Demonstrators and decadence at Donald Trump's new hotel
At the new Trump hotel in downtown Washington, DC, the Starbucks coffee tastes like any other coffee. The croissants taste like any other croissants. And the expensive Hungarian wine served in crystal spoons tastes like any other Hungarian wine.
OK, that last one was speculation. This was the first time I've sipped wine from a crystal spoon.
Wine by the glass is for chumps. For those with truly discriminating tastes who only want the very best to grace their palate, Donald Trump's newest high-profile real-estate venture provides a frugal choice. A swallow of a $2,250 bottle of furmint 2007 Royal Tokaji Essencia will set you back only $140. And, no, you don't get to keep the spoon (people, it seems, have asked).
At last an experience that was once the domain of super-wealthy elite can be available to the merely comfortably well-to-do.
Opulence reigns throughout the hotel. The doormen are decked out in hats and tailcoats.
The expansive grand lobby features four massive crystal chandeliers.
The marble-and-gold restrooms look like what you might have found in a pre-revolution French palace - if they had indoor plumbing back then.
It's hard to imagine, but the gilded Trump hotel lobby was once a glorified mail-sorting room. The building was originally the District of Columbia's central post office. Then it was an office building and, more recently, home to a dingy food court, a national-monument-themed mini-golf course and stores that struggled to stay in business.
Now it's a waystation for wealthy Washington visitors. Rooms at Mr Trump's latest property start at $600. The "presidential" suite runs a cool $10,000 a night.
The hotel is classic Donald Trump. Decadent. Over-the-top. Luxurious like you wouldn't believe. It's Mr Trump's stock-in-trade, a brand carefully managed over a career spent in the real-estate business.
Of course, that was before Trump, the presidential candidate. Trump, the man who descended a gold escalator in New York last June to turn the US political world on its head. Trump, the self-professed voice of the little guy, who denounces immigration, international trade deals and pretty much anyone or anything that crosses him.
Back in 2013, when Mr Trump signed the 60-year lease with a base rent of $250,000 a month to renovate the historic Old Post Office Pavilion, he probably didn't envision his hotel buzzing with gawking political reporters like me and bedevilled by a crowd of protesters on the day it opened for business. Given that the New Yorker billionaire could be just 60 days from winning a four-year lease on the White House - just a few blocks down the street from his new hotel, by the way - such a scene was probably inevitable, however.
Felix Anyanwu, a securities lawyer who emigrated to the US from Nigeria, sits at the bar at one end of the lobby and sips a glass of Trump-brand sparkling wine. He tells me he just stopped by the hotel to check it out.
"I respect Donald Trump as a businessman," he said. "But his politics?" Mr Anyanwu cringes.
He adds that he recently posted on Facebook that he was at Mr Trump's new hotel, and the reaction hasn't been positive.
"They're slaughtering me," he says.
What Mr Anyanwu heard from his friends, however, wasn't half as bad as the beating Mr Trump takes from the several dozen sign-carrying protesters gathered outside the hotel, with music blaring and chants flying between fiery speeches.
"This hotel is a playground for the rich!" one speaker shouts.
A person dressed like cartoon Donald Duck topped by Mr Trump's wispy blond hair danced about, carrying a sign that read "Trump ducks releasing his tax returns". Tourists stop to pose for a picture with him.
Allen Hanks, a retiree who has lived in Washington for 49 years, stands among the protestors, hosting a sign lambasting Mr Trump with a William Shakespeare quote.
"O gull, o dolt, as ignorant as dirt," reads the line from the play Othello.
Mr Hanks says he thinks the display of wealth within the historic building is "disgusting". I tell him about the crystal spoons.
"Who in the world lives like that?" he asks.
Mr Hanks wants Mr Trump out of his city - and says that he and others will continue protesting until the New Yorker departs, even if it takes a year.
"Trump scares me," he says. "And his supporters feel emboldened to come out and show their colours. I prefer them to stay in the woodwork where they are."
Conveniently enough, just down the block from Mr Hanks are a handful of Trump supporters, staging their own counter-demonstration.
I ask Kelley Finn, clad in a giant orange foam cowboy hat and red-white-and-blue bandana, about the "woodwork" from which she emerged.
Catharpin, Virginia, about a 45 minute drive from Washington, she says.
The anti-Trump demonstrators don't understand what her man can do for the country, she tells me. She's been a big fan of the New Yorker ever since she read his best-selling book, The Art of the Deal, in 1988 and she's been wanting him to run for president "for years".
"They don't know him," she says of the protesters.
"I don't know him personally either, but I know him from him calling in to different shows for years."
On one of the three cardboard signs she carries, and occasionally drops, Ms Finn has revised the lyrics of Lee Greenwood's God Bless the USA - a treacly homage to patriotism that is a staple of Trump rallies - with pro-Trump language.
"I'm proud to be a Trump American, for at last I'm safe and free," her song starts.
The lawyer-turned-soccer-mom says Mr Trump is poised for victory.
"About a month ago, when he started to drop in the polls because of all that bogged-down stuff, I was getting worried," she said.
"Now I know it's going to be a landslide for Trump."
If Mr Trump does win, he will pass directly in front of his hotel on the way from his presidential inauguration at the US Capitol to his new home in the White House.
Maybe he'll stop his motorcade for a spoon of wine.