In the Lobbies: Off to See the Willard!

By Ted Kruckel January 19, 2009, 5:45 PM EST

A giant gingerbread White House on display in the lobby

Photo: BizBash

On Pennsylvania Avenue this Saturday, brand-spanking-new outdoor heated awnings were pulled tight as a drum outside the the Willard Hotel. I went to see Barbara Bahny, who just loves her job as public relations director, and she was excited to show me what the hotel had done for the inauguration. But we didn’t have a lot of time.

No problem. It took her only minutes to lead me through the century-old building, the biggest of the city’s grande dames.

They didn’t have a pop-up shop, but they did have the hall of flags and a magisterial walkway with dozens of giant American flags, hung painstakingly back to front so not one view had the blue panel on the right, which was wrong and used to be a crime. Or is it left?

Barbara cringed when I used the word package to describe the four-night minimum deal with premiums, pampering, and Pomeroy (in adorable red, white, and blue packaging) delivered daily to every room. 

Within seconds after leaving the baronial Willard Room, as she finished telling me about the enameled sterling flag pin that guests receive from Tiffany & Company, we were in the bowel of the beast, arguably the busiest kitchen of the inauguration.

Each night there’s a different bedside sweet indulgence. For instance, one night you get a white chocolate White House filled with six kinds of truffles. Cheerful young pastry chef Courtney Goliard dutifully reeled them all off to me when I tested her. Houses by the hundreds were lined up in the kitchen.

The next night they get a red, white, and blue dessert, three different tarts. There are even red, white, and blue custom-made Coca-Cola bottles to wash it down—if you’re not a champers person.

Executive Chef Neall Bailey calmly fired off his upcoming challenges: 2,500 meals on Sunday, 3,000 meals on Monday, 7,000 meals on Tuesday, and Wednesday stragglers are a breeze with only 1,200. 

What’s the Willard serving on inauguration day?
“Well, we’re cooking 12 steamships.”  If you don’t know what a steamship is, you are not alone. It is the hindquarter of a steer roasted and served whole on a spit. A serving chef slices off bits of beef and gives them to you on a little roll with grainy mustard.
Does Neall take off on Thursday? “No, I have to meet with the weekend cleaning crew.” Makes sense.

Wasting no time, and coming in under the 20-minute deadline, Barbara delivered me to the exit, where I departed, wishing I had chosen to stay at a certain other hotel.

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