In 1991, this scene was captured by security cameras in the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown: A lovers' spat broke out between Donald Trump and fiancee Marla Maples during a party at the hotel's disco, Desiree. Maples hurled one shoe at The Donald, stormed through the lobby, yanked off her enormous engagement ring, then flung that, too. She stomped outside--as much as a woman in one shoe can stomp--while Trump and hotel staff got on hands and knees to recover the diamond ring. Onlookers--this happened very late on a Saturday night--were much amused.
Stan Bromley, the hotel's general manager, heard all about the contretemps a few hours later. He immediately realized that the whole incident had been recorded and took possession of the tape's only copy. By Monday morning, the story was in gossip columns, and "Entertainment Tonight" was begging for a peek at the footage. Trump himself called and was assured that the video had been destroyed.
"There are people in town who think I still have that tape in the trunk of my car," Bromley says with a laugh.
But now the truth can be told. Bromley is about to leave Washington to run the new Four Seasons in San Francisco, freeing him to divulge what really happened: "You can announce to the world that the tape is gone." Fact is, it ended up in the trash compactor at his Potomac home. (Crushed, just like poor Marla's heart, although we doubt she's crushed or poor anymore. But we digress . . . .)
You may be surprised at the awkward social encounters that take place in Washington's luxury hotels, but Bromley never is. After 10 years as a self-described "butler to the rich and famous," he has seen just about everything, even if he won't spill all the beans. But he has a decade of insights on how the nation's capital works and plays.
"The perception is that nothing unimportant ever happens in Washington," he says. "So the reality becomes 'Very Important People in a Very Important Environment.' Everything becomes very serious."
That means that everybody is very, very busy. Far too busy to wait for much of anything. It's always crisis mode: now, now, now. "People crawl into their dark-side attitude where there's not much patience," Bromley says. "For individuals who pay $400 a night, their currency is time."
Still, the true big shots rarely muscle their way to the front of the line. Or drop names to get attention: "That's another form of Washington currency," he says. "I've learned that really important people don't tell you much of anything about what they do or who they've been with."
Bromley says this with the Cheshire smile of a man who has suffered many fools. But he also seems to truly enjoy the challenge of providing the absolute best to people who can afford it.
The rock stars who want flavored popcorn and pizza in the middle of the night? No problem. The folks who travel with their own chefs and expect to use the hotel kitchen? Why not? The requests to fly in caviar and live lobsters? Of course.
Bromley even accommodated this unusual request called in from a regular guest who lives overseas: The man's girlfriend, who lived in Washington, was celebrating her birthday the next day. "Can you find a white Persian kitten and deliver it with a note, 'I love you'?" the guest asked. Done.
There are more delicate issues. The hotel won't tolerate guests who break the law, but Bromley has guided a tipsy celebrity to his room before tabloid photographers could snap a picture. And he has helped the famous names who call and ask for a private lunch in a suite or parlor. "It doesn't get explicit, but I know they want privacy," Bromley says. There are fewer of those requests these days, especially in political circles, "because they're not allowed to have fun anymore."
Make no mistake, Bromley has plenty of stories. Unfortunately, "all of the juicy stuff is completely inappropriate to discuss," he says. "But I think I am an authority on people's recklessness."
Consider Mrs. X, the wife of a successful business executive and a regular guest at the hotel, who checked in one afternoon and went up to her room. Her husband, Mr. X, also a regular, arrived a few hours later; the desk clerk gave him a room key without--as procedure dictates--calling up to the room to get permission from Mrs. X.
"Not a good idea," says Bromley, shaking his head. Turns out Mrs. X was, shall we say, entertaining a gentleman. Presumably, Mr. X had arrived earlier than expected. All three people were furious at the hotel and never returned.
In the interest of marital and other social harmony, Bromley offers a few tips for any hotel guest:
Don't think you're invisible: You have a right to expect privacy, but not when you go out in public. Other guests in the restaurant or hotel may spot you even if you're cuddled in the dark corner of the elevator, restaurant or bar.
The fact is, folks like to see famous people, and like to talk about it. Jordan's King Abdullah recently stayed at the hotel and worked out in the fitness club. The king kept to himself, but his seven bodyguards attracted a bit of attention. One woman in the club complained because the serenity of her workout was disrupted.
"People notice, and they like to make up stories," Bromley says. "Gossip takes on its own life." Bottom line: If you don't want attention, don't go out in public.
Don't overtip: "Everyone appreciates a gratuity, but you don't have to overtip to get what you need," he says. Some people throw cash around to get attention, but it's not necessary for good service. A 15 to 20 percent tip is fine. A little something for the concierge is nice. Most people don't tip the room maids, but if you want to, $2 a day is sufficient; leave it at the front desk to make sure the right person gets it.
Don't steal the towels: It's okay to take those cute little soaps or pens home. "Everyone loves something extra," Bromley says. "In our line of business, we expect people to take things. We hope it's not the bathrobe. We've actually had people take the shower curtain."
Ex-nay on the cell phone: Yes, you're a Very Busy Important Person, but try to refrain from taking cell phone calls in the restaurant and lobby. If you must, please don't shout into the receiver. "It's really offensive because it takes away from the graciousness," Bromley says, adding that "no cell phone" sections will undoubtedly soon join "no smoking" sections.
And last, but never least:
If it isn't right, complain: "That is so critical, because you deserve to get it right." No verbal abuse. Absolutely no hitting. But guys like Bromley want the chance to get it right--even if you're one of those name-dropping, impatient so-and-sos.
But no shoe throwing, okay?
CAPTION: Four Seasons manager Stan Bromley tries on doorman Eskinder Isayas's hat. His guests have included Marla Maples and Donald Trump, below.