What I learned by eating, drinking and sleeping at Trump resorts from Vancouver to Scotland

What I learned by eating, drinking and sleeping at Trump resorts from Vancouver to Scotland
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The twisting, triangular, neo-futurist Trump International Hotel & Tower in Vancouver rises 63 storeys and 188 metres.   (Ben Nelms / Bloomberg)

By Jason WilsonSpecial to the Washington Post

Sun., April 1, 2018

It’s just after dark in Vancouver’s downtown financial district, on a chilly autumn evening, and I’m gazing up at the twisting, triangular, neo-futurist Trump International Hotel & Tower, rising 63 storeys and 188 metres into the air. If you’re impressed by tall things, the Trump tower is pretty tall. But then I glance across West Georgia St., at the Living Shangri-La tower, rising 62 storeys but standing 200 metres tall. Which means that the Living Shangri-La is the tallest building here. For someone like Donald Trump who is obsessed with superlatives, it must be tough to have your name emblazoned on the second-tallest building in Vancouver.

From where I stand, the Trump International Hotel & Tower is not particularly welcoming. It’s 7:30 p.m., but I see very few lights on the higher floors, and I wonder who lives in the darkened condominiums in the upper parts of the tower. Below the condos, the hotel occupies the first 15 floors. All over the outside of the property, there are large white bloblike sculptures, as if a giant sneezed.

I’m paying nearly $300 a night (figures in U.S. unless otherwise stated) to stay in one of the 147 five-star hotel rooms in the tower. When I arrived to check in, I gawked at the two Lamborghini Diablos parked in front of the hotel entrance. After I got to my room, I tried on the robe embroidered with “TRUMP,” along with the “TRUMP”-branded shower cap, in my marble-tiled bathroom. At the Trump Champagne Lounge, I ate a “delectable playful bite” — a trio of not-all-that-delectable toothpicked sliders — and ended up only ordering a cheap by-the-glass sparkling wine, since bottles on the Trump Champagne Lounge’s list range from $150 to $1,350. Throughout the lounge, which is interspersed with pillars that look like huge, gold-plated Jenga stacks, everyone else seemed to be speaking Chinese.

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Earlier, I had a swim in the strange indoor pool that, late at night, transforms into a Vegas-style nightclub called Drai’s; I draped a towel on an upholstered lounge banquette. Later, I was given very professional, very invigorating massage treatment at The Spa by Ivanka Trump (which “personifies her lifestyle, embarking on every endeavor with energy and passion, but always taking the time to pause, heal and recharge”). At the spa, a woman with an Eastern European accent asked me about my “intention” for today’s treatment. “Calm, restore or energize?” she asked.

“Energize?” I answered.

The notion of my “intention” had, frankly, been nagging at me. Not just at The Spa by Ivanka Trump, but existentially. Over the past six weeks, I’d been travelling to Trump vacation properties around the world. I’d been to the Trump golf resort near Aberdeen, Scotland, to Trump Winery in Virginia, to the Trump hotel and tower in Panama City, and now here in Vancouver. Before that tour, over the summer, I’d visited the former Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.

I wasn’t travelling as an investigative reporter or a salacious Michael Wolff type. As a food and travel writer, my role as a contributor to the Washington Post has always been a minor, lighter-weight one. I’m someone who roves around and writes about craft beverages or artisan cheese or cigar culture or Spanish tapas or Scandinavian culinary movements — someone you’d turn to for a cocktail recipe or a bar recommendation, not political commentary. But at this point, Trump has been written about in every other genre of journalism: political, entertainment, financial, fashion, sports. Why not look at Trump, promiser of luxury experiences, through the eyes of a travel writer?

My plan was to sleep in the various Trump hotels, experience the Trump amenities, wear the Trump robe and shower cap, eat in the Trump restaurants, drink in the Trump bars — no differently than when I anonymously visit and review any other establishment in the course of a travel or food article. Given the state of things, this might have been naive, but that’s what I ended up doing.

