José Andrés returns to the old Trump hotel

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We love stories of fate: lovers reconnected after decades apart, a long-lost ring recovered, a second chance taken.

If the universe has any control over these things, it would seem that José Andrés was supposed to open a restaurant in the historic pavilion of the old post office, along the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue connecting the White House and the Capitol. His plan to open a luxury outpost of his restaurant empire in the iconic building exploded seven years ago during a dispute with its future owner, presidential candidate Donald Trump.

The rift began with Trump’s campaign comments about immigrants that angered Spanish-born Andrés, who has made his love of American immigrant history central to his identity. Lawsuits, court battles, headlines — and a divisive Trump presidency — followed.

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Now Trump is an ex-president whose name has been removed from the glittering hotel that would have housed Andrés’ restaurant. Andrés, however, returns to Pennsylvania Avenue, intending to open a new restaurant in the same space as before.

A bazaar location, Andrés’ global concept, will open later this year under the hotel’s new management, a Miami investment fund called CGI Merchant Group that will operate it like a Waldorf Astoria. Andrés is not just a tenant in the business; he also owns an undisclosed share of the fund.

“For me, it’s very symbolic to open this restaurant in the heart of the city, to bring Bazaar to the city that has given me so much of who I am,” Andrés said in an interview.

Andrés didn’t seem interested in rehashing his battle with Trump. This may in part be due to the settlement the two sides reached, the terms of which have not been made public.

“It was just business,” he said. “Business people doing business.”

Andrés prefers to talk about another politician who played a role in the winding history of the restaurant to come. He recalled that the idea of ​​opening a restaurant in the old post office building was first planted in his mind decades ago by none other than Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The legendary New York Democrat had dined at Jaleo, the Chinatown restaurant where Andrés made a name for himself as a chef, and the two became friends. Andrés said that at first he didn’t realize his earnest and engaging guest was a senator.

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Moynihan, who had made urban renewal and the revival of America’s downtowns a cause, thought the building — which languished, its lower levels filled with dingy restaurants and retail stores — might be a gem. And he encouraged Andrés to dream, says the chef. “He said, ‘Jose, maybe one day you’ll open your own shop there,'” Andrés said. “It’s amazing to me that this happened – it’s such an iconic building and he was such an iconic man.”

It’s another made-in-America origin story for Andrés, who often recounts arriving in the United States from Spain with $50 in his pocket before rising through the ranks to run restaurants that bear his name, in cities ranging from Las Vegas to Dubai.

Bazaar will occupy the space that housed BLT Prime, the recently closed steakhouse run by New York chef David Burke, which the Trumps had selected after the dramatic termination of the original deal with Andrés. BLT Prime stood out, if not for particularly innovative cuisine, at least for being a dining destination for members of the Trump administration who might have found a less friendly welcome at other Washington restaurants. Trump fans could often be seen taking selfies and scanning the glittering lobby for VIPs.

It was the only Beltway establishment where the former president deigned to dine outside the gates of the White House, marking a stark contrast to many previous presidents, especially President Barack Obama, who enjoyed date nights at some of the fanciest tables in town and working lunches at the local burger joint. joints and delicatessens. Trump was still greeted with his signature order: a well-done steak, with fries and ketchup, plus a Diet Coke.

Andrés envisions a different clientele. While the vibe is certainly upscale, he said he wanted to be inclusive. “Without a doubt, wherever I open a restaurant, everyone will be welcome,” he said.

Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup already operates Bazaar locations in Los Angeles and Miami, with another planned for New York. Bazaar Meat, a beef-centric spinoff, has locations in Chicago and Las Vegas with a third opening soon in Los Angeles. The Washington outpost will accommodate 200 people and its “bold and playful” interior (according to the TFG announcement) is designed by Barcelona-based design firm Lázaro Rosa-Violán.

When asked if he planned to conduct some sort of smudging or sage-burning ritual to drive away unwanted spirits left behind by former residents, Andrés just laughed and focused on the workers. “I don’t think it was bad spirits – the people who worked there are good people, they are Washingtonians, like me, and they treated everyone with respect,” he said.

Some might see Andrés opening a restaurant in the high-profile pole vault as a victory over his old nemesis. Andrés sees it, however, as a triumph for his immigrant-embracing worldview, which he often invokes in his mantra of “longer tables, not higher walls.”

“The longer tables,” he said, “always win the day.”

About Jonathan Bell

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