BLT Prime by David Burke, the controversial Trump International Hotel steakhouse that famously followed a strict code for how the ex-president preferred his Diet Coke pours, closed last week after a nearly six-year run along Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
The downtown showpiece by celebrity chef Burke is the glitzier sister of ESquared Hospitality’s nearby power spot BLT Steak (1625 I Street NW). Chef Michael Bonk, who was at the helm of BLT Steak DC since 2017, was terminated last week as the result of the BLT Prime closure, he tells Eater. BLT Prime has two remaining locations in Miami and NYC.
BLT Prime DC’s most recent executive chef Shinwoo Kang simultaneously took over Bonk’s job at BLT Steak, which reopened in March after a months-long makeover with its popular gruyere popover openers, raw bar menu, Australian wagyu strip steak, and a $110 porterhouse for two.
“We think Shinwoo is a great chef and we wanted to keep him in the organization,” Jimmy Haber, CEO of BLT Restaurant Group, tells Eater in a statement.
Open since 2006, BLT Steak DC resurfaced last month for dinner with Bonk very much still at the helm. Its 250-person rooftop terrace overlooking the White House and Washington Monument also got a facelift.
“They gave me a couple weeks of severance. I just got married and I’m paying off the wedding, so it’s bad timing,” says Bonk, who worked at EatWell DC (The Pig, Commissary) before joining BLT Steak. The charcuterie-obsessed chef says he’s already actively looking for a new job, potentially one with more room for creativity.
“I did learn some things [at BLT Steak], from the administrative part of it. From a culinary perspective, I had no control over the menu,” he says. “People coming there know the cut of steak they’re going to get.”
Meanwhile, the 263-room, clocktower-topped Trump International Hotel will soon get a new identity as a Waldorf Astoria without the Trump name attached to it. The rebranding of the hotel was obviously part of the decision to close BLT because its lease was tied to the Trump flag.
Though the federal government owns the coveted conversion of the historic Old Post Office pavilion, a Miami-based investment firm signed a contract last fall to take over the hotel’s lease for a reported $375 million. The hotel’s Michelin-rated omakase gem Sushi Nakazawa isn’t affected by the sale, reported Washingtonian.
It’s unclear which restaurant will backfill BLT Prime, where Trump’s comical order was ketchup with well-done steak. Trump doesn’t drink alcohol, but he apparently was so into drinking soda out of a bottle that BLT followed a seven-step process for serving him Diet Coke.
The opulent, 130-seat steakhouse boasted a royal blue-and-gold color scheme similar to the hotel’s lobby (and amusingly, the Oval Office), with marble accents and live greenery throughout the luxe restaurant’s two-story expanse.
BLT Prime DC opened in September 2016, weeks before Trump clinched the presidential ticket, with a medley of expensive seafood, meat, and candied bacon dangling from a clothesline.
Despite early praise from Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema, BLT Prime DC was tainted with drama from the start. The hotel was originally slated to house restaurants from celebrity chefs José Andrés and Geoffrey Zakarian, who both pulled out following inflammatory remarks about immigrants from then-presidential candidate Trump. The dilemma sparked a well-documented legal fight which eventually settled out of court.