WASHINGTON — Step into the Trump International Hotel and you’re immediately transported to the new Washington where Donald Trump is in charge.
It’s complete immersion: You can sit at the Trump hotel bar, watch Trump on TV, observe Trump White House staffers, while sipping Trump wine. If you hit the right time like this reporter, you might even catch a glimpse of Trump himself in the flesh — he made a brief stop Wednesday night and wolfed down a steak.
“This is my kind of food,” the incoming president said before a nice cut — which he famously likes cooked well done — was placed before him.
He stopped by again Thursday afternoon. “This is a gorgeous room. A total genius must have built this place. Under budget and ahead of schedule,” Trump told assembled guests who included several of his Cabinet nominees.
“I want to thank everybody for being here, sit down, just have a good time,” he added.
This massive 263-room luxury hotel, in the rehabilitated Old Post Office Pavilion smack dab on Trump’s Pennsylvania Avenue inaugural parade route, has become the new gathering place for the Republicans in Washington who won the election. It’s been a White House-in-waiting of sorts and all indications suggest that it will continue to be a favorite spot for the new ruling class.
“I encourage you to go there,” said incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer, using his first televised press briefing on Thursday to plug the president’s showcase property, which opened in October. “It’s a beautiful place, it’s somewhere that he’s very proud of.”
The Trump foot soldiers, the formal advisers, the informal advisers, the people who wish they were advisers all gather here for breakfasts, lunches, and cocktails to pay tribute — and literally pay tribute with significant bar tabs — to the man who takes over the government Friday.
For Trump supporters visiting town, it’s an unofficial monument on the list of places to visit. And, putting the cost of drinks aside, a fairly accessible one. You have to schedule a tour of the White House — but on most days you can just walk right into the hotel and snap selfies.
In many ways the hotel encapsulates much about Trump. He clearly loves the glamour of the place and touted it frequently during the campaign, when a blue sign hung in front of the centrally located hotel that read “Coming 2016 . . . Trump.”
The place also embodies the many potential conflicts of interest that his sprawling business empire poses: Never before has an incoming president owned such a complicated business portfolio, including a grand hotel just blocks from the White House.
A series of news stories has already cropped up: The hotel marketed itself just after the election to foreign diplomats who want to get in with Trump and at least one embassy moved a holiday party to the hotel, ostensibly for the same reason. Trump said recently that profits from foreign government officials staying at the hotel will be donated to the Treasury.
But that hasn’t stopped domestic groups from cozying up to the Trump Organization. In December the Republican National Committee held its Christmas party at Trump’s hotel, in the Presidential Ballroom. That drew the former RNC chairman Reince Priebus, who will now be Trump’s White House chief of staff. As party favors, guests got to keep red cups emblazoned with Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again!”
The conservative Heritage Foundation also held an event at the hotel, featuring incoming Vice President Mike Pence as a draw.
Democrats in Congress are raising some legal questions about whether Trump’s elevation to the presidency will violate the terms of the building’s lease. The structure is owned by the federal government, and the lease includes a provision banning elected officials from being a party to it.
The General Services Administration, the federal bureaucracy that oversees the building (and an agency that Trump will soon be in charge of) hasn’t ruled on whether the lease will be broken when Trump becomes president.
Trump’s lawyers have said he’s going to turn over the operations of his company to his two sons. They said the Trump hotels and other assets would be put in a trust, but it’s unclear if that will solve the problem.
The hotel, at 1100 Pennsylvania Ave., includes a cavernous lobby, which is a rarity for Washington. A soaring roof and iron braces makes the interior feel like some mash-up between the Eiffel Tower and the Notre Dame cathedral.
The bar seating includes tall blue chairs with deep cushions. Four flat screen TVs show ESPN, CNN, Bloomberg News, and Fox News. There’s no sign of the left-leaning MSNBC.
On the menu some of the wines are so expensive that they’re offered by the spoonful. Staff wheel cheese carts from table to table. Champagne carts also patrol the dining room.
Amid all the splendor, the biggest attraction for many is people watching.
On any given night you might see Hope Hicks, the young spokeswoman for the Trump campaign who recently relaxed in the lobby with her parents after apartment hunting. Or Steve Mnuchin, the Goldman Sachs banker turned Hollywood investor who is Trump’s pick for Treasury secretary. A Daily Mail reporter recently spotted him at the hotel ordering a bottle of champagne to be sabered.
If you managed to get into the hotel on Wednesday night amid tight security, you would have rubbed elbows briefly with Trump, who ducked in after a dinner in Washington.
Applause broke out in the lobby when Trump arrived. He was accompanied by an entourage that marched through to the BLT Prime restaurant.
Trump seemed to enjoy mingling with guests briefly and praising the chef, David Burke.
“I like this. This is the greatest chef,” he said.
Then he walked up to the second level of the restaurant, and ate a pre-ordered steak. Other guests gawked, his security detail fretted, and servers tried to navigate the sea of onlookers.
One caste of Washington insiders isn’t spending much time there these days: Reporters. The hotel barred a Politico journalist from entering on Wednesday and told the publication that no media were allowed in.
Heavily partisan, and tightly controlled, the new hotel — like Trump himself — is an unusual addition to Washington’s traditions. Even its watering holes.
“Whether in private clubs or the Palm and the Sidecar, D.C. has always run on bipartisan mingling of pols and journalists,” said Zachary Hastings Hooper, a Washington PR consultant and man-about-town. “The Trump Hotel seems to be the antithesis of that.”