Billy Simpson's House of Seafood and Steaks, which operated between 1956 and 1978, provided Washington's African American community with an upscale venue for dining and socializing in the period between segregation and Home Rule. As soon as it opened, the restaurant became a popular meeting place for black intellectuals, professionals, politicians, and entertainers, as well as for African diplomats.
African American Congressmen, journalists, and federal officials met regularly at a "Round Table" at the restaurant led by owner William W. "Billy" Simpson. In this forum they discussed and strategized the political and Civil Rights events and activities of the day. Congressmen Charles C. Diggs and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., were personal friends of Simpson's, and regulars at the restaurant. Among other causes, Simpson actively supported the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the 1968 Poor People's Campaign (Jesse Jackson used the restaurant as his headquarters during the Campaign), and the anti-war movement.
Unlike most other black-owned establishment, Simpson's did not feature entertainment. However, entertainers such as Redd Foxx, Dick Gregory, Sidney Poitier, and Ella Fitzgerald often stopped by the restaurant when they were performing in DC.
Billy Simpson was born in Washington in 1914. His first business venture, about 1948, was the Robin Hood Deli, at 652 Newton Street, NW. Quickly the place gained popularity -- and a reputation as an afterhours club known as the "652." (The "652" sandwich special was later an item on the menu at Billy Simpson's House of Seafood and Steaks.) Several years later the ambitious Simpson was ready to move up, and in fall 1956 he purchased Kushner's Seafood Grill at 3815 Georgia and reopened it as Billy's Simpson's House of Seafood and Steaks. He bought the building itself from the Kushner family in 1973.
After Simpson's 1975 death, Washington Post columnist William Raspberry wrote, "hardly anything of significance to Washington – and most particularly to black Washington – came to fruition without Billy Simpson's significant – albeit non-public – role in it." Simpson's widow Edith Simpson closed the business in 1978.
Billy Simpson's House of Seafood and Steaks was added to the DC Inventory of Historic Sites in 2008 and the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.