The Spa by Ivanka Trump inside the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Vancouver "personifies her lifestyle, embarking on every endeavor with energy and passion, but always taking the time to pause, heal and recharge."   (Ben Nelms/Bloomberg)

On my second night in Vancouver — my final stop on this journey — I’m planning to eat at Mott 32, the “luxury Chinese” spot on the ground floor of the Trump hotel. Just as I’m about to walk back inside for dinner, a black SUV drives past with its passenger window lowered. A young woman leans out, waving two middle fingers and screaming an obscenity about Trump at the top of her lungs. It’s like the primal shriek of a banshee. I am one of only two people standing outside the entrance, so it feels like much of her hate is being directed at me. Since I am a paying customer here, perhaps that’s her point.

After the SUV cruises on, the street is quiet again. A Trump employee standing nearby shrugs and opens the lobby door for me. His body language is similar to that of the bartender I chatted with at the Trump Champagne Lounge earlier, who grimaced when the name “Donald Trump” was uttered. “The property is actually owned by TA Global,” the bartender said, making clear that the Trump brand is licensed. “It’s like a franchise.”

The $360-million hotel and condominium development was, in fact, funded by 38-year-old Joo Kim Tiah, whose family presides over the Malaysia-based financial and real estate empire TA Global. It’s not clear exactly how much Tiah pays in fees to the Trump Organization. When the tower opened in February 2017, it was the first new Trump property since he assumed the presidency and announced he was stepping aside from day-to-day control to let his sons run the Trump Organization. Eric, Donald Jr. and even Tiffany joined Tiah at the ribbon cutting, along with a group of protesters singing “O Canada” and carrying signs reading “Dump Trump” outside amid the white blobs.

Who was not in attendance was the mayor of Vancouver and other prominent officials. “Trump’s name and brand have no more place on Vancouver’s skyline than his ignorant ideas have in the modern world,” Mayor Gregor Robertson wrote in a letter to Tiah. A city council member, Kerry Jang, called the tower “a beacon of intolerance” and said it had “bad karma.”

At Mott 32, the dining room is completely full and I’m seated at the bar. Mott 32 is the North American outpost of a famous Hong Kong restaurant, which has another location forthcoming in Bangkok. A critic for the Globe and Mail newspaper called it “the most noteworthy restaurant to open in Vancouver for many years.” The Filipino bartender explains that the majority of the clientele in Mott 32 speaks Mandarin and is wealthy. Scanning the full dining room, I can believe it.

At the table in front of me, a waiter carves the $95 Peking duck for a Chinese family, with several children playing on their iPads. That Peking duck is not even close to the most expensive dish on the menu: A whole suckling pig costs $495; braised whole dried fish maw, in abalone sauce, is listed at $580. (Canadian dollars, but still.)

I order a few of the more affordable small dishes from the “Evening Dim Sum” menu: an unexceptional duck spring roll, some hot-and-sour Shanghai-style soup dumplings, which are surprisingly tasty, and a black truffle siu mai with Iberico pork and a soft quail egg, served at room temperature, that is just too ambitious to be anything but disappointing. The bartender makes a little joke when he serves the siu mai: “Be careful about the egg inside. It’s a soft yolk and you don’t want it all over your shirt.”

I tell the bartender about the screaming protester who’d driven by outside, and he looks pained. “Ah, politics,” he says with a sigh. “I have friends that tell me, ‘Well, we can’t visit you now because you work at that place.’” He adds, sombrely: “This property is owned by TA Global, not Trump.”

Back in my room, still hungry, I open a container of honey-roasted peanuts ($8) and a Mexican beer ($11) from the minibar, flip on CNN and lie on the bed. As a jaded travel writer, someone who has stayed in many soulless hotels and eaten in many overpriced restaurants in many disappointing places, I’m completely at ease with a certain exquisite idleness and ennui. But there’s something profoundly unsettling about the sort of boredom that I’ve been feeling in the Trump properties over the past many weeks.

