For Trump Tower Tourists, the Taco Bowl Is What's for Lunch
Trevor Duddy biked 25 miles to eat a taco bowl at Trump Tower. He pedaled across New Jersey and over the George Washington Bridge, cutting across midtown Manhattan on 57th Street to reach the president-elect's skyscraper. The trip to the building with Donald Trump's penthouse home took four hours, factoring in a beer stop.
"I came here specifically for the taco bowl," the 33-year-old utility lineman said. "I liked it. It was on the saltier side." He accompanied the $18 entree with a Bud Light. "The best," he added.
Duddy was one of a handful of patrons last week sitting at Trump Grill, a white-tablecloth restaurant at the bottom of Trump Tower. A mother-and-son tandem sat nearby, with the youngster also picking at a taco bowl. A gentleman at the bar likewise indulged in a bowl.
In an unlikely election year, Trump Grill's taco bowl emerged as one of the unlikeliest icons thanks to a Twitter testimonial from Trump himself, in honor of Cinco de Mayo. "I love Hispanics," then-candidate Trump tweeted, alongside an image of the Trump Grill taco bowl.
The bowl remains among the most popular dishes at Trump Grill, according to a waiter and bartender, neither of whom identified themselves by name. The restaurant, which opens for lunch and closes before dinnertime, also features a $20 Cobb salad, a $19 "Gold Label" hamburger, and $14 dumplings. The drink menu is heavy on a variety of Trump-branded wines but also includes three signature drinks with names like the Tower, You're Fired, and the Fifth Avenue.
Despite the seemingly lasting popularity of the taco bowl, Trump Tower's lobby businesses are fairly empty. Aside from a few reporters and security personnel, a recent visit turned up just one couple who milled around the Trump-branded ice cream shop, both wearing President Trump T-shirts. A two-story-tall waterfall bubbled near the escalator Trump rode down before declaring his candidacy. None of it has yet turned into a huge tourist attraction, and in fact the grill employees attributed a slower pace of business to the increased security and media scrutiny around the tower. (A Trump Tower representative did not return requests for comment as to how business has been impacted since the election.)
It's hard to tell, months before his inauguration, if the marquee Trump landmark in his native city will manage to achieve enduring popularity as a destination during his presidency.
The protection of the Secret Service and the city's police makes it hard for anyone timid to approach the gilded tower. Diners might be deterred by the slew of protesters who stand across the street, a constant presence since the election. Walking into the lobby means bypassing the sign-holding crowd and stepping around metal barriers and armed personnel. Inside the tower, Secret Service agents screen purses and briefcases through a metal detector before guests walk past the press pen and a phalanx of armed officers before riding the escalator down to Trump Grill.
Once you're seated at the grill, however, the taco bowl is served between the hours of 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.
The shift in foot traffic could also impact sales at Tiffany & Co., whose flagship store's entrance is next door to Trump Tower. “There’s no way to sugarcoat this, the big worry is what will happen over the next few months,” said Cowen & Co. analyst Oliver Chen. “They are very important weeks before Christmas."
Famed restaurateur David Chang is also worried about business at his nearby outposts, some of which had to adjust operating schedules last week because of the security presence. "All the NYPD and Secret Service checkpoints killing restaurant foot traffic," he tweeted. "Not sure how midtown business located near Trump Tower can handle the loss of foot traffic moving forward. Make 56th Street Great Again."
Despite the security, Duddy plans to come back to Trump Tower on his next weekday off and enjoy another taco bowl. "I feel bad for the bartender," he said. "She's going to lose business."