When Australians first enter the lobby of Trump International Hotel Washington DC they invariably cast their eyes nine floors up to the glass ceiling over its football field-sized – and they gaze in awe, says the hotel’s MD, Mickael Damelincourt. He is probably there to see this; he uses one of the tables in the lobby lounge as his all-day office, holding all his meetings there.
The night I was there the 263-room hotel was full with hotel guests, and others in to eat, or drink, or meet. There was also a veterans’ gala dinner in the Presidential Ballroom, a new glass structure that connects to the main building (above). Originally finished in 1899, the historic part of the hotel complex was the city’s main post office, built as an open square. Now the central space has been covered over, to form the glass-roofed atrium.
When Mickael Damelincourt first saw the square lobby he was, he admits now, just a little over-awed at the thought of how to make such a ‘stage’ work, theatrically. As director he has produced a play that is continuously full of action (and he plays a starring role by using one of the lobby lounge tables for much of the day). At 6.30am I saw business people standing as a group, having coffee before a formal breakfast meeting started. I actually breakfasted in the lobby lounge, looking up at a Star Spangled banner hanging high above. They are really flexible here, bringing my omelette while the next table chose all the patisserie goodies they wanted from a shiny wooden cart, with a barrel-vault glass top and brass handles. All afternoon there are tea-takers in the lobby.
In the evening the lobby bar has competition from The Experience Room, one of two glass-sided rooms set in the lobby – the other is a Brioni boutique. The Experience Room is the idea of Daniel Mahdavian, who heads restaurants and bars and has assembled what must be a priceless collection of old and rare spirits and wines. Book a three-bottle set tasting here for, say, a choice of US red grape varieties, Can from Napa, Cabernet Franc from Virginia and Pinot from Oregon, or three one-ounce Macallan pours, 12, 12 Double Cask and 18 years, both alternatives at $150 per person ++.
Daniel Mahdavian’s most lush experiences he has sold recently are four, one-ounce pours of the Dalmore King Alexander III and the Dallmore Constellation Collection vintages 1966, 1979 and 1999 – and The Macallan 23, 30, 40 and 50 years (both flights came in at $3,500 per person ++). His most exclusive bespoke pour, however, is a complete line-up of the best American Bourbon made by Pappy Van Winkle from Kentucky. He will not say how much it costs to enjoy a five-vintage taste, 10, 12, 15, 20 and 23 years. Alternatively you can design your own tasting and let Magician Mahdavian do the rest. This is really a most imaginative use of this glass-walled space, and it does not hurt that others, outside in the lobby-proper, can see in. They undoubtedly wish they were in the happening too.
There are so many creative people contributing to the unique features of this 263-room hotel. The food team lays on a mega-dessert buffet in the lobby every Friday, which has local kids clamouring at their parents to go along. During my too-short stay I met up with Evonne Miles, who heads training here while at the same time doing an eLearning MBA. I was impressed by her respect and analytical support for her 35 room attendants, what other nations still refer to as maids. New recruits are, like all inductees, treated as guests for the first two days, after which they have extensive professional training: they must quickly anticipate the every wish of a room’s occupants, said Miles. She also astounded me by saying that my divine luxury suite could, when I checked out, be turned over in a couple of hours, by a team of three or four. I wish I had seen that!
But I was off for sightseeing. As well as being a few minutes from the White House, and many of the Smithsonian’s buildings, and all the historic essentials, I was keen to see two new-ish museums. The interactive International Spy Museum and Newseum are both within five minutes’ walk. I heartily recommend the pair, for all ages, kids up to grandparents.