To be clear, none of my experience has been terrible, and some of it has been pleasant. Mostly, though, I’ve been overwhelmed by a relentless, insistent, in-your-face mediocrity: the scolding “Notice to Guests” in my room at the Trump MacLeod House & Lodge in Scotland, warning that I will be charged punitively if I take the lint brush, shoehorn, coasters or other Trump-branded amenities; the strange card displayed in my room at the Albemarle Estate in Charlottesville, Va., explaining that “Countryside stink bugs” will “occasionally be found” inside and the jar of stale chocolate chip cookies I’m told was the only food available later at night; the eerie near-emptiness and peeling paint of the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Panama, touted as the tallest building in Central America. And it’s this mediocrity that’s the most disquieting.

I think about the woman earlier this evening who screamed from her SUV, yelling at those of us who happened to be standing in front of the silent, cold, glistening tower. It was a little over-the-top. I suspect that this type of white-hot outrage and hysteria will eventually cool. I also suspect that the era of Trump will pass soon enough. When that happens, what terrifies me is not that Trump’s presidency will have ended up as an exploding, burning disaster — but rather that it will have become something dangerously lukewarm, seeping into our identity. Kind of like that black truffle siu mai with the quail egg inside, served room temperature, with the soft yolk that threatens to ooze down the shirt of the person who ordered it.

The Trump Taj Mahal Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, N.J. was hyped as the "eighth wonder of the world" when it opened back in 1990.  (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

I’m wandering the ghostly hallway of the 50th floor, the high rollers’ floor, of what was once the Trump Taj Mahal Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. Tables, lampshades, hangers, broken chairs and other pieces of furniture line the peeling walls. In some places the carpet is soaked.

The penthouse suite has been emptied of all its contents, save for an ironing board. A window treatment is dangling from its rod, and the wallpaper is separating from the wall, revealing what seems to be black mould. The mirrored fireplace and two faux-classical pillars stand pathetically naked in the centre of the suite.

It’s July 2017, nine months after the Taj shut its doors in October 2016. This is the third week of a liquidation sale run by National Content Liquidators, and the public has been invited to rummage around the 1,200 guest rooms, to buy anything with a yellow tag. It’s clear that most everything of value went in the early days of the sale.

It’s hard to believe that this place was hyped as the “eighth wonder of the world” when it opened back in 1990. At the time it was the world’s largest casino, as well as the tallest building in New Jersey. But within 15 months of its opening, the Taj filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. By 2009, after another bankruptcy, Trump had sold most of his ownership in the casinos that bore his name. After another bankruptcy filing by the company that ran the Taj Mahal, Trump finally sold his remaining ownership, reported to be less than 10 per cent.

I’m from southern New Jersey, and standing in the ruins of the Taj Mahal is profoundly depressing for me. I think about all of the jobs in this vacant building that have been lost; some of my family members have worked for the Trump casinos. One relative won’t talk openly about it with me, still fearing a nondisclosure agreement she signed two decades ago. I actually began my journalism career, in 1992, as a reporter at the Press of Atlantic City. This was the moment when the Trump casinos had just emerged from the first of their bankruptcy reorganizations, and Trump still presented himself as a sort of ruling monarch of Atlantic City, helicoptering in from Manhattan occasionally to express his disapproval with how the town was being run. It’s mostly forgotten now, but Trump’s second Atlantic City casino, opened in 1985, was originally, and unironically, named Trump’s Castle.

I exit the Taj Mahal and cross the Boardwalk to the Steel Pier. It’s pretty quiet for a sunny July afternoon, with the amusement rides about a third full. A young woman with a Russian accent at the Krazyballs game holds a microphone and says, “Everyone’s a winner!” over and over again, but no one comes to play.

As anyone who has seen HBO’s Boardwalk Empire knows, the Steel Pier, opened in 1898, was once the classic landmark of Atlantic City — hosting Miss America pageants, dance marathons and musical acts ranging from John Philip Sousa to Diana Ross. But the diving horse act — that is, a horse diving off the pier into the ocean — is what the Steel Pier’s fame, or infamy, rested upon.

