One restaurant seats Betsy DeVos where no one can see her. At another top destination, Stephen Miller was confronted and never came back. And one bar’s staff sat in wonder at Herman Cain’s affection for Crown Royal.
Like seemingly everything else in D.C., Washington’s dining scene is also dealing with a government viciously split like never before, including several of the most controversial figures from the Trump White House.
How does an industry built on service, access, and graciousness handle it?
In a piece out Monday in The Washingtonian, “Inside the Pampered and Personalized World of DC’s VIP Diner,” managers, owners, and waiters provided a look behind the maitre’d podiums at some of Washington’s most famous restaurants and their high-profile clientele.
Those dishing include former staffers at the Trump International Hotel, the president’s five-star bolthole in walking distance from the White House.
One noteworthy revelation: The president’s reported fondness for putting ketchup on his steak might possibly be fake news. Here, the juiciest nuggets from the report. Bon appetit:
Herman Cain REALLY Likes Crown Royal
Washington bartender Zac Hoffman makes it a point to remember drink details of his high-profile clients, especially those with bizarre orders, he told The Washingtonian.
While working Kith and Kin in the Wharf’s InterContinental hotel, he said, he served former presidential/withdrawn Federal Reserve governor candidate Herman Cain several times during over the course of his stay. He always ordered the same thing: rounds and rounds of Crown Royal doubles.
“It got to be impressive. We actually started to have a betting pool of how much he could drink,” Hoffman told the magazine, though Cain’s assistant declined to comment about the Canadian whisky drink choice. “He wasn’t belligerent. He wasn’t an asshole. He wasn’t making a fool of himself. He just really likes Crown Royal, and he handles it like a champion.”
Polarizing Trump Official? Let’s Seat You in the Back
According to one D.C. restaurateur, who declined to be identified, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and White House senior adviser Stephen Miller have been seated in private back corner, away from the sidewalk-facing windows—where the rest of the world could see them patronizing their business.
The back corner is ideal, the restaurateur said, because Secret Service agents prefer having multiple exit points and the business can avoid headline-grabbing confrontations like those experienced by press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at Virginia’s Red Hen and former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen at MXDC, a Mexican restaurant.
“The only thing I wish is that nobody walks by my window and realizes she’s dining with us,” the restaurateur told The Washingtonian of DeVos, who is usually accommodating, unlike Miller, who demands to sit in the main dining room.
“So we have no choice—we do it,” he said of the hard-line immigration White House senior adviser who first visited the restaurant with his parents.
Stephen Miller Got Schooled on Immigration—by a Restaurant Owner
Restaurant owners in D.C. have no choice but to not base their service on political party. But extreme measures from the Trump White House over the past two years have led to some losing business based on the dealings with its officials.
One restaurateur told The Washingtonian that he felt obligated as an employer of immigrants to speak the truth last summer to Stephen Miller, the architect of the migrant crisis at the Mexican border, about the policies that have been widely condemned.
“I told him that I was worried that his policy, the speech that he was writing for the president, would hurt small businesses, especially my restaurant, in the future,” the owner said. “My restaurant wouldn’t be open if we didn’t have immigrants.”
Although Miller is said to have listened politely to his pitch to change the administration's hard-line policy, the senior Trump adviser has never returned to the restaurant.
“He smiled and said, ‘You are entitled to your opinions,’” Miller reportedly said.
The President Always Starts With Shrimp Cocktail—and a Standing O
The one safe haven for Trumpkins, according to all restaurant owners and staffers The Washingtonian interviewed, is the president’s hotel.
Its steakhouse is so Trump-friendly, the president himself has shown up on several occasions—and receives a standing ovation from the crowd every time.
Badger Russell, a former server who worked at the steakhouse for nearly a year, through February 2018, told The Washingtonian that after the applause, Trump is always seated at the same round booth next to the mezzanine stairwell. The table, which is close to the service entrance for the Secret Service, is off-limits when Trump is not dinning, except for members of his inner circle like his daughter Ivanka and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Served by managers personally, Trump ordered the same thing for every meal: a shrimp cocktail to start, followed by a well-done boneless New York strip with fries. Despite previous reports, Russell said, Trump does not douse his steak with ketchup.
After dinner, the president has usually handed out $5 or $10 bills to every employee on his way out, though sometimes he does not always have smaller bills on hand. But one night, he ran into a problem.
“I do recall one time he pulled out his money clip and he didn’t have any small bills, and he was hurting when he gave out a $50 bill,” Russell said. “Everybody was looking, so he still gave it out.”
Kellyanne… Is Difficult
One other patron Russell mentioned dealing with: Kellyanne Conway, who he said preferred a more private table. Fair enough.
However, he called the president’s senior adviser “one of the more finicky customers” at the Trump joint.
“She was more demanding than any of the others. She was the one who wanted to be treated like she was special.”
Ivanka Trump Was the Victim of Bathroom Paparazzi
During a date-night at Masserie at the start of the Trump administration, Ivanka Trump excused herself from her dinner with Jared Kushner to use the bathroom. Immediately, The Washingtonian reports, several other women got up to follow her—cellphones in hand.
“These women got out their phones and were holding them in front of them, waiting for the door to open to take a photo of her. She walks out of the bathroom and immediately there’s flashes,” one former employee told the magazine. “They didn’t even turn their f—ing flash off.”
Before the staff could assist the first daughter, she put up her hand to stop, “did a curtsy for the women, threw her arm around one for a couple of selfies, and walked back to her table as if it were no big deal,” the publication reports.
The Obamas Are Still the Top of D.C.’s Dining Hierarchy
Even two years after leaving office, Barack and Michelle Obama are still considered Washington’s ultimate VIPs, the magazine reports. According to multiple restaurant owners, Michelle Obama is still the No. 1 guest they strive to serve and is known for “being gracious and easygoing and seems to know a thing or two about wine.”
“Every guest gets wanded, so that’s huge because then everybody wants to know who’s here,” one maître d’ said. “We don’t say at first, but finally it all gets out, so all those people are going to say, ‘I was at Joe’s when Michelle was there.’ It’s such great word-of-mouth advertising.”