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“This is way too clean!” That seems to be the standard first reaction of any Chicagoan who sets foot in the D.C. outpost of the Billy Goat Tavern. The original, subterranean Billy Goat Tavern, on the Windy City’s Michigan Avenue, is a Chicago legend, memorialized (for those old enough to remember) on “Saturday Night Live,” in John Belushi’s “Cheezborger! Cheezborger!” skits. Part of the Billy Goat legend is its grit, its divey, hard-bitten quality, attracting the Mike Royko generation of Chicago journalists who kept a bottle in the drawer back at the office but who also went to the Billy Goat for lunch or dinner. It is a true original, which would seem to imply that it really can’t be replicated anywhere else, or, at least, anywhere outside of Chicago. But there it is, a Billy Goat Tavern on the ground floor of a gleaming new glass office building on New Jersey Avenue Northwest, hard by Georgetown University Law Center. Seems equivalent to transplanting the Eiffel Tower to Cleveland, or Nathan’s Hot Dogs to Salt Lake City, or . . . you get the picture. UPSCALE BILLY GOAT So, why on earth is the Billy Goat doing business in this upscale building in Washington, D.C.? The answer: a strong territorial imperative on the part of the landlord. The shiny structure — billed as the first “green” office building in the city — houses the D.C. offices of the National Association of Realtors. The national headquarters of that association is back in Chicago, and — you guessed it — that’s the building where the original Billy Goat is located. When the association began talking about building a new D.C. home for its government and public affairs and economic research offices, it did not take long to decide that the Billy Goat should be invited to join in as a tenant. If it was good enough for the Chicago building, the Billy Goat was more than good enough for the D.C. branch office. “We really wanted to have them,” says Realtors spokesman Lucien Salvant. The Sianis family, owner of the original, quickly agreed. “They were the first tenants to sign up,” says Salvant. The result has been a success, at least financially. The place is often busy, packed with Georgetown Law students, wayward Chicagoans in search of a cheezborger fix, and nearby Capitol Hill staffers. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) have had staff gatherings there, and Chris Matthews’ “Hardball” and other political yak shows have used the D.C. Billy Goat as a backdrop. And the food seems to be the real thing, more or less. “Glory for the taste buds, agony for the arteries,” said Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw associate Jeffrey Berger as he tucked into a double cheezborger recently. As a Northwestern Law School grad and recent transplant from Mayer, Brown’s Chicago office, Berger is a Billy Goat aficionado. The bun, the fries, and the basic cheezborgerness of the meat all tasted just about right, he said. They are just cooked one way — you don’t get to order medium rare. They come as they come: nothing to write home about or yearn for, to my taste, but genuine. There’s Billy Goat beer on tap, a good brew that’s brought in from Chicago, and a Horny Goat cocktail on the menu as well. On one visit, just to try something different, I ordered an Italian beef, a Chicago version of a cheesesteak, minus the cheese but with juice and hot peppers — too hot for me, so I went back and ordered a cheezborger, the old reliable. And yet, the establishment on New Jersey Avenue really is too clean to be a Billy Goat Tavern. The clientele is more upscale than at the original, too, and overall the place is pretty much devoid of Chicago-style ambiance — though the amiable bartender does a good job of making everyone feel welcomed. And, I am told, the Chicago White Sox artifacts behind the bar, which are commingled with Cubs banners and the like, would be heresy at the original Billy Goat. So if the food is genuine but not spectacular, and the feel of the place is not genuine at all, you might be wondering, “Why go?” Good question. Let’s discuss over a cheezborger and brewski at the D.C. Billy Goat, the only place in the world to have both outside of Chicago. And therein lies the answer: In the too-serious and politically (and environmentally) correct world of Washington, D.C., this may be the best Billy Goat Tavern possible, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
Tony Mauro, who covers the Supreme Court and reviews restaurants for Legal Times , can be contacted at [email protected].

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