I’ve never really liked zombie movies. I know that’s sacrilege coming from a Pittsburgh native, where George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead famously staggered around Evans City Cemetery. But I just never got the appeal of the ravenous undead.
Yet, cinematic zombie apocalypses are really the only comparisons I’m finding to describe the experience of wandering around Trump Tower this past Saturday. I’ve never related to Jim, Cillian Murphy’s bike courier from Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, more. In the film, Jim wakes up from a coma only to find everyone has seemingly vanished. He wanders around central London in a hospital gown, alone, walking the streets covered in trash, shouting, “Hello?!”
But I wasn’t shouting into the abyss at the Palace of Westminster. No. Instead, I was yelling it at the Palace of Trash. Hollering up that notorious towering golden escalator, blocked off with a velvet rope, dwarfed by the walls and walls of pink marble.
Where the hell IS everyone?
Look. I didn’t want to write another Trump article. I swear. I’ve been trying very hard not to, even though I recently devoured Maggie Haberman’s riveting but lengthy tome of a Trump book, Confidence Man, which left me snickering publicly in parks and subways. Yet when considering covering it, I hesitated. Does anyone, despite the continued endless barrage of Trump on more mainstream outlets, want more Trump content? Even I, endlessly fascinated by Trump as a figure sprung from our American collective unconscious, a Frankenstein’s Monster created in the self-image of our fame-obsessed, greedy, megalomaniacal culture, know the answer. Absolutely not. And whenever I get that inkling, I remind myself over and over again like a disciplined naughty child: I will not write another Trump article. I will not write another Trump article. I will not…
But after visiting the seemingly abandoned Trump Tower, I feel like I must at least share my experience. Think of this as an addendum to my previous journey to Trump Tower’s cocktail bar, 45 Wine & Whiskey Bar, earlier this year. Then, Trump Tower was also devoid of people. Yet, I always wondered how that essay would age. Trump Tower’s eerie unpopulated nature could easily have been dismissed as simply a product of the Omicron wave, which in January was still raging. As the city opened back up and welcome tourists from far and wide, would Trump Tower again return to its glory days? Would Trump Tower become Great Again with its smattering of discarded Starbucks cups and giant ass prints permanently etched into soft cushioned benches? Would my assertion that Trump Tower lies dormant as a symbol of America’s last gasps eventually be proved dead wrong? Would it, in time, fill up again with MAGA hat-wearing Trump fanatics, purchasing Trump-branded Sharpies and libtard-triggering plastic straws? Would those gilded escalators be turned on once again?
Apparently not. When I swished through those glistening revolving doors on a busy Saturday afternoon, past a gaggle of NYPD officers still posted up outside, I left the bustling hoards of tourists wandering in a shopping spree psychosis around 5th Avenue and entered, what felt like, a hermetically sealed tomb.
Admittedly, I took this impromptu journey to Trump Tower to once again visit 45 Wine & Whiskey out of morbid curiosity. I know. I know. Don’t yell at me for spending money there! I had just finished a tiring visit to bloated MoMA whose exhausting expansion still requires me to restrain myself from dashing right back out the door in a panic. It’s too much! So I was weary and starving, and not wanting to spoil my appetite by buying some $11 olives at the MoMA café. Why not, instead, fork over $45 for the most American of meals imaginable? The Forty-Five: a glass of Wyoming Whiskey and orange bitters, two sliders with “special sauce,” and a cool bottle of Diet Coke, Trump’s beverage of choice. And no, I’m not kidding. I was so hungry I definitely could have convinced myself to get it.
