The bar at the new Trump International Hotel in Washington, Benjamin’s Bar and Lounge, is a sprawling space with high ceilings, few customers, and too-sweet cocktails that go for $20 to $100, the most expensive being the bar’s namesake, a concoction of rye, potato, and winter-wheat vodka, shaken and served with raw oysters and caviar. There is also, inexplicably, a section of the menu called BY THE CRYSTAL SPOON that offers literal spoonfuls of wine for anywhere from $15 to $140. The venue is decorated in blue and white, with plush stools made of velvet and a mirrored wall of empty, crystal barware.
On Tuesday evening around 7:30 p.m., Lara Trump, wife of Eric, mingled in the lobby before heading upstairs to dinner at BLT Steak. An older gentleman, sporting a small “TRUMP” pin, sat waiting for his female companion amid the thumping music, reading a biography of William F. Buckley, the late founder of the National Review, the magazine that memorably ran a cover, in January 2016, that declared it was “Against Trump.”
The bartender asked if he could have a look, and he obliged.
There were not, the bartender remarked, a lot of men like Buckley left these days.
The gentleman laughed, a sadness detectable in his voice. He agreed, he said, and what a shame.
With 13 days left until Election Day, it has become overwhelmingly clear that, barring some sort of catastrophe or the return of Christ, 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, the location of his expansive but unimpressive new hotel, is as close as Donald Trump will get to the White House.
After a shockingly successful showing in the Republican primary, he failed to “pivot,” or tailor his message for the general electorate, whose voters have found his race-baiting and lack of general policy knowledge off-putting. Worse still, he has suffered weeks of accusations from a dozen women who claim he sexually assaulted or otherwise treated them improperly in a sexual context. As a result, he trials the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, by more than 5 percentage points nationally. His campaign drags on as he refuses to say he’ll concede if (when) he loses, but the fight seems to be over. He’s even stopped donating money to his own campaign.
On Wednesday morning, he will take a break from his campaign-trail duties, which at this point consist of rallies designed to flatter his ego and pander to people who already support him, to appear here for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Sixteen months and 10 days and too many seconds after he announced his candidacy (but who’s counting?), he is back to square one. He is again a celebrity developer, his dreams of higher achievement thwarted by his own hubris, just like the dead bird that had been stuck in (and was finally removed) from the hotel’s mail chute.
In Doral, Florida, on Tuesday afternoon, Trump got started early, promoting his Miami hotel for the crowd. “We could have renovated the inexpensive way with paint, but instead, we ripped it down to the steel,” he said. But his project in Washington, he promised, was even better. “I think it’s one of the great hotels—could be one of the great hotels in the world.”
A few seats away from the Buckley-ite at the bar Tuesday night, another gentleman sat with his younger, heavily made-up date, who scrolled through her glitter-encased iPhone looking at her own selfies while he yammered on, ordering Champagne, tasting it, and then asking for a different one.
The chairs, she remarked, were “so slutty.”
The man introduced her to the bartender with a smirk. “This is my cousin,” he said, remarking that he’d been in the previous night with a different cousin. “I have a lot of cousins.”
The man, the woman and the bartender all laughed. “They don’t know the sort of clientele they’re gonna get here,” the man said.
When the bartender came around again, he asked, “Do you want another Trump sparkling wine?”