In this post: A look inside the hallways, rooms and towers of the Trump International hotel in DC, an interview and tour with the managing director, and conversations with people who work there…plus lots of photos!
I was in Washington DC recently for meeting of Boarding Area bloggers and could not resist the opportunity to report on what is likely the most talked-about hotel in the U.S. these days: The brand new Trump International Hotel Washington DC.
Because I flew in from the West Coast, I had to arrive a day early to attend sessions beginning on Friday afternoon. The meeting was at the Marriott Marquis, but it was full on Thursday night, so I began my search for options.
During my search, the Trump International popped up several times at $404 per night while many of the city’s other four and five star hotels were sold out. Seeing the Trump hotel show up reminded me that I know the managing director there, Mickael Damelincourt, an old friend of TravelSkills I’d met when he opened hotels in Chicago and Toronto. So I sent him an email letting him know was coming to DC and that I’d like to meet up with him to find out more about his the hotel for a post on the blog. I wrote, “The post would be completely and purposefully non-political. I just think it would make a really well-read item considering the brouhaha around the election the curiosity about the new hotel.”
A few minutes later, bingo! I heard back from him with an offer to comp my one-night stay, which I accepted. Here’s what I experienced and learned and heard from all kinds of folks connected to the hotel.
I flew into Washington Reagan National Airport on Virgin America (arriving 4 pm) and called up Lyft to pick me up for a ride to the hotel. I was a little worried about what the driver might think when he learned of my destination. So when I got in the car, and realized that the driver was from Africa (Ghana he later shared) I made a joke and said, “You have my destination right? Take me to the devil’s house!” He let out a big laugh and said, “I have been wanting a pick up or drop off at the Trump hotel ever since it opened last week! You are my first! I don’t care who wins this election, I just want it to be over. So let’s go see his house!”
Clearly the driver had never been to the hotel before, because when we arrived, he could not find the entrance, and dropped me off on 12th Street. Both the 12th St and Pennsylvania Avenue doors were closed, so I dragged my bag around to 11th Street where the main entrance is.
As I approached the door, a smiling bellman in top hat and tails rushed out to greet me and take my bags, and asked my name. Within seconds of entering the hotel, it felt like I was in Asia– why? Because the bellman had somehow let the staff know that my name was Mr McGinnis, and soon they were all greeting me by name, and did so throughout my stay. Last time I experienced that kind of name recognition was in Hong Kong. Impressive.
Guests enter the hotel through a dark wood-paneled portico, and are led into the huge, bright eye-popping lobby, which used to be the factory floor of the US Post Office, full of sorting machines and workers. Now it’s full of blue velvet, marble, crystal chandeliers, a big bar with four giant TV screens. Soaring 200 feet above is a new glass ceiling that allows natural light to flow into the lobby atrium and the nine floors of corridors leading to 263 rooms and suites. It’s a lot to take in!
As I was standing there soaking it all up, Damelincourt appeared to welcome me and set up our appointment for a tour the following morning. He pointed up to the old Post Office clock tower through the glass ceiling and said, “I’ll take you up there tomorrow- it’s the second highest building in Washington and has been off limits to the public for years. The US Park Service will open it to public tours later this winter.”
There’s been plenty of speculation about whether or not the Donald’s controversial campaign has affected business at this hotel, so I was on the lookout for signs, and I do think it seemed rather quiet. At 5 pm on Thursday, the big bar area had about 50 customers being served by white-coated staff. “How’s business?” I asked. Damelincourt said that the bar has been quite popular and he’s averaging between $18,000 and $25,000 in receipts per night. He said the biggest nights in the lobby so far were during the debates when they had it tuned in on all four lobby screens. He said a big crowd from both sides showed up to cheer on their candidates in a good natured fashion and the nights were a big success. He’s expecting a similar crowd on election night as well as Super Bowl Sunday.
