By Dan Kraemer
CBS 2 Executive Producer
CHICAGO (CBS) — Like him or not, President Donald Trump is unique as Commander in Chief in that he owns a chain of hotels. And on Monday, his two worlds – politics and real estate – collided when Mr. Trump visited the Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago for a fundraiser. So we wondered, what happens when a sitting president visits his own hotel?
We made a reservation for Sunday night. Trump Hotel is certainly one of the nicest hotels in town, but it’s also one of the most expensive. When we looked, the rates available to the public started at $400+ for that particular date. We paid a corporate rate of $250.
Again, the name Trump is very polarizing, but objectively, this is definitely a luxury hotel. The arrival experience begins with a hot towel. The clerk happily allows me to check in about 90 minutes before the official 4 p.m. time. He also agrees to extend checkout the next day. He quietly let me know that the President is coming to town tomorrow, so I should be careful on the streets given all the expected activity.
The elevator requires a keycard to access the guest floors. I head up to the 19th floor, where I find my spacious guest room.
It’s advertised as 530 square feet, complete with floor to ceiling windows. I try to adjust the curtains and struggle, until I realize they are motorized. With a push of the button, the sunlight shines in, and then disappears.
All the lights in the room are also controlled with the push of a button by the bed. The room also has a stocked kitchen, complete with stovetops, a microwave and Nespresso beverage system.
There’s a 65” TV in the room. Fox News is an option. CNN, MSNBC and all the broadcast channels are also on the lineup. It was a bit odd to turn on the television guide with the TRUMP HOTELS logo in the upper right of the screen, next to a listing for the program on CNN at 7 p.m.: “The Impeachment Inquiry: White House in Crisis.” Channel 53 is labeled “Trump Channel” and shows underwater fish at the moment I flip through.
If one TV’s not enough, there’s a second one: in the mirror of the bathroom. So you watch whatever you like (fake news, real news, not news) while brushing your teeth or enjoying the deep soaking tub surrounded by Portuguese limestone tile.
You’ll never forget what hotel you’re visiting. The Trump name is everywhere. A liner on the desk, toiletries in the bathroom, candy and wine for sale in the minibar, just to name a few. But it’s not in an obnoxious way and honestly no different than the branding you’d find at a Hilton or Hyatt or fill in the blank hotel name. All of the Trump references are related to the hotel. There are no photos of the President, political propaganda or anything partisan.
But all the luxury comes at a cost. I saw the most expensive bottle of water ever: $32 for a bottle of bling H20. Swarovski crystals adorn the bottle, according to the “Water Library” menu. The other option is a $12 bottle of Evian.
I did not eat at the hotel (assuming the corporate accountants would not approve of my expense account). The American breakfast (eggs, potatoes, meat, toast and beverage) is $33 via room service; $28 in the restaurant, minus the beverage. So not exactly Denny’s pricing, but perhaps in line with other top-of-the-line luxury hotels in Chicago.
There are some freebies available. I took advantage of the complimentary shoe shine service. You could help yourself to an apple at the entrance to the spa/fitness center/pool. Coffee is available to guests in a café in the morning at no cost. And turndown service included a free bottle of Trump branded water, along with an inspirational quote and the weather forecast for the next day.
Also left in my room Sunday night, a letter from the hotel general manager that reads in part: “We have been made aware of planned neighborhood demonstrations scheduled tomorrow morning and throughout the day.” It went on to detail security and logistical concerns. But no mention of the President or Donald Trump by name. I tried to access the Business Center, but was told it was closed, and the front desk could assist me in printing if needed. I then tried to sit in a chair in a hallway flanked by large windows, overlooking the Chicago River. A man (who I’m guessing is security) politely informed me I could not remain there, and suggested I visit the café on the first floor or restaurant on the second floor to enjoy a similar view. A separate restaurant on the 16th floor would also be off limits. That letter from the hotel GM wrote: “Terrace 16 will be closed for private functions….” Again, no mention that those functions involve the sitting President, whose name happens to be plastered all over the hotel.
While in the lobby, I overheard a couple talking to a bellman about transportation. Because of the security perimeter, Ubers and Lyfts and taxis could not approach the hotel. Guests would have to walk a block or two beyond the perimeter to reach their ride. Or, the hotel would be happy to drive them in a golf cart to beyond the secure zone.
Back in the room, you could see the security in force 19 stories below. Snowplows angled just so blocked several streets to cars. Lots of police, many in bright yellow vests, could be seen congregating on the streets below. I faced north, so I did not see the protesters, which began to congregate to the south, along the Chicago River.
Lunchtime meant a trip outside the building. As I left, the lobby began to fill up, presumably many supporters of President Trump, who opened their wallets to attend the fundraiser. But I also noticed a handful of folks dressed more like they were attending a football game. Some in jerseys, with TRUMP 45 on the back, a nod of course to Mr. Trump being the 45th President of the United States.
Trying to navigate from Trump Tower to the adjacent Wrigley Building proved a bit tricky, because of all of the security barriers. I finally snaked my way to Michigan Avenue to grab some food to bring back to the room. Getting back proved to be easier than expected. I got by the first checkpoint by showing my Trump Hotel room key and driver’s license to a Chicago Police Officer. I then hit the next barricade, also manned by CPD and a Trump Hotel employee. That employee found me on a register of hotel guests he had in a binder and escorted me to the building. He even agreed to unlock a back door so I could get back into the lobby, saving me from having to walk several blocks around the security perimeter. When he escorted me in, a Chicago Police Officer asked if he could use the bathroom. The hotel employee allowed him in as well. Throughout my stay, I saw several officers inside the hotel at various times to use the facilities, rest their feet or warm up. I even saw one snapping a photo of protesters across the River.
I brought my lunch up to the room where I watched part of the President’s McCormick Place speech on TV. Then I headed back down to the first floor café, where guests could hang out in comfortable chairs and see the river. And on this day, the other side of the river, filled with protesters. The Terrace 16 has a breathtaking views of the River and beyond. In theory at least, unless curtains were closed, the President and his supporters would see them on the north side of the river. Tour boats also glided up and down the river, while two other boats watched: one Coast Guard and one Chicago Police.
My excursion would come to an end, with checkout kindly extended 90 minutes beyond the normal 11 a.m. At first, the clerk told me I would have to hang around an hour or two more because the building was on lockdown. It turns out, though, he realized that guests could leave, if escorted by one of those golf carts to beyond the security perimeter. I went outside and didn’t see an available cart so I asked the police officer if I really needed to wait. He told me it was OK to go, but once I left, I could not return. So I headed south over the Wabash bridge, stopping briefly to take a photo of the scene on the other side. An officer admonished me and told me to keep moving. It was eerie basically being the only “regular” person along the street. I crossed the bridge, passed through the security barrier and into the thick of the protest, back to reality, my luxury hotel stay officially over.