The pier closed in 1978, was destroyed by a fire in 1982, and a decade later was reopened, by Donald Trump, who suggested with much fanfare that he was reviving Atlantic City’s glory days. Then, during the summer of 1993, it was announced that the diving horse act would be revived. The world, however, had changed. The diving horse act was now met by an angry crowd of animal rights activists, carrying signs that read “Donald Trump promotes animal cruelty” and chanting “Donald Trump, stop the jump!”

The diving mule act went on throughout the summer. Then, with only three days left before the season ended, Trump blew into town to hold a news conference at the pier. He told the assembled television cameras that the diving mule act would be cancelled, never to return. Further, Trump claimed to have never really liked the act anyway. Though, he said, “from a purely money standpoint, it was successful.” Even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals joined him at the news conference, with a sign that read, “Donald, the animals thank you.”

The following summer, when the Taj Mahal hosted the Moscow Circus for a six-week run, the mob of animal rights activists returned, angry as ever at Trump — now over the alleged mistreatment of the circus’s elephants and bears. This time, protesters dropped a half-ton of animal feces at the entrance to the Taj Mahal.

Early the next morning, I walk from the Taj Mahal down the Boardwalk to the completely abandoned Trump Plaza. Here, every mention of Trump has long been removed from the building, and grass now grows up through the pavement of the empty parking lots and entranceways. The Plaza will soon be demolished. At the ground floor, from the Boardwalk, you can still look into the dirty windows of Evo Restaurant and see that the tables — now covered with debris — were set for a dinner service in 2014 that never happened. I sit on a bench in a little area across from Boardwalk Hall, which is right next to the former Trump Plaza.

Legalized casino gaming was supposed be the city’s saviour. Sitting here looking at the ghostly shell of Trump Plaza is like the final word, showing once and for all that the casinos were not the saviour. Today, Atlantic City just limps along as always, dazed and confused by endless promises, sale pitches and big talk. It was the perfect place for Donald Trump, someone who would promise you the spectacle of a horse diving into the ocean, and then deliver a mule diving into a swimming pool.

David Milne flies the Mexican flag from atop his home, a former coast guard station that sits on a hill above Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Milne identifies with Mexico’s current plight because adjacent to his yard is a fence that Trump built and then sent him the bill for (more than $3,500, which he threw in the trash). This was back in 2009, when Trump was constructing his golf course on the environmentally sensitive sand dunes and harassing several of his neighbours in the village of Balmedie.

It’s a September day in Scotland, sunny one moment, overcast and drizzling the next, with waves of driving rain in between, all of it buffeted by a cold wind off the North Sea. In the distance, we can see working ships, likely heading back and forth to oil rigs. Milne, a health-and-safety consultant for the oil industry who has been living here for 25 years, says the area’s been hit hard. Nearly 100,000 people have lost their jobs since oil prices tanked.

The course at Trump International Golf Links is nearly empty. Milne says it’s like this almost every day. We see one foursome and some maintenance workers on a hole in the distance. I note that the parking lot still looks half full. Milne corrects me. “That’s actually only half the parking area,” he says. “There’s another half over there.” That half is empty. So only a quarter of the parking lot is full. “And there’s actually more cars here today than usual.”

Trump came to Aberdeenshire with a lot of promises: 6,000 jobs, 1,450 homes and millions for the local economy. Nothing near that has happened, and Trump’s two golf courses in Scotland are losing a lot of money. Neither has turned a profit since he poured more than $200 million into both Trump International Golf Links and the famed Turnberry course (which he acquired in 2014) on the Ayrshire coast, an hour from Glasgow. The course here in Aberdeenshire lost nearly $2 million in 2016, and the Scottish government recently blocked Trump’s attempt to build a new course on the dunes, according to multiple news sources. (The Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment.)

