You can't miss the wine locker. You're not supposed to. It's right at eye level when you walk through the front doors of the Capital Grille, the imperial steak house on Pennsylvania Avenue where many of the top lobbyists in Washington gather to sup and smoke and drink. The restaurant has a row of private stash boxes that are tucked into the wall, and in each of these wine lockers the most loyal customers keep a little stockpile of Bordeaux or Cohibas or whatever other extras might be desired in the course of a meal. Each locker has a nameplate, but a sense of discretion (or comedy) compels most of the owners of these nameplates to opt for goofy pseudonyms: Chitimacha. Artemis. A.A. The Natty G. The nameplate on Jarvis C. Stewart's box says this: jarvis c. stewart. Stewart eats here whenever he can, and he's not much interested in keeping that a secret. "A lot of people used to say, 'Jarvis, why you hanging out at the Capital Grille where all those Republicans and white boys hang out?' My dad always told me, 'Go where you can stand out.'"
Stewart the elder could not have predicted just how far that piece of counsel would take his youngest son. At 37, Jarvis Stewart is one of the most visible and connected young lobbyists in the K Street corridor. He runs his own boutique firm, Stewart Partners, which covers Capitol Hill for such huge corporate clients as Verizon, Toyota, FedEx, and Wal-Mart, and he stands out not just because he is black and a Democrat and has a shaved head, but because he prefers to steer clear of what he considers an outmoded method of black Democratic advancement in Washington. If the old rallying cry was "Fight the power," Stewart wants to sit down with the power for a platter of crab legs and a glass of bourbon on the rocks. "I like Maker's Mark," he says. "It's the only thing I drink. Their old lobbyist was a friend of mine, so I got cases of it."
To make your mark as a lobbyist, you've got to be very good at a couple of things: knowing and being known. Understanding the intricacies of legislative combat—that's the tangible expertise for which a corporate client might pay you, say, $25,000 a month. But the intangibles are just as crucial: A lobbyist should have an infinite network of friends and a Tourettic habit of dropping their names. Stewart excels at this. "It's not that I know everything," he says. "It's that a lot of people know Jarvis." Stewart's tight with Congressman Harold Ford Jr. and the consultant Morris Reid. He's married to Stacey Stewart, president of the Fannie Mae Foundation. He used to be business partners with Amy Mehlman, who's married to lobbyist Bruce Mehlman, who's the brother of Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee. He is part of the group of investors that recently bought the Washington Nationals baseball team. At the Capital Grille Stewart chats with a guy from Toyota, one of his corporate employers, and it turns out that Mr. Toyota is having lunch with Matt Schlapp, the former Bush White House political director, who's now a lobbyist. Around and around it goes.