As far as hotel business is concerned, he said that he’s opened two other Trump hotels before, and that early bookings at this one seem to be in line with those. It’s true that a brand new hotel takes time to establish itself in a market. Plus hoteliers like business to build up slowly in order for staff to get up to speed. But still, I was on the lookout to see just how slow business was.
Once I checked in at the desk, a beautiful Latina woman escorted me to my room on the seventh floor. On the way to the room, she pointed out the details of the restoration of this one-time office building. From the old radiators surrounding columns in the lobby to the crown molding in corridors, it’s gorgeous. We were having a great chat as we walked through the long corridors to my room. She told me she was from Miami and that she’d worked in the hotel business for a while, but that this was the best job she’d ever had. I had to ask, “So what do your friends back in Miami have to say about your working for Mr Trump?” She looked at me and said, without skipping a beat, “Trump is very popular in Miami, so most of my friends are supportive of my job or don’t really care. It’s not an issue, really.” Fair enough, I thought.
She showed me around my “premier” room, which is one step up from the entry level “deluxe” rooms. Since the hotel officially opened just last week, I felt like I could have been the first person to sleep in this room- it sure smelled that way! It was huge with 14 foot ceilings, two brilliant, freshly scrubbed crystal chandeliers (there are 628 throughout the hotel), a big king bed with an ornate gilded headboard that screamed Trump, plus a wonderful nook for a gilded desk in a corner turret with stunning views of the Washington Monument and the surrounding sandstone buildings in the Federal Triangle. The big bright bathroom was sheathed in Carrara marble and includes a dual vanity, huge soaking tub and walk in shower.
As I was unpacking, the doorbell rang, and it was a butler with bottle of sparkling wine and some strawberries as a welcome from the hotel. The brand was Trump Blanc de Blanc ($26) of course! I had a glass and it was actually very good, but I’m no wine connoisseur.
I was eager to get out of the room, take my own mini-tour of the hotel, then find a place for dinner. Walking out of my room to the corridor, I peered over the balcony and saw the entire hotel…every floor down to the lobby. Damelincourt told me that as a manager, he loves this since it’s easy for him to look out and see what’s happening all at once– something that’s tough to do without a big atrium like this. The hallways were gorgeous and lit with crystal chandeliers, lamps and sconces, chairs, tables, chintz and views. They are also super long, which, due to the Halloween season, made me think of the movie The Shining and the word Redrum 🙂 . But there was not a soul in sight. I wondered if I was the only guest on the seventh floor.
On my way out of the hotel I approached the concierge who greets me by name. I asked him for suggestions saying, “I’m just off the plane from San Francisco, and did not eat much since breakfast. I’m starving for a good walk and an early dinner. I’ll be dining alone so would like a place that’s easy and casual.” He lit up when I said San Francisco. “Did you know that there’s a Tadich Grill right across the street? You can go there and sit at the bar and they’ll take good care of you. Tell ’em Robert from the Trump hotel sent you.” He insisted on walking out the door to show me exactly where it was.
So I took a nice spin down Pennsylvania Avenue, then went to Tadich Grill for a delicious dinner of lump blue crab cakes (perfection!) and a glass of chardonnay. I had a nice chat with the bartender and asked, “So what do you think about having the Trump hotel across the street? Do you get much business from there? Does it seem busy?” He lit up at that and had plenty to say. First, he said that competition among bartenders was fierce for a job at the Trump because “he pays top dollar [$19/hr + tips] to bartenders and pays for health insurance, too. At other places, you’ll get about $9 per hour and you are lucky if you get insurance.” He has friends on staff at the Trump who tell him that the hotel is running about 50% full, while others in the area are oversold- he said, “Just go look at the windows and see how many lights you see on and you’ll get an idea.”