The employees at Trump’s MacLeod House & Lodge, the baronial mansion on the property that’s been turned into a five-star hotel, tell me the season is “winding down” — even though I’m paying what the website terms a “High Season” rate of nearly $350 per night. In any case, the hotel has few guests and is unnervingly quiet. Everyone else I talk to in Aberdeenshire says that in Scotland the golf season never really ends, and many of the more than 50 other golf courses in Aberdeenshire stay open all winter.

The few people who have paid to play Trump’s course today are mostly inside the Dunes Restaurant & Bar, which is sparsely filled. I order a lunch of “haggis bonbons” with “whisky mayonnaise”; the Golf Channel is on mute in the background. It’s so quiet in the Dunes that I can clearly hear a foursome of older American men a few tables away.

Donald Trump s two golf courses in Scotland are losing a lot of money. Neither has turned a profit since he poured more than $200 million into both Trump International Golf Links and the famed Turnberry course.  (Jeff J. Mitchell/GETTY IMAGES)

I’m not a golfer, but I’ve been to enough golf clubs to know that the 19th hole at the Dunes isn’t really all that impressive. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with it (with the possible exception of the haggis bonbons, which are wrong in several ways). Mostly, it’s just sort of crushingly average. Maybe it’s the generic newness of the place, which was built a little over five years ago — all browns and maroons and sea foam green. It looks no different than plenty of similar golf clubs I’ve been to for weddings and youth sports banquets back home in South Jersey.

After I finish my haggis bonbons, I zip up my jacket and head outside into the wind and drizzle, wandering up a path toward the tees. As I look out over the dunes toward the sea, I see no one on the course. But I do see a gold-lettered plaque, affixed to a pole, commemorating the opening of this course “conceived and built by Donald J. Trump” in 2012. The plaque reads: “Encompassing the world’s largest dunes, The Great Dunes of Scotland, Mr. Trump and his architect, Dr. Martin Hawtree, delicately wove these magnificent golf holes through this unparalleled 600 acre site running along the majestic North Sea. The unprecedented end result is, according to many, the greatest golf course anywhere in the world!”

To be clear, in the latest rankings by both Golf and Golf Digest magazines, Trump’s course in Aberdeenshire is listed, respectively, at 46th and 54th in the world — certainly pretty good, but far enough from what most people would term “the greatest.” Further, the “Great Dunes” referenced are part of a natural area called the Sands of Forvie, which is actually the fifth-largest dune system in Britain. It is not even close to the world’s tallest dunes — Namibia, Chile, Peru and several other countries have dunes that are five or more times as tall.

Since his business arrived in Scotland, Trump has clashed with locals over an offshore wind farm project and been mired in controversy over whether he’s damaged the environment. But oddly, after reading so much about the Scottish disdain for Trump, I didn’t find too many people beyond Milne and his neighbours who expressed negativity toward him.

“Regardless of what you think of the man, the golf course is beautiful,” said a manager at the White Horse Inn, about five minutes down the road, where I stayed one night before checking into my lavish Trump room. “Yes, it’s an American’s interpretation of a traditional Scottish links course. But it’s a beautiful course. I love playing there. The man loves golf and knows golf.” This was a prevalent sentiment I heard: Trump’s owning a course in Aberdeenshire was good for everyone’s business. “He’s been a good boy here,” said the taxi driver who took me to a pub called Brig O’ Don in a nearby town. “He’s done what he said he’d do.”

The only other person I’d encountered with a truly negative word for Trump was the Pakistani taxi driver who drove me to MacLeod House. “I think he’s rubbish. He’s a crazy man. Why did you Americans vote for him?” And then, as if to answer his own question, he said: “Do you know that 16 million Americans actually believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows?”

