Here at Archibald’s Gentlemen’s Club, where sales are up 46 percent since President Trump took office, managers say one thing is clear: Nearly every conversation these days turns to politics.
“In this kind of work, I don’t think politics is necessarily how people start conversations, but it’s definitely where they end up,” said Antoinette Garza, the club’s marketing manager. “All day, every day, it’s about what’s happening in the White House.”
The dimly lit basement establishment about two blocks from the White House has long had a sports-bar vibe. Now almost every television in the place is tuned to CNN or Fox News.
Gone are chats about baseball and Ultimate Fighting Championship events. In their place, chatter about the president and who he’s feuding with on Twitter.
“We are changing with the climate of Washington,” Garza said. Plus, she added, it doesn’t hurt that “certain people who patronize our establishment are very involved in these topics directly.”
In the nation’s capital — where 93 percent of residents voted for Hillary Clinton — people say they feel trapped in Trumpland. Political talk has infiltrated the workplace, overtaking conversations at restaurants, the gym and, yes, even the strip club.
Garza doesn’t necessarily see it as a bad thing. “Politics can be very seductive,” she said.
But just four months into a four-year term, there are already signs that the obsessive talk of politics is taking its toll. The American Psychological Association recently warned that Americans are increasingly feeling “stressed and cynical” because of pervasive political talk in the workplace.
More than half of adults surveyed said they had discussed politics at work since the election, and 26 percent reported feeling tense and stressed as a result.
“The reality is these often-heated discussions have intensified since the election, posing a threat to employee well-being and business performance,” said David Ballard, a director at the association.
At Varnish Lane, a nail salon in Friendship Heights, at least one regular has vowed to never return because of a contentious political discussion among customers.
“Instead of relaxing, people are coming in and venting,” co-owner Lauren Dunne said. “It didn’t used to be like that. When we opened [in 2015], that was honestly the last thing anybody wanted to talk about.”
Not anymore, says John Tattersall, owner of Grand Ole Potomac Fly Fishing Guides, a boating service popular among Republican members of Congress and their staffers.
“Everyone’s got a mouth full of this stuff,” he said. “They’re concerned and trying to figure out what’s going to happen next: Taxes, health care, North Korea, you name it.”
Tattersall, who does not make his political views known, says he tries to stay out of his clients’ conversations.
He used to think their political banter was entertaining and even made a bit of his own election fun, mailing clients hats that said, “Make fly fishing great again.”
But lately, he’s feeling fatigued.
“From time to time, it gets to be a bit much,” he said. “The same thing, every day.”
He’s not alone: 21 percent of Americans said they feel more “negative” at work because of never-ending political talk, up from 15 percent before the election. And nearly half of Americans say they had difficulty getting their work done or thought less of their co-workers as a result of such chatter in the workplace.
“The political tensions are about more than who won or lost an election,” said Ballard of the American Psychological Association. “Being bombarded with news updates, social media chatter and arguments with friends and co-workers can reinforce stereotypes about Republicans and Democrats, perpetuating an ‘us-versus-them’ mentality and driving a wedge between people.”
That is increasingly the case at Mama’s Kitchen & Pizza, a neighborhood gathering place in Anacostia.
“Everybody here argues all day long,” owner Musa Ulusan said. “We have CNN on all the time — I’m addicted to it — so the back-and-forth can become pretty fierce.”
One employee in particular, an ardent Trump supporter who is African American, tends to clash with other workers as well as the restaurant’s customers, Ulusan said.
“I’ve tried to tell him, ‘Hey, tone it down,’ ” he said, “but, of course, everybody has very strong opinions these days.”
Sam, an Uber driver who spoke on the condition that he be identified by his nickname, hears a lot of those opinions emanating from his back seat.
“Before, people would start conversations by bringing up the weather,” he said. “It’s not about the weather anymore. It’s, ‘What do you think about what Donald Trump just did?’ ”
April M., an entertainer at Archibald’s Gentlemen’s Club, says she hears that question all day long. More than half of customers begin a conversation by asking what she thinks of the president.
Talking politics, she says, is now part of the job.
“It’s become unavoidable,” said the 32-year-old, who has been working at the club for 10 years and declined to give her last name.
She generally responds, she said, with something like, “Let’s talk about things that don’t stress us out.’’
(If that doesn’t work, she’ll say: “I’ve been taught not to talk about three things in bars: Politics, religion or money.” After all, tips are at stake.)
But increasingly, she says, her deflections don’t work.
“The political air right now is such that people do need to talk about it,” she said. “And if that’s the case, we’re here to listen. This is a great place to talk.” (Although, she added, she doesn’t voice her opinions until she has sussed out the other person’s political leanings.)
It’s been good for business. The club — with its secret VIP entrance in the back and a sign up front that advertises “executive lunch with a view” — has been so busy that managers are hiring additional entertainers. They’re hosting more politics-themed events, too. On inauguration night, for example, the club stayed open until 5 a.m. while dancers performed in little more than “Make America Great Again” hats.
To be fair, some say, this is Washington.
“When has politics not taken over our lives?” asked Ashok Bajaj, whose nine restaurants include Bibiana and Nopa.
It’s business as usual, he said, as diners at his restaurants keep up their favorite pastime: digging for political gossip.
“The first thing everybody is asking now is, ‘Hey, who have you seen from the Trump administration?’ ” he said. “That’s typical Washington.”
(Some recent sightings: Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner at Rasika West End; Ben Carson at the Bombay Club; Omarosa Manigault at 701; and Sean Spicer at the Oval Room.)
At indoor cycling chain SoulCycle, executives say there has been a “huge uptick” in ridership since Trump was elected.
“People are seeking solace in movement,” said Gabby Etrog Cohen, a senior vice president at the company. “They’re looking for a way to disconnect from the never-ending news cycle.”
But even then, she said, they can’t help themselves. In recent months, locker-room conversations have shifted from the personal to the political.
“The day after the election, the studios were packed, and there were emotions on all sides,” Cohen said. “We kept thinking, ‘Okay, it’ll stop.’ But to be honest, it never did.”