He said that much of the hotel’s business is driven by the curiosity factor for now, and that anyone who won’t stay there for political reasons will forget about that soon after the election. I have to agree. Location is typically the primary factor business travelers use when choosing a hotel, and the Trump is ideally located midway between the White House and the Capitol. Plus, during recent elections I heard from readers swearing that they’d never stay at a Marriott again after the Marriott family donated so much to the Romney campaign… that obviously had little impact on what is now the largest hotel company in the world. Time will tell….
So when I left Tadich and resumed my walk I looked up a hotel windows. From the street, The Trump looked about half full. But when I looked up at the nearby Willard InterContinental or JW Marriott, both were nearly 100% full.
I slept well and woke up the following morning for breakfast at BLT Prime in the lobby. Since I was on Pacific time, I was a little late, sitting down at about 9 am. There were only about six other patrons in the restaurant. I ordered a delicious breakfast popover stuffed with scrambled eggs and chunks of smoky bacon served with fresh berries. The coffee was good, and naturally Trump branded. From my perch on the balcony overlooking the lobby, I could see the four giant TV screens at the other end and noted that none of them showed Fox News.
At 10 am my tour started with the Damelincourt. Here are some highlights from that spin through the property:
-Despite their political persuasions, Damelincourt says that most Washingtonians are most happy that something was finally done with the the beautiful but dumpy old building that had struggled since the post office moved out long ago.
-Trump leased the hotel from the federal government for 60 years and invested about $200 million in the refurbishment. The hotel shares the space with the U.S. Park Service, which oversees the iconic clock tower that stands above the hotel, and will begin offering tours in January.
-There are 263 rooms in the hotel. That includes 35 suites which go for $1,000-$20,000 a night. Deluxe rooms start at around $400. Premier rooms (larger, with better views) start at about $550. Executive rooms and junior suites start at around $650 per night. (Rates of course are based on demand, so can vary widely.)
-The best entry-level rooms? “Well if you are a history buff, ask for a deluxe room with an atrium view- from your room, you can look up through the glass roof to see the famous clocktower.”
-The Presidential Suite was at one time the office of the US Postmaster General– it’s huge (three times the size of the Oval Office!), ornate and covered in with masculine wood paneling. The bathroom once served as the Postal Service safe, and retains a two-foot thick doorway to enter.
-The clock tower houses bells given to the US by the UK that do not fit in the Capitol (down at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue, so they were put in the Post Office Tower. Soon those bells will be rung by hand during the opening and closing of Congress.
-There are three Presidential Suites in the Trump. The Postmaster suite is 2,000 square feet. The Presidential Suite (the most secure) is 4,000 square feet and the Trump Townhouse (two levels on the first and second floor with dedicated entry from the street) is 6,300 square feet.
-The 628 crystal chandeliers throughout the hotel are cleaned about every eight weeks by a private contractor. Nice contract, I bet!
-A few nice touches Damelincourt insisted on: a standard alarm clock in every room (they are made of brass and very heavy). He has installed handheld garment steamers in each closet, which he says remove wrinkles quickly without the muss and fuss of an iron an ironing board. And best of all (to me at least) the hotel provides real half & half with the in-room Nespresso machine! Also, in-room wifi was lightning fast, and when you sign on, it’s good for three days…no irritating daily sign on required.
-When we were in the tower, I wondered aloud if the hotel required any sort of special security detail due to the controversy surrounding Trump. He looked around and said, “We are surrounded by the IRS and the FBI is across the street. This is one of the most secure areas in the whole city, so if anything funny happens, police usually respond within minutes, if not seconds. Every day we get a few protesters on the sidewalk who hold up placards for a photo, then disappear.”
-The Trump children (primarily Ivanka) visit and consult with the hotel frequently. The Donald is not involved in the day-to-day like they are.
So what do you think? Once the election brouhaha has cooled off, would you darken the door of the Trump International Hotel in DC? Why or why not? Please leave your comments below.
Disclosure: The Trump International hotel comped my one night stay and TravelSkills paid for my flights, meals and transfers related to this trip.
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