That evening I have a few drinks in the clubby Whisky Bar in the cozy lobby of the main guesthouse. I’m joined in the whisky bar by four blokes from Liverpool who are here on a golf holiday. They’re the only other people in the hotel besides a couple I overheard speaking Russian in the breakfast room. All of them are enthusiastic about the course; after a couple of whiskies, I ask one guy if the Trump association with the course bothered him at all. “My wife said, ‘Why would you give that man any of your money?’ And I told her, ‘Because it’s a really nice place!’ Honestly, I don’t like him, but what was the choice anyway? Hillary Clinton?”

“I own, actually, one of the largest wineries in the United States. It’s in Charlottesville.” Thus boasted President Trump after a news conference at Trump Tower in August.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Trump does not in fact own one of the largest wineries in the country. His is one of about 9,000 wineries in the United States that produce less than 50,000 cases per year. By contrast, at least 65 American wineries produce more than 500,000 cases a year.

A month after my time in Scotland, I’m standing at the bar of the Trump Winery tasting room. It’s a sunny autumn Sunday, and plenty of people are taking advantage of the winery’s “designated picnic area” and its lovely views. The tasting room is packed, and there’s a security guard scanning the crowd. Behind me, a man has spilled a bottle of red wine down the front of him, and a woman is spritzing him with a water bottle. “Can I taste the sparkling rosé?” the young woman next to me asks. No, she’s told. She has to be a member of Trump Winery’s Wine Club to taste the sparkling rosé.

I’ve paid $15 for a tasting of five wines. The wine, as Washington Post wine critic Dave McIntyre has written, is “pretty good.” Though certainly not all of it. The sparkling blanc de blancs and the mildly oaked chardonnay are the most promising; the “meritage” Bordeaux blend and the cabernet sauvignon are fruit bombs and sort of meh; and the CRU dessert wine that’s aged in Jack Daniels barrels is a sweet-toothache disaster.

I’m having trouble concentrating on the wines because the big screen above the tasting bar is playing a series of videos. The volume is muted, but there is sweeping footage of the vines, glamorous images of weddings, and shots of the winemakers. Every once in a while, Eric Trump pops onto the screen — arriving at the estate in the Trump helicopter, touring the grounds or talking to the camera. I recall that Eric and his siblings have been put in charge of the day-to-day operations of the Trump Organization. When the videos end and switch to the next, you can see the video file names. One of them clearly reads “DJT edited out.”

After the tasting, I drive up to the Albemarle Estate, the 26,000-square-foot, 45-room manor house that Trump has converted into a luxury boutique hotel. Albemarle Estate was built in the 1980s by late billionaire John Kluge (at one time the richest man in America) and his third wife, Patricia Kluge, who also owned the winery. After a divorce and John Kluge’s death, Patricia fell on hard times, defaulted on loans and was facing foreclosure. Though she had originally been asking $100 million for the estate, in 2012 Trump swooped in and picked up the place for a mere $6.2 million.

The guest rooms are all named after U.S. presidents from Virginia, and I’m staying in Monroe (there’s also Washington, Jefferson, Madison and so on). The rooms at Albemarle Estate are even more over-the-top than at the other Trump properties: an ornate gold-trimmed bed with the same crownlike headboard as in Scotland; shelves with such knickknacks as a leather satchel, an old pipe and a pewter goblet. Gold accents, such as a gold soap dish, glisten throughout the bathroom. And the branding, even for a Trump property, borders on absurd. Here, besides the robe, the slippers and the toiletries, I get TRUMP mouthwash and a TRUMP hair comb.

Then, on the desk, is the pièce de résistance: the huge, lavishly illustrated TRUMP Magazine. Amid the breathless travel features — on the Trump golf courses, on “A Day in the Life of a Trump Bride,” on food and drink at Trump-owned destinations, on the Trump Cookie at the golf club in Bedminster, N.J., on Wine by the Crystal Spoon at the lounge at the Trump hotel in Washington — there are “exclusive interviews” with Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump.

In the Q&A with Donald Jr., he’s asked: “If you had to give advice to a high school student, what would it be?” His reply: “If you always go with your instincts and never second-guess yourself, you will set yourself up for enormous success.” Don Jr. is then asked, “What would you change about your life if you could?” He says, “I am really lucky so I would not change anything. But if I did change anything, I would add more hours to the day.”

