Could Trump be bad for business at Mar-a-Lago?
It took a $550 ticket and a lot of patience to get into the American Cancer Society fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago - aka the winter White House - on Friday night.
The three-hour event, dubbed Rock Palm Beach, was scheduled to begin at 8 pm - about two hours after President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in Palm Beach with their wives. However, it was 10 pm before Secret Service had cleared all the party-goers.
"We waited an hour and a half," said Christina Sagman, a Palm Beacher who had not been to Mar-a-Lago before but did catch a glimpse of President Trump dining in the restaurant. "Hopefully, they will have it better planned out."
Of the three bridges to the island, the Southern Boulevard bridge provided the only access to the estate on Friday night. South Ocean Boulevard was closed to traffic about a half mile north of Mar-a-Lago. By 8 pm, traffic on the Southern Boulevard bridge was already backed up to the drawbridge, about a half mile from Mar-a-Lago.
A group of Trump supporters stood on the south side of the road with signs. Drivers paid no attention. No one honked or shouted support. Television trucks sat idle.
Slowly the cars inched forward towards a tent set up by the Secret Service across the street from Mar-a-Lago. There, drivers were required to provide identification. If their names were on the guest list, they drove forward to another tent. Inside that tent drivers were asked to pop their trunks and open the hoods of their vehicles.
While agents searched the trunk and engine, another agent circled the car with a bomb-detection K9. Still another checked the undercarriage with a lighted mirror on a pole. Only then were drivers allowed to drive through the gates of the walled compound.
Although guests of the event were admitted through the stunning main entrance, with exquisitely tiled walls and gilded mirrors, they were quickly whisked off the the ballroom in a separate building - away from members in the restaurant who had paid $100,000 to join the club.
Secret Service agents with tell-tale ear phones and dark blazers were scattered throughout the buildings and estate. Four large black SUVs with dark tinted windows and Washington, DC license plates were parked diagonally, facing a nearby exit.
The 350-plus guests who paid $550 for a ticket grazed on a smorgasbord that included macaroni and cheese, flatbreads, risotto, spare ribs and desserts at two buffet tables. The musical guest was former Foreigner lead singer Lou Gramm.
A "secret guest" was promised but as the evening wore on and the dance floor emptied, party-goers realized the president would not make an appearance. Guests exited through the same door they entered the event and were whisked to the valet stand if they dawdled too long near the members dining area and lounge.
Whether Trump's becoming leader of the free world will be good for business at Mar-a-Lago is not yet known. The lure of hosting an event at the winter White House may not be that alluring after all. Some groups have already expressed concern that patrons who oppose Trump might not attend events at Mar-a-Lago.
The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which holds its annual gala at Mar-a-Lago, released a statement Thursday stating the group in the future "will avoid controversial venues that may distract from our focus on cancer care and research."
Because the president's trips are not announced to the public far in advance, groups will not be able to scheduled their events around his visits. That means some unlucky gala-goers who purchase tickets for events that end up coinciding with a presidential visit might find themselves stuck in traffic, waiting for Secret Service to sweep their vehicles.
Exactly how often President Trump will visit Palm Beach is not known. However, it could be weekly. On Thursday, the Town of Palm Beach posted notice on its website that every Friday until May 1 the town will take steps to control traffic impacts due to presidential visits.
While some members of the Mar-a-Lago club adore Trump, they would like to see less of him in Palm Beach now that he is president.
"We love him but just stay in DC and get the job done," said Robin Saltzman, a club member.