I have a confession to make. I go to Trump Tower in New York a lot. It’s an easy jaunt for a New York-based hack: where better to chat with Trump supporters than in its golden lobby or with opponents outside its golden doors? Maybe you’ll spot a celebrity like Kanye West or, if you are really lucky, Nigel Farage.
And occasionally the place becomes the story itself, whether it’s about the expense of the secret service renting an entire floor to provide security for the next president, or this week when a sniffy restaurant review – headlined ‘Trump Grill could be the worst restaurant in America’ – prompted a miffed president-elect to unload his umbrage on Twitter. ‘Has anyone looked at the really poor numbers of @VanityFair Magazine. Way down, big trouble, dead! Graydon Carter, no talent, will be out,’ he wrote.
Of course, there is history here. In the 1980s Carter, the current editor of Vanity Fair, took to referring to Trump in print as a ‘short-fingered vulgarian’.
Against that background, you can see why the review looks like an exercise in New York snark, posing as analysis, but loaded with cheap parallels between a steak and burger bar and the president-elect.
Take this paragraph: ‘The restaurant features a stingy number of French-ish paintings that look as though they were bought from Home Goods. Wall-sized mirrors serve to make the place look much bigger than it actually is.’
No effort is made to hide the simple snobbery. Horror of horrors there is a prix fixé menu. Then there is the disdain for the staff. A waiter is accused of ‘gaslighting’ – a form of psychological abuse and a term lobbed this year at purveyors of fake news – for telling diners that Trump likes to order the taco bowl and lasagna. Even the Bloody Mary is accused of being too big and containing too much vodka. What sort of writer turns that into a problem?
But the contempt for the customers – the ‘hoodied masses’ who want to be impressed with ‘rich man slop’ – is the giveaway. The review is just another chance to laugh at the choices of Americans who shop at discount furnishing chains, drink oversized drinks and are impressed by a billionaire who decorates his buildings in gold.
We saw it all through the election, with Hillary Clinton’s sneering at ‘baskets of deplorables’ or broadsheet digs at Trump supporters’ taste in beer – mass-market Budweiser or Miller Lite, rather than the artisanal brews of the craft ale revolution. But none of that matters to the visitors who are flocking to Trump Tower on any given day. The assistant at the souvenir stand sells out of Make America Great Again hats on a daily basis.
On my most recent trip for lunch, the restaurant was heaving. Suited executives dined in pairs, while another table wore red, white and blue and displayed their politics on their lapels, in the form of ‘Make America Great Again’ badges.
My burger was ludicrously overpriced at $20. Even for a ‘platinum burger’ topped with Tarentaise cheese and horseradish aioli, it seemed a lot to spend. It wasn’t bad: charred and pink in the right places. Just not what I imagined a $20 burger to be. At least the ‘You’ve been fired’ Bloody Mary was massive and full to the brim with vodka. That’s a positive where I come from.
My dining companion was less impressed. ‘Americans are such suckers,’ was her review, echoing the Vanity Fair sentiment and pithily summarising an economy that can charge $40 for a burger, drink and a small piece of the American mirage served up in a billionaire’s basement dining room. And how you feel about that may have some bearing on where you stand on Trump and the US.
If overpriced burgers sprinkled with gold dust in Trumpland are not your thing, then don’t bother eating at Disneyland or Seaworld. You’ll also find them full of unthinking plebs. You might want to avoid many other New York restaurants too, with their faux authenticity, celebrity owners and prix fixé menus. Trump Grill isn’t the worst restaurant in America. But in many ways it is America, in all its hyperbolic, supersized, baffling glory.