What does election night look like at a bar owned by one of the Presidential candidates himself? Eater D.C. sent reporter Warren Rojas to capture what the scene was like there, regardless of the candidate’s eventual victory or defeat. With Trump’s surprising upset, the atmosphere was much different than many would have predicted.
Pollsters, Democratic strategists, and political journalists may not have seen the commanding victory President-elect Donald J. Trump scored Tuesday night coming. But the financial markets-rattling outcome never seemed to be in doubt — not even for a second — within the gold-plated confines of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
It was there, at the opulent Benjamin Bar & Lounge, that the Trump faithful gathered Nov. 8 to watch their brash leader turn the electoral process on its head. There was no official event or ticketed gathering — a group, made up of supporters and the curious, simply gathered at the bar to see what sort of history would be made that night.
Fans of the real estate mogul wasted no time getting into the spirit of things, draining bottles (cases?) of his eponymous sparkling wine and savoring gourmet fare throughout the evening while watching polls continue to come in supporting the soon-to-be 45th president.
There was, of course, some chanting. (“Build that wall!”, “Drain the swamp!” and “U-S-A!” were the most common refrains.) There was some name-calling. And it’s entirely possible that someone may have even lost control of his/her bodily functions.
One thing’s for certain: after a night that left others questioning everything, the revelers are sure to be hungover today.
7:08 p.m. A single television news crew has set up a camera in front of nearby bar Elephant & Castle, the lens aimed across Pennsylvania Avenue at Trump International Hotel. A dozen motorcycle cops and four police cars are stationed directly across from the vandalism-plagued (and controversy-plagued) establishment.
7:10 p.m. A young couple exit their Uber, stroll directly over to me and ask if I can snap a picture of them in front of Trump’s hotel. They seem genuinely excited to be here.
7:13 p.m. “They’re at capacity right now. So if you don’t have a reservation, you can’t get in,” a security guard posted outside the hotel says, informing me and the couple looking to secure a front row seat to history inside, that everything is filled up.
7:15 p.m. Walked right in the front door. The Benjamin Bar & Lounge is crowded but nowhere near capacity. There are lots of people wearing what appear to be brand-spanking-new Trump hats (unblemished crowns, rigid brims), including parents with teenage charges in tow, husbands and wives, and groups of businessmen.
7:22 p.m. “Can you imagine if Trump wins? We can tell our kids, ‘I was in Trump Tower D.C. when that guy fucking won!” Two guys, beers in hand, have already begun working out their war stories for future election night discussions. The conversation quickly turns to who they’d like to see flesh out Trump’s cabinet.
7:30 p.m. A mild cheer from the crowd as Fox News calls West Virginia for Trump and projects Sen. Rob Portman will win re-election in Ohio. All eyes are glued on the four overhead screens — one tuned to CNN, one tuned to ABC, and the other two locked on Fox News. The only audio being pumped through the hotel is from the Fox News feed.
7:39 p.m. “And you can still see? Good for you!” A new arrival is flabbergasted after learning that the gent one seat over has been planted at the bar since 3:30 p.m.
7:48 p.m. “Gimme two or three more minutes,” says a clearly slammed bartender. One of perhaps four tasked with servicing the entire lounge, he finally acknowledges my presence 21 minutes after I’d approached the counter. He returns seven minutes later to take my order.
7:49 p.m. A pair of true believers brush aside all the ugliness of the campaign as Trump appears to take an early lead.
Older white man: “He offended a few people. So what!”
Younger black man: “It’s all about perception.”
7:54 p.m. Servers are ferrying around all types of food, including: dangling strips of candied bacon ($14), a four-piece shrimp cocktail ($24), the house burger ($24) and an assortment of artisanal cheeses ($59). “If you are splitting it, that’s delicious, And that you need to cut,” a helpful lady sees me eyeing the daily specials and weighs in on the cheeseburger sliders ($19) and filet mignon sandwich ($24), respectively.
7:58 p.m. The majority of the crowd appears to be knocking back sparkling wine, bourbon, and imported beers (Stella Artois, Heineken, Pilsner Urquell).
8:01 p.m. “Why are they cheering? This is all obvious,” says a man who is unsettled by having to look up from his steak tartare because Fox News called Mississippi and Tennessee for Trump.
8:07 p.m. State dinner crasher-in-chief Tareq Salahi, sporting slicked back hair, a sport coat and an open collared shirt, strolls out of BLT Prime and into the main lounge. No one seems to notice him.
8:21 p.m. Trump fan 1: “The panhandle closes in 10 minutes. That’s our people.”
Trump fan 2: “The Redneck Riviera!”
A pair of Trump supporters psych each other up while Florida remains a dead heat.
8:26 p.m. “All my friends are friggin’ democrats. I’m a black sheep.” A young black man vents to fellow Trump supporters about his sense of alienation within his own community.
8:31 p.m. The busy-as-can-be bartender, racing to prepare another John Willett ($24; bourbon, honey, orange bitters), gets sick of waiting for the honey to glug out, reaches into the bottle with his index finger and smears honey on the waiting cubes of ice (check, please!). He repeats the unsanitary process with the next drink.
9:03 p.m. “Bill Clinton's fucked everyone in Arkansas anyway,” a guy jokes to his buddy as the crowd erupts in applause after Trump locks up 42’s home state.
9:06 p.m. The crowd is getting giddy as the middle of the electoral map fills up with red.
9:11 p.m. The hotel’s staff snakes through the crowd, weeding out reporters. Writers for Washingtonian, Politico and The Washington Post were all told to stop interviewing partygoers. When asked to identify herself by one of the aforementioned scribes, a Trump hotel aide refuses to give her name.
