Service fit for a king

Jerusalem’s vaunted King David Hotel prepares to host another US president, sparing no expense – including an all-kosher menu.

King David Hotel 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
King David Hotel 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Five years after former US president George W. Bush and his delegation stayed at Jerusalem’s most famous hotel – twice in a six-month period – the King David’s staff is again sparing no expense to accommodate the leader of the free world.
Quarantined by enormous white tents to obstruct public view of the grounds, with a manned metal detector placed near the front door, the internationally- renowned hotel appeared more exclusive than ever, as its staff awaited US President Barack Obama’s arrival.
Click here for full JPost coverage of Obama's visit to Israel
“As of Wednesday morning, no outside guests can enter [the hotel] other than members of the US delegation, Israeli officials and hotel staff,” said Sheldon Ritz, deputy general manager and director of the King David’s food and beverage division.
Ritz, along with several other senior hotel-staff members, will remain on call for the duration of the president’s stay.
“We have to be available 24/7 for any requests – that’s why I have a bed in my office,” he said. “Even if he wants something at 4 a.m., I need to be ready.”
Indeed, Ritz, said the hotel will soon transform into a “mini-White House.”
“The whole hotel will be taken by US officials and we’re staying here to provide them room service 24-hours a day, as well as ongoing use of our restaurants, banquet facilities, gym, pool and all other amenities.”
Ritz said Obama’s delegation will fill all 233 of the hotel’s rooms, adding that he was told the president’s total group will occupy 1,100 rooms throughout Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, making his one of the largest foreign delegations ever to visit Israel.
He added that Obama’s advanced delegation checked in on March 6 to vet the hotel and map-out the president’s itinerary from beginning to end.
“As of lunchtime today, with the exception of the American delegation, all guests have checked out,” Ritz said. “And starting this evening, the hotel will be on lockdown and will remain that way until Friday, when [Obama] checks out.”
He added that surrounding roads near the hotel, including the heavily-trafficked King David Road, will be closed down, beginning early Wednesday morning.
Ritz, who was also on duty at the hotel during Bush’s two stays in 2008, said that Obama’s visit should be less complicated than his predecessor’s.
“When [Bush] stayed here in 2008 it was very different because he came during two very busy periods and we had full occupancy, which meant we had to vacate 200 rooms each time he came,” he said.
“This time the president is coming during a quieter period, so we only had to vacate half that amount.
Still, he added, the timing of Obama’s visit presented some challenges.
“What’s making it difficult this time is we’re in the middle of preparing the hotel for Passover,” he said. “The day of his arrival everything will be kosher [for the holiday]. We even bought him a special set of kosher plates.”
As for which suite the president will stay in, Ritz said Obama has his pick of the top three, all of which normally cost around $4,000 per night.
“We’re not yet sure which suite he will reside in, but his choices include The Jerusalem Suite, the Royal Suite or the Presidential Suite, depending on which one he finds most comfortable,” Ritz said.
Regarding the hotel’s menu, Ritz said nothing has been significantly changed, although the president is expected to come with his personal chefs, who will work in tandem with the hotel’s chefs to prepare most of his food. Additionally, Ritz has been told to keep the kitchen open at all times to keep Obama’s staff – some of whom will operate on US time – well fed.
“I already have orders for Wednesday and Thursday to prepare hamburgers and pizzas throughout the night for members of his Administration who will be working around the clock to keep up with things in [Washington] DC,” he said.
Ritz said US Secretary of State John Kerry is arriving Tuesday night, making him the first significant US official to arrive.
“He has the same choices of suites as the president,” he said.
Overall, Ritz said the