Plus, there was the added incentive of possibly having a run-in with the Trump Organization’s Vice President of Interior Design, Giavona Pirolo, who got miffed and furiously commented on my prior 45 Wine & Whiskey essay on this very here website! Pirolo has an origin story that is so perfect it bears repeating here. According to the Miami Herald, Pirolo “was a waitress in West Palm when one of Trump’s executives asked Pirolo if she could help her find shoes for Trump’s wedding: now Pirolo is membership and marketing director for Trump Florida properties.” That was in 2015. Now, Pirolo does interior design, including that fetching Trump-themed airport smoking lounge look of 45 Wine & Whiskey. It’s the American Dream! Using her real email address, though commenting under a salty pseudonym, Pirolo accused me of being an AOC stan (who, for the record, I do not like), wanting to sleep with Trump (pass), and welcoming me back to the bar soon in a slightly threatening way. Enticing! Let’s have a drink, Giavona! I bet you have stories to share!
But there were no drinks to be had. When I turned the corner, past the velvet-roped restricted escalators, I found: yet another velvet rope. This time, the rope was blocking off the entirety of 45 Wine & Whiskey, sitting directly in front of the Trump-emblazoned wooden host stand. There would be no sliders. There would be no Diet Coke. There would be no gawking and giggling at the Trump memorabilia lining the walls.
Well, other than craning my neck over the velvet barricade in order to catch a glimpse of a central glass case which includes, directly below a photograph of Trump’s glowering gaze sitting at the Resolute Desk, a Top-Secret folder. Of course, Trump got in big trouble with the FBI over his treasure trove of classified documents held at Mar-A-Lago, packed in boxes alongside Trump-related TIME Magazine covers. But have the Feds checked 45 Wine & Whiskey’s display cases? More than evidence of a crime, I believe this indicates Trump’s possible intent with those documents: memorabilia! In Haberman’s Confidence Man, he refers to a classified designation as “the sexy part.” He may not be trying to sell state secrets. Instead, he’s just trying to make an Oval Office version of Planet Hollywood!
The only sign of life in 45 Wine & Whiskey was a lone mop bucket. In this dearth of humanity, the mop bucket took on added significance. A humble representative of the working people that continue to care for this gaudy boondoggle of pink marble and gold, probably rarely getting their check on time. Chillingly symbolic.
Now, don’t go thinking I arrived at Trump Tower without checking the hours. 45 Wine & Whiskey Bar was set to open at 1 PM, according to the website. I was at Trump Tower at 1:40 PM, quite a while after its supposed opening time. And a mop bucket doesn’t exactly broadcast: We’re opening soon! So, where was the rest of the staff? Where was…well, anyone?
Granted, there were signs foreshadowing that not much would be open inside Trump Tower. Before I even entered, I did notice it didn’t seem like anyone was coming in or out. And later, as I strolled through the vacant marble lobby, a security guard waved at me, likely reacting not only to the maniacal look on my face but the excitement that another living soul was coming in. I, usually in my own world and in this case, primarily fixated on the bar, regrettably did not wave back. Only after I passed his desk did I wonder: Was he waving at me? Well, who else would he be waving at? The ghost of the memory of Michael Cohen?
I should say I wasn’t the only person in Trump Tower who wasn’t employed by the Trump Organization. One or two small families also wandered in a daze through the cavernous lobby, pausing to take pictures in front of the 45 presidential seal outside the bar and the adjacent row of flags. I did catch a few enquiring glances shot my way from the adults in the group. What?! Was it strange that a solo woman in a Lana Del Rey T-shirt was taking photographs of a closed bar and cackling? Regardless, these few people had nothing on the crowds in past incarnations of Trump Tower. Before his presidency, during The Apprentice era of the Trump saga, there were many, many more visitors to Trump Tower. Hell. Even Maggie Haberman recounts taking a field trip to Trump Tower to marvel at its feat of architectural tackiness as a public elementary school student on the Upper West Side. Not now, apparently.
Though I could no longer take a ride up to the mezzanine and grab a Cranberry Bliss Bar, where there once sat a Starbucks in which Homeland Security officers flirted with baristas on our tax dollars, I could, however, make the journey downstairs to the basement. The Trump Tower basement features a few more food options, namely the grab-and-go Trump Café, the storied Trump Grill, which Vanity Fair has deemed possibly “the worst restaurant in America,” and Trump Sweets, an ice cream bar where you can pour gummy bears onto your Trump twist. Surely, the basement has to have more people, right? RIGHT?
