When I descended the escalator into the bronzed bowels of Trump Tower, I was confused. It registered on my face so evidently that a security guard bellowed across the room to make sure I was where I ought be be. “Uh...” I wheeled around, “I was looking for the Trump Cafe? I heard that it serves breakfast?” What you see is what you get, he told me, pointing at the cafeteria-style line, adding that if I came back at 5 p.m., they could scare up a cold martini for me at the Trump Bar, two shiny floors up. It was 8:30 a.m.
Mr. Donald J. Trump, the Republican nominee for president of the United States of America, had already gotten an early jump on the morning (or a very late end to the evening), tweeting just moments before that: “Despite winning the second debate in a landslide (every poll), it is hard to do well when Paul Ryan and others give zero support!” This proclamation of frustration was fueled neither by breakfast (he doesn’t eat it) nor coffee (he doesn’t drink it), and not even one of those previously invoked martinis (he’s a teetotaler). Just sheer Trumpness.
Suddenly the split of Trump Chardonnay—next to the patriotic Bud bottle, in front of the fruit cups—in the refrigerated case seemed like a perfectly cromulent pre-noon beverage option. If I’d secured a table at the adjacent Trump Grill on a weekend, I might have dived head-first into a “You’re Fired!” (a bloody mary that’s $4 larger than the standard $10 option) or an $18 “Fifth Avenue Mimosa” made with Trump SP Blanc de Blanc, but it was a Tuesday and I was on a mission: to suss out what kind of breakfast Donald Trump might be able to grab if he were, say, holed up in Trump Tower for a day or two.
While Trump Grill (home of a rather infamous taco bowl) serves brunch only on weekends, Trump Cafe is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., dishing out sandwiches, create-your-own salads, burgers, personal pizzas, and Donald Trump’s purported favorite—a meatloaf made using a recipe used from his late mother, a Scottish immigrant by the name of Mary MacLeod. And, of course, breakfast—but where the heck was it?
I’d entered Trump Tower’s lobby from 5th Avenue after wending through a crew of bored-looking cops, unattended camera equipment, police barricades, and a lone woman in a Make America Great Again T-shirt, then mounted a glitzy escalator up to… whoops! That’s the Trump Tower Starbucks, and the Trump Bar (the Billionaire Martini is practically a bargain at $20). Back through the lobby with its niches and cases hawking Ivanka Trump jewelry and Trump/Pence swag. Down another escalator into the subterranean garden level and wait—this can’t be it. All things Trump are emblazoned as such. There’s Trump Grill, Trump’s Ice Cream Parlor, The Trump Store (hats, shirts, chocolate, fragrances including Success by Trump and Empire by Trump)—from the building facade’s inward, there is never a scintilla of doubt over whose turf upon which you have tread. The trash receptacles are as glitzed out as the bathroom fixtures on Trump Force One. (The solid gold toilet is an urban legend.) Donald Trump is neither a subtle nor modest man.
But here, I saw a slide-along tray rail butted up against glass barriers and sneeze guards housing empty steam trays, a sandwich station, a salad bar, a slightly dumpy pastry case. Nothing gilded, embossed, branded in any manner—and then I spotted it: a luster-dusted candy “T” atop a cupcake next to the register. I looked up: a sign suspended on two chains from the ceiling touted Trump Reserve Premium Coffee, and another, separately hung, extolled the virtues of Trump Reserve Premium Coffee by Segafredo on the rocks. This must be the place. (I eventually found the Trump Cafe sign, mounted to a wall behind the line like an apology.)
I scanned the menu. Though I disagree loudly and intensely on many—OK, most—positions held by the building’s eponymous owner, as a proud son of the city, he is loudly possessed of “New York values,” one of which is an egg and cheese on a roll. I forked over my $8.06—plus a buck in the tip jar—and took my small Trump Coffee over to the surprisingly non-branded milk dispenser, and contemplated the sweetener machine’s offerings of sugar, pink, blue, and Splenda. Veto. I like my coffee like I’m being forced to have my presidential election: cloudy and bitter.
I received the sandwich in a plastic sack stamped with the gilded Trump Cafe logo, mysteriously absent from the facility itself, and nabbed a table in an open seating area near a multi-story waterfall. My fellow patrons included a Skyping businessman from another land, a young man delivering Eric Trump realness, the MAGA-shirted woman I’d seen in the street, a couple sorting out what seemed to be a screenplay, and suddenly from a speaker above, the voice of Dean Martin singing, “You Made Me Love You (Live in Lake Tahoe).”
As The Donald was hurling digital diatribes toward Speaker Paul Ryan, I inhaled the chlorinated air and bit into my sandwich. It was not huge. It was not the greatest. It was not great. It was perfectly adequate, mildly rubbery, but not overtly offensive. The coffee was redolent of basement.
And while Donald Trump unshackled himself from the GOP, I rose from the depths of Trump Tower more dollars than I expected to be dollars poorer, with a leaden bread lump forming in my stomach, and a mildly bad taste in my mouth. Some people might say that’s a win.