At 6 p.m., there is a tour of the estate grounds, given by the hotel manager; I gather with a half-dozen other guests. The tour mixes practicalities with what I guess we might call the “historical.” Since the Albemarle Estate dates to only the 1980s and has had one owner before Trump, the big themes espoused by the guide appear to be: (A) how crazily spendthrift the Kluges were, and how that led to their financial ruin; and (B) what a cunning and opportunistic businessman Donald Trump is for acquiring this $100 million mansion for only $6.2 million.

“Mrs. Kluge tried to build the winery all at once, and it bankrupted her,” says our guide. “She’s a very tragic woman.” (”She is neither tragic nor a spendthrift, and the vineyard and winery were built over many years,” said William Moses, Kluge’s current husband, in a response.)

We walk through hallways plastered with gaudy wallpaper that looks like a Roman toga hanging on a curtain rod, and we gaze out the big windows at the faux-Classical sculptures and faux-English hedges and fountains in a garden that appears as if it were dreamed up by a Mafia don pretending to be a British aristocrat. We wander down a grand hallway that looks like a Jersey McMansion version of Versailles imagined by Donatella Versace, and our guide shows us busts of Jefferson and Washington. “They’re working on busts of all the Virginia presidents,” he says.

Someone asks, with a chuckle, “Is one of Trump next?” The manager smiles and shrugs his shoulders. Later, in the theatre, we see framed photos of Trump with celebrities like Sylvester Stallone, Christian Bale and Michael Douglas — as well as Trump on the covers of a Billionaire magazine from 2004 and a Forbes 400 “Richest People in America” issue from 2003. It doesn’t seem impossible that a Trump bust is forthcoming.

Numerous times throughout the tour, the manager says things like, “Trump did this” or “Trump did that” in renovating the mansion. At one point, one of the men on the tour speaks up and says, “Now, you mean Eric Trump, right? Doesn’t he run this property now?”

“Yes, yes,” says the manager. “Of course.”

The tour ends at the pool house, and the manager asks if we have any questions. “Pool towels?” says one woman. “Where are those?”

“Oh, there’s a restroom right around the corner, and there’s a bunch of pool towels in the closet,” he says. “Basically, this is y’all’s house while you’re here.” That may be because the Albemarle Estate is being run on a skeleton staff, and we’re sort of on our own.

When someone asks if we can eat here this evening, we’re told no, the closest restaurants are 20 minutes away in downtown Charlottesville. A couple, who presumably have been tasting wine all afternoon — and have likely paid anywhere from $350 to $500 per night — look at each other with exasperated expressions. The only food made available that evening was a jar of chocolate chip cookies, offered by the lone night manager.

The Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower is just one of numerous looming, mostly empty-looking towers in Panama City. It s extremely worn for a six-year-old building, writes Jason Wilson.   (Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg)

It’s a balmy night in Panama City, and I’m having a rum at the bar of the largely empty Ocean Sun Casino, which is next door to the largely empty Trump International Hotel & Tower Panama, where I’m staying. I’m talking with a friendly young Frenchman who’s telling me about his life here as a bitcoin trader. Apparently, he’s moved to Panama because of the favourable tax situation for his line of work. Tomorrow, he says, he’ll be moving into a condo in the Trump tower, which he says he’s rented very cheaply. (The Trump Organization is not the owner of this tower, but it has managed the hotel property since its opening.)

I met him a little earlier at the blackjack table — the only table where there was much buzz or activity. I sat between him and a Russian guy in a white jacket who kept giving everyone at the table unsolicited advice on when to take a hit and when to stay. At the other end of the table was a silent, serious-faced Asian man. In between the Asian man and my French friend was a woman who may or may not have been a prostitute. Prostitution is legal in Panama, and my French friend tells me that “every woman in this bar is probably a prostitute.”
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