Trump International Hotel Director of Food & Beverage Daniel Mahdavian dons white gloves to pour wine by the spoon. He lays down a silver tray lined with a cloth napkin, followed by one-ounce crystal vessels. They are tiny—almost resembling the soup spoons you find in Chinese restaurants—but heavy.
The sips are one of the biggest splurges at the hotel lobby bar of Donald Trump‘s $200 million-plus spectacle, which opened yesterday in the Old Post Office building. A single ounce costs anywhere from $15 to—breathe—$140. Mahdavian came up with the idea as a way for patrons to sample pricey wines at a slightly more accessible price.
The four options on the opening menu all come from Hungarian winemaker Royal Tokaji, which uses grapes affected by noble rot, making them very sweet. Three of the offerings‚ 2008 and 2009 vintages, go for $15 to $20 per spoonful. But the 2007 Royal Tokaji Essencia—less than 3 percent alcohol—will set you back $140. The winemaker’s website describes it as “the truest expression of terroir known to man.” The wines are also available by the glass ($37 to $350) and bottle ($225 to $2,250).
Daniel Swartz dropped by the hotel on a date and decided to go for the wine-by-the-spoonful. (Swartz is a contributing photographer to Washingtonian.) He and his date ordered three of the wines—they passed on the Essencia—and indulged in the bar staff’s performance. From Swartz’s experience, the novelty sounds as much, if not more, important than the wine itself.
“It’s a little pomp-and-circumstance, but in a playful way” Swartz says. “It’s totally a wow-kitsch factor for them to stand out. That said, I don’t think it’s a negative way. It’s not like Claudia’s $ martini.”
Swartz’s order was perhaps the glitziest thing in an antiquated government building that just emerged from being overhauled by a family known for their immodesty. Most of the clientele—a mix of hotel guests, reporters, suit-clad locals—seemed to be there out of sheer curiosity. Several, though, were there out of fandom for the Old Post Office’s new standard-bearer: A few bar patrons stalked the lobby in “Make America Great Again” caps; a man wearing a cowboy hat and a khaki shirt printed with the US flag and the preamble of the Constitution flaunted to his waitress a wallet designed to look like a stack of $100 bills before pulling out what he said was Bolivian currency (his party eventually paid in US dollars); one member of a party tearing through bottles of wine and much of the appetizer menu loudly proclaimed, “I’m a deplorable,” an apparent reference to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton‘s description last Friday of the segment of Trump supporters who espouse sexist, racist, and xenophobic views.
But discount the drunken political chatter, the several dozen protesters parading out front, and even the fact that Trump himself (along with his lackey, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani) had stopped by early Monday to take a photo with the staff, and the scene Monday night was just a high-end hotel bar going through some opening-night jitters. (Perhaps the next round of $16 “hipster fries”—shoestring potatoes slathered in parmesan, beef jerky, and Shishito peppers—will arrive much warmer and less salty.)
And at least some, like Swartz, were willing to go in on the hotel’s signature gimmick of rare Hungarian wines served in an elaborate presentation. Not that there weren’t first-day kinks in that, either. Swartz’s waiter was a bit shaky on describing the Royal Tokaji vintages and had to ask Mahdavian to finish the service.
“Would I do it again?” Swartz says. “Probably no, but it was an interesting experience the first time.”