental Restaurant are demolished shortly after.
1986: The Occidental reopens in new structure
In the Eighties development in downtown D.C. begins to boom again. In 1986, the elegance of former decades is restored to Pennsylvania Avenue with the reopening of both the Willard Hotel and the Occidental Restaurant.
The new Occidental, located just yards away from the original, features dining areas on two floors with the extensive photo library in the downstairs grill and lobby. The Oliver Carr Company purchases the famed faces collection and the old photographs are returned to the restaurant. They included pictures of General Douglas MacArthur, John D. Rockefeller, John Philip Sousa and Gus and Fred Buchholz. Downstairs opens as a less formal grille while upstairs featured a more formal dining area with red, plush upholstered booths and 19th-century, French-style seating and oil paintings of past presidents.
2007: Occidental is given a renovation
After a $2 million renovation, the Occidental re-opens in January 2007 and celebrates its 100-year anniversary. A new menu by Executive Chef Rodney Scruggs features fresh takes on classic American cuisine. It’s not just the menu that’s new. To reinstate Gus Buchholz’s tradition of featuring famous faces along the walls, the Occidental unveiled a present-day series of D.C.’s most notable Fresh Faces at a Centennial Celebration in April 2007.
2013: Captain America films at Occidental
2017: Occidental Debuts Contemporary Renovations to Historic Building
Stately elegance and contemporary polish merge in renovations completed at the iconic Washington restaurant.
Patrons will note Occidental’s new entrance directly facing Pennsylvania Avenue, a new expansive and buzzing power bar, a new semi-private dining space, and a refreshed color palette and textiles to modernize the stately interior.
Design firm Parker Torres as well as architectural firm Jonathan Nehmer + Associates worked closely with Carr Hospitality (manager) to execute a vision that would celebrate the history and lineage of the restaurant, while increasing the restaurant’s capacity to seat 140 guests in the dining room and bar. To rejuvenate the bar area, the historic bar was relocated to merge with a back bar, resulting in a distinct lounge that can seat 48 guests.
Occidental Grill & Seafood’s main entrance now welcomes guests at a more intuitive spot directly on Pennsylvania Avenue, leading guests through the restaurant’s charming patio and into a tiered dining room updated to seat 92 guests.
While historic features remain like Occidental’s ‘Scali table,’ named for a 1962 meeting between ABC correspondent John Scali and Soviet spy Alexander Fomin, easing tensions around the Cuban Missile Crisis, contemporary design upgrades bring new energy to the space.
The new design palette features solid, earthy leather and striking patterns, as well as contemporary exposed-bulb light fixtures. The addition of a curved booth perched above the main dining room may become the new power booth, epitomizing the restaurant’s characterization: “Where Statesmen Dine.”
Author and columnist Robert Ruark once wrote that sometimes the only way he knew what was going on politically in Washington, D.C. was by how the photos were arranged in Occidental Restaurant. For over 110 years, Occidental has been a gathering place for the nation's political power brokers, sports figures and celebrities. The photos of these notables have long lined the walls of the restaurant, serving as a barometer for the city and a reminder of the honorable, scandalous and just plain fun adventures that have taken place within its walls.
- Sigurd Anderson
- James Allen
- Buzz Aldrin
- Nelson Wilmarth Aldrich
- George David Aiken
- Llewelyn Sherman Adams
- Dean Gooderham Acheson
- William Henry Abendroth
- Wendell Ford
- Phil Crane
- Naomi Judd
- Jesse Jackson
- George Allen
- Red Auerbach
- Charlene Drew Jarvis
- Walter Johnson
- Joe Biden
- Ben Bradlee
- James Earl Jones
- Sandra Day O'Conner
- George S. Patton
- John F. Kennedy
- Mario Cuomo
- Gloria Estefan
- Barbara Bush
- Colin Powell
- Bob Feller
- Richard Lugar
- Ann Richards
- Winston Churchill
- Franklin D. Roosevelt
- Ari Fleischer
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Tom Clancy
- Joe Gibbs
- General Douglas MacArthur
- Jackie Robinson
- Katie Couric
- John Glenn
- John D. Rockefeller
- John McCain
- Chuck Hagel
- John Philip Sousa
- Fiorello Henry La Guardia
- Mike Connors
- Arlan Specter
- Steven Spielberg
- Ron Howard
- John Warner
- Doug Wilder