The rupture began with Trump’s campaign-trail comments about immigrants that ranked Spanish-born Andrés, who has made his love for America’s immigrant story a central part of his identity. Lawsuits, court battles, headlines — and a divisive Trump presidency — followed.
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Now Trump is an ex-president with his name removed from the glittering hotel that would have housed Andrés’s restaurant. Andrés, though, is returning to Pennsylvania Avenue, with plans to open a new restaurant in the same space as before.
A location of the Bazaar, Andrés’ globe-spanning concept, will open later this year under the hotel’s new management, a Miami investment fund called CGI Merchant Group that will operate it as a Waldorf Astoria. Andrés is no mere tenant in the deal; he also owns an undisclosed share of the fund.
“To me, it’s very symbolic, to open this restaurant in the heart of the city, to bring Bazaar to the city that gave me so much of who I am,” Andrés said in an interview.
Andrés seemed uninterested in rehashing his battle with Trump. That may be partly because of the settlement the two sides reached, whose terms have not been made public.
“It was just business,” he said. “Business people conducting business.”
Andrés would rather talk about another politician who played a role in the forthcoming restaurant’s winding tale. He recalled that the idea of opening a restaurant in the Old Post Office building was first seeded in his mind decades ago by none other than Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The legendary New York Democrat had dined at Jaleo, the Chinatown restaurant where Andrés first made his name as a chef, and the two struck up a friendship. Andrés said that at first, he did not realize that his earnest, engaging guest was a senator.
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Moynihan, who had made urban renewal and revival of American downtowns a cause, thought the building — which was languishing, its lower levels filled with lackluster food-court eateries and retail shops — could be a gem. And he encouraged Andrés to dream, the chef said. “He said, ‘Jose, maybe someday you will open your own place there,’ ” Andrés said. “It’s amazing to me that it happened — it’s such an iconic building and he was an iconic man.”
It’s another made-in-America origin story for Andrés, who often recounts arriving in the United States from Spain with $50 in his pocket before rising through ranks to run restaurants that bear his name, in cities from Las Vegas to Dubai.
Bazaar will occupy the space that housed BLT Prime, the recently shuttered steakhouse helmed by New York chef David Burke, whom the Trumps had selected after the spectacular flameout of the original deal with Andrés. BLT Prime distinguished itself, if not for particularly innovative cuisine, at least for being a dining destination for members of the Trump administration who might have found a less-friendly reception at other eateries in Washington. Fans of Trump could often be seen snapping selfies and scanning the glittering lobby for VIPs.
It was the only Beltway establishment where the former president designed to dine outside the White House gates, marking a stark contrast from many previous presidents, particularly President Barack Obama, who enjoyed date nights at some of the city’s chicest tables and working lunches at local burger joints and delis. Trump was always greeted with his signature order: a well-done steak, with fries and ketchup, plus a Diet Coke.
Andrés envisions a different clientele. Though the vibe is certain to be upscale, he said he wants to be inclusive. “Without a doubt, wherever I open a restaurant, everyone will be welcome,” he said.
Andrés’s ThinkFoodGroup already operates Bazaar locations in Los Angeles and Miami, with another slated for New York. Beef-centric spinoff Bazaar Meat has locations in Chicago and Las Vegas with a third opening soon in Los Angeles. The Washington outpost will seat 200, and its “bold and playful” interior (per the TFG announcement) is being designed by Barcelona-based design firm Lázaro Rosa-Violán.
Asked whether he plans to conduct some sort of smudging or sage-burning ritual to chase away any unwelcome spirits left behind by former denizens, Andrés just laughed and focused on the workers. “I don’t think it’s bad spirits — the people who worked in that hotel are good people, they are Washingtonians, like me, and they treated everyone with respect,” he said.
Some might see Andrés’ opening of a restaurant in the high-profile perch as a victory over his onetime nemesis. Andrés sees it, though, as more of a triumph for his immigrant-embracing worldview, which he often invokes in his mantra of “longer tables, not higher walls.”
“Longer tables,” he said, “always win the day.”