Of course parts of Georgetown are getting psyched for a Trump presidency. In a city where 93 percent of voters picked Hillary Clinton, Georgetown and Upper Northwest are where most of our Republicans live. It’s where the young-staffer social scene was concentrated during the Bush administration. And it’s where some restaurateurs are hoping and praying they’ll return under Trump.
“I’ve seen Georgetown on a steady decline for the past eight years,” said restaurateur Bo Blair. “I do think that this change in administration will invigorate Georgetown and hopefully re-energize it.”
Blair would know. His Georgetown bar Smith Point became the epicenter of young Republican Washington during George W. Bush’s presidency because it was a frequent hangout for first daughters Jenna and Barbara. Ivanka and Eric Trump, both of whom attended Georgetown, went to his club, too, he says. It was also the base of a short-lived conservative social scene called Late Night Shots, which became notorious for its racist and misogynistic online message boards, where members posted about boat shoes, luxury cars and, in the words of one user, “Figuring out if girls are sluts.”
But Smith Point has struggled during the Obama years, and Blair said he had been trying to sell it. He changed his mind after the election and is now planning renovations to attract newcomers. “I think a preppy, conservative place in Georgetown is hopefully what some of them will be looking for,” said Blair, who considers himself an independent.
Cafe Milano, a longtime favorite haunt of politicians on both sides of the aisle, is also gearing up for a busy season.
“Everybody says Republicans have a tendency to spend more,” said Franco Nuschese, the restaurant’s owner. He’s already booked most of the restaurant’s private rooms for inauguration weekend.
The neighborhood has ebbed and flowed. From the Reconstruction period through the 1930s, it was a working-class black neighborhood, before being gentrified in the 1940s. In the ’60s, it was synonymous with Kennedy-era dinner parties. Elegant restaurants followed, and so did the rowdy, drunken 20-somethings of the early Aughts. But with the closing of several major restaurants, including Citronelle, as well as the attention paid to 14th Street and Shaw, Georgetown hasn’t gotten as much attention in recent years.
Even before the election, big-name restaurateurs made plans to branch into the neighborhood. José Andrés recently announced he would move America Eats Tavern from Tysons Corner to Georgetown. His former Minibar chef, Johnny Spero, is opening Reverie there next year. A longtime liquor license moratorium for the neighborhood expired this year, opening the door to more restaurants and bars.
Lauren Boston, communications director for the Georgetown Business Improvement District, resisted the idea that the neighborhood’s fortunes might be tied to Trump. “We have a diverse political spectrum here and welcome everyone to dine and shop in Georgetown,” she said.
Trump himself may never even set foot in the neighborhood. His effect on the local restaurant scene certainly won’t echo that of the Obamas, who are credited with breathing new life into boring old Washington.
But many changes attributed to the Obama Effect are the result of market forces — an improving economy, a nationwide trend of young people moving into urban centers, and the fruition of developments, such as CityCenter, that had been planned during the Bush years. “We all love the involvement that the president had in the city, but I would not say that the boom happened because of that alone,” Andrés said. “Washington, its destiny was to have the boom. I was opening restaurants before Obama came here.”
Still, the Obamas’ presence at a restaurant was a boon for business. “They were young, they dined out, they wanted to be part of the city,” said Ashok Bajaj, owner of the Oval Room, Rasika and other restaurants the Obamas visited. “They visited those places and gave their endorsement. It’s very good for me.”
If there’s a Trump Effect, it’s likely to mostly benefit BLT Prime in the Trump International Hotel, which has the potential to become the center of the Republican social scene. Jane Freundel Levey, a historian for the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., imagines “little bursts of Trumpian socializing and excess” there. Nuschese, on the other hand, says that because the hotel has gotten so much attention, it will be too public for politicians to dine there often. “The people who eat every single day and entertain, I don’t think they will want to be around that,” he said.
Besides, the hotel has become a center of protest, too. And as with Trump’s other businesses, it has raised the hackles of ethics watchdogs, since the Trump family stands to benefit from its elevated stature. ESquared Hospitality, parent company of BLT Prime, declined to comment.
Given what we know about Trump’s habits, it’s unlikely he will follow Obama’s lead as a man-about-town.
He has a well-known distaste for Washington. In the second presidential debate, he called it a “violent” place. He has repeatedly referred to the federal government here as a “swamp” to drain. And the Trumps have hinted they will be only part-time residents of our city, anyway. The New York Times reported that he wants to split his time between the District and New York, with some stints at Mar-a-Lago in Florida.
He’s also a notorious germaphobe and an unadventurous eater, preferring fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s, and steakhouses, such as New York’s 21 Club, that will cook him a well-done slab of meat. For obvious reasons, it’s also hard to envision Trump eating immigrant food, as George H.W. Bush did with his penchant for Peking Gourmet Inn, or the Obamas with their love of Rasika. He’ll probably just go to his own hotel.
His children are another story. “Maybe they will set the trends, and people will follow them,” Bajaj said. “Hopefully they will go out as much as President Obama.”
Bajaj and other restaurateurs from immigrant backgrounds are prepared to welcome Trump and his children. That includes Andrés, who is mired in litigation with the president-elect after Andrés canceled his plans to put a restaurant in Trump’s hotel after Trump called Mexican immigrants “rapists.”
“I’m a guy that believes in second and third opportunities,” Andrés said.
The staffers who move to Washington to work for the administration will probably participate in local culture more than Trump will. Georgetown was the obvious choice for them in 2000 because neighborhoods like the more-diverse 14th Street and Shaw didn’t have as many amenities. Now that there are excellent bars and restaurants throughout the city, it’s likely that Trump staffers will go to those, too.
“Tons of people that are coming to town have never been to 14th Street or Barracks Row or tried Rose’s Luxury,” Blair said. “It’s exciting to have a whole new group of people try all these places that have come alive.”
How well those staffers integrate with the city’s Democratic population remains to be seen. Still, even though the city probably won’t change too drastically, “I think there’s going to be even more hunkering down than ever,” Levey said. In previous administrations, there was more bipartisan socializing, particularly at dinner parties.
“That style is gone, and that’s a shame, because we need that more than ever, if we’re going to be able to talk to each other again,” she said.
Correction: A previous version of this story said that Georgetown got its start as a working-class black neighborhood. Georgetown was a working-class black neighborhood from the Reconstruction period through the 1930s.