9:26 p.m. Two locals comment on early returns (56 no - 44 yes) pointing to a rejection of an increase in fees on prepared foods in neighboring Fairfax County.
Guy 1: “Look at that. They blocked the meals tax.”
Guy 2: “Thank God.”
9:32 p.m. An armchair pundit preaches to the choir at Benjamin Bar. “When he said rigged, he meant the media. NBC, ABC, CNN — they’re all rigged!”
9:54 p.m. Salahi is now holding court — sipping martinis, chowing on steak, living the dream — at a four-top right by the front bar.
10:02 p.m. “Let’s go Hillary!” Sarcastic or not, it’s the first time I’ve heard anyone mention the Democratic contender by name.
10:18 p.m. A loud crash interrupts the festivities. Is the hotel under siege by panicking progressives? Has ISIS launched a preemptive attack against Trump? Nope. A few plates shattered after an elderly couple attempted to settle in for the night at an impossibly small table.
10:21 p.m. Woman 1: “I’m to the point where I would make out with a bartender if I could get a cocktail.”
Woman 2: “For real?”
Woman 1: “I’ll make out with you too if you help me.”
A 20-something blonde in a flannel shirt, skinny jeans, and thigh-high boots has had just about enough of being ignored by bar staff.
10:23 p.m. The entire bar explodes with applause and cheers as Fox News calls Ohio for Trump.
10:26 p.m. “Boooooo!” A handful of Trump fans turn on Fox News for declaring Colorado for Clinton.
10:32 p.m. “I came straight from work … about 4 o’clock. I’ve never been here before. I figured tonight would be the most opportune time. And if he wins, that’ll be the ice cream on the cake!” A Trump fan named Met shares why he’s been camped out here all afternoon.
10:39 p.m. That John Willett cocktail is rather tasty; flaming orange peel complements orange bitters while honey sweetens the experience. Bourbon is woody, smoky. Citrus drives this drink.
10:45 p.m. Crowd goes nuts as Megyn Kelly calls North Carolina for Trump. It’s all happening.
10:49 p.m. Crowd has swelled to several hundred people (500?), but the place is still easily navigable. There are still a few empty tables in the far back. Oddly enough, getting served at the bar has actually gotten easier.
10:59 p.m. Place explodes after the Associated Press calls Florida for Trump. People are singing, embracing total strangers and soaking it all in.
11:04 p.m. Some of the reporters on hand mention taking trips to Amsterdam and Argentina post-election. Unclear if any of them are coming back.
11:08 p.m. Crowd loses its shit as Trump picks up North Carolina.
11:10 p.m. Guy is pogoing by the bar — literally bouncing up and down — as red flows across the map.
11:16 p.m. “Economics may not trickle down. But I believe corruption certainly does,” an out-of-towner (Cincinnati) explains why he could not, in good conscience, support Clinton.
11:23 p.m. One Trump fan divulges his private metric for success: “Sure sign it’s been a good night: the line to the restroom is long.”
11:29 p.m. “Trump, bitches!” An enthusiastic fan yells at no one in particular, everyone in general.
11:30 p.m. “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!” Trump supporters chant in unison. A smaller group tries to amp up the crowd by chiming in with, “Drain the swamp!”
11:33 p.m. “Fuck you, Hillary Clinton!” someone exclaims. “We’re gonna win,” a more diplomatic attendee fires back.
11:35 p.m. Guy nearly bursts into tears as Fox News shades Florida red for Trump.
11:44 p.m. “Go back to Puerto Rico!” Trump supporter unloads on native Panamanian Juan Williams.
12:00 a.m. “Oh my god … She’s fucked!” Trump fans relish the turn of the screw as Fox News pivots to a scenario where Clinton has to win every remaining state to stay in contention.
12:12 a.m. There’s an inexplicable puddle — coupled with the stench of urine — right by the main bar. Nobody seems to notice or care.
12:14 a.m. “Stop saying why he’s an idiot. He’s winning. Tap into that shit!” Trump supporter browbeats establishment Republicans who attempted to derail the improbable candidate early on.
12:23 a.m. “I love you. And I don’t even know you!” Drunk guy proclaims his love for a woman feverishly hunting for real-time vote counts on her cell phone after she assures him that Pennsylvania is in the bag.
12:29 a.m. The aroma of freshly-brewed coffee briefly overtakes the stink of ammonia building up around the bar. No one has addressed the intensifying smell or continued slipperiness.
12:32 a.m. “Holy shit. How many beers have you drunk?” One man snaps to after spotting his buddy triple-fisting Heinekens.
12:35 a.m. “Did somebody pee right here? It smells like piss,” A mountain of a man in a custom Trump-Brignoli t-shirt — “This is from July 2015. I was going to be his running mate,” the big, bearded supporter says of the self-promotional gear — smells something rotten in Denmark.
12:44 a.m. “She’s a goddamn [c-word explicative]. She’s the worst fucking woman on the planet!” An ardent Trump supporter sends his disdain for Clinton out into the world by shouting into the smartphone he’s waving around on a selfie stick.
12:52 a.m. The first walls of the Trump administration are already up (rimshot): Cops have set up security barriers outside the hotel, keeping exuberant supporters from pouring in as the returns continue falling into place for their man.
12:55 a.m. Woman 1: “Fuck you, Trump! Ya crazy bitch.”
Man 1: “Oh, just go home.”
Opposing camps cross in the middle of the street as a Trump fan yells back at a disillusioned pedestrian loudly airing her grievances on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
6:42 a.m. My shoes and the cuff of my pants still reek of urine.