DC bar owners sue Trump Hotel for stealing their customers

A wine bar in Washington, D.C., on Thursday announced a lawsuit against President Trump’s International Hotel because the 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW property has stolen business from locals.

Cork Wine Bar owners Khalid Pitts and Diane Gross, who both previously worked for liberal lawmakers or groups, filed an unfair competition lawsuit alleging Trump and his hotel put local businesses at a disadvantage because foreign dignitaries, lobbyists and government officials would rather do business in a business owned by the commander in chief.

Currently, the hotel includes one restaurant and one bar: BLT Prime by David Burke and the Benjamin Bar & Lounge. Due to the hotel’s notoriety, getting inside, even for a cocktail can prove difficult for locals.

One of the suing party’s attorneys, Scott Rome, said D.C. types “feel pressure” or an “obligation” to visit the hotel, its restaurants or bars, to get on Trump’s good side.

“If they have a party to book, they’re going to book it there first, whether to gain influence with the president, to gain influence with the administration,” Rome told the Washingtonian.

“And he shows up there on weekends, so you get personal face time by going there. It seems to us to be a clear situation in which he’s using his office of the president to get a financial gain at the expense of local businesses.”

A spokesman for the Trump Organization said the lawsuit is a “wild publicity stunt completely lacking in legal merit.”

Pitts and Gross both have backgrounds in politics. Gross worked as a civil rights attorney and as counsel to former Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

Pitts currently works as national political director of the Sierra Club, a progressive environmental group. He also worked as president of US Action, another progressive advocacy group, and served as secretary-treasurer of the D.C. Health Benefit Exchange Authority before unsuccessfully running for the at-large seat on D.C. Council in 2014.

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“It’s our position that the Trump organization and Trump himself are using those conflicts of interests to get an unfair advantage against DC businesses,” Rome added.

Trump’s stances on social and fiscal issues are at odds with the owners of Cork Wine Bar, though the suing party has said their legal action is about business, not politics. Pitts and Gross said they saw “significantly less income” following Trump’s inauguration than after previous inaugurations.

However, the couple opened their bar in January 2008. The only inaugurations they were open for prior to Trump’s was former President Barack Obama.

The suit focuses on a clause in the hotel’s lease agreement with the General Services Administration, which states no elected official should have shares or benefit from such a deal. The bar’s owners hope Trump’s affiliation with the hotel is deemed a breach of contract.

The owners are not seeking restitution, but a cessatoin of the “unfair competition.”

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