Wrong. Weaving past a plethora of unoccupied tables, I found, what was at one time, the Trump Café. Only now the Trump Café was a series of mostly bare display cases, behind which sat haphazardly strewn kitchen appliances. One display case, one of the few that consisted of more than just air, was filled with fall leaves and rapidly rotting petite pumpkins and other seasonal gourds. Festive! Another sported a selection of Saran-wrapped muffins. I bet those are fresh! Even the Coke machine looked to be turned off, which has to be some crime in the Trump doctrine!
Where were the stale bagels and wet sandwiches with those tasteless pink tomatoes that I remember? Did a natural disaster blow through? A zombie apocalypse? And, again, where IS everyone?
The Trump Grill, in contrast, was open and it looked to have a few diners inside. To my eternal regret, I didn’t dare try to ask for a table. I don’t know what I was thinking. Perhaps it was observing one of the families meandering around this mausoleum get turned away, potentially for not having reservations. Or more likely, it was the memory of the cursed martini Olivia Nuzzi received at this restaurant, a wine glass full of ice and vodka. But no matter my motivations, I didn’t go in. And after doing a bit of digging on the Grill’s website, I’m beating myself up over it. First, there is an alarming amount of Mexican food (sort of) on the menu. A head-scratching culinary decision that for sure means days on the toilet afterward, beyond the jarring cognitive dissonance of eating pseudo-Mexican food in the location where Trump scare-mongered about Mexican rapists and “bad hombres.” Take, the $20 “The Board Room,” an ominous combination of queso, guacamole, and Tex-Mex chili served with warm tortilla chips. I bet those ingredients are not at all beyond their sell-by date! But, the real attraction to the Trump Grill for me is the bar, above which sits a portrait of Big Daddy Fred Trump. It’s the kind of spookily grim and severe portrait that wouldn’t look out of place in Disney World’s Tower of Terror or The Haunted Mansion rides. I’m sure his eyes follow you as you guzzle your $25 Manhattan!
I don’t bring up the Tower of Terror or the Haunted Mansion rides without purpose. In January, running around Trump Tower, undetected and unobserved, felt oddly liberating, momentarily taking over the space. Granted, I had been drinking. And even more, listening to Trump’s playlist, which included Stevie Nicks singing about “Dreams.” But Saturday, the building felt haunted—like some sort of dusty crypt that also, because of its comical, over-the-top aesthetic classlessness, could also moonlight as a theme park ride in Orlando. Think about it, Donnie! Always be branding!
But, that’s not all that Trump Tower reminded me of. Because of all the velvet ropes, it also looked like a particularly tacky period room at The Met. Unused rooms full of gilded objects and other artifacts left for the intrepid few (rarely do people look at period rooms at museums either–I always seek them out for a relaxing crowd-free breather) to gaze into the abyss of history and consider its precariousness. A perfect pairing alongside some Louis XVI rooms! (Speaking of, where is our Marie Antoinette, Melania?!)The opulence before the fall. A relic of American narcissism.
That being said, it would be a mistake to read Trump Tower’s desertion as some sort of insight into Trump’s popularity. We know he intends to make his return to politics soon, perhaps even announcing his 2024 run as early as next week. And if we can depend on the Democrats for anything, it’s managing to fuck things up royally and never taking responsibility for their missteps (Excited for the midterms tomorrow?).
But who cares about politics when we have this mystery to solve: What the hell is happening at Trump Tower?! And where IS everyone? Perhaps it has more to do with the New York State civil case against the Trump Organization, which has motivated the creation of the hilariously imaginatively named Trump Organization 2. One of the most recent developments from that case is a ruling in favor of a court-appointed monitor who will oversee the Trump Organization’s business, including any transfer or selling of assets. Certainly, Trump Tower does look like a fire sale is imminent. If so, I call dibs on that Fred Trump painting!