Where do you want to fly?
Illustration by Jonathan Bartlett.
Two years into Donald Trump’s term, the President has yet to eat at a single Washington restaurant beyond BLT Prime, the steakhouse in his own downtown hotel.
In a different time, this record would have upset the city’s culinary boosters: DC tends to love it when the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue behaves like a resident of the city beyond the White House gates.
Of course, this isn’t a normal era. Given the politics of the moment, plenty of Washingtonians don’t want him anywhere near their neighborhoods. Trump would risk hostility from patrons and staff wherever he went; restaurants would confront death threats, boycotts, and an angry online mob whether they welcomed him or turned him away.
Look closer, though, and it becomes clear that even if Trump weren’t so divisive—even if he ordered his steak a respectable medium-rare—his eating expeditions wouldn’t matter much. Our dining landscape has matured to the point that it doesn’t need a presidential spotlight. When Bill and Hillary Clinton visited Red Sage in the ’90s, it made national news—and the political-celeb quotient was one of Washington’s only playing cards in the larger food scene. Not anymore.
The Obama era happened to coincide with a dining boom here and around the country. Barack and Michelle’s regular date nights at hot spots like Rasika and Minibar, along with the infusion of young White House staffers, helped bring national attention to area restaurants at a time when the landscape needed something to be proud of. Things have changed immensely since 2009, with hundreds more bars and restaurants, entire new dining neighborhoods, and the first breweries and distilleries. The Michelin Guide has arrived, and Bon Appétit named DC “Restaurant City of the Year.”
Trump’s local unpopularity masks the fact that any President would be hard-pressed to replicate the influence the Obamas had at a very specific moment in time. If Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders were elected and eating their way across town right now, they’d surely still generate more excitement than Trump. (This is liberal Washington, after all.) But it’s hard to imagine they’d have any resonant impact on the city’s dining reputation. What makes our food and drink worth paying attention to has nothing to do with who lives in the White House.
So if Trump wants to stick to his own restaurant? Let him eat steak.
This article appears in the March 2019 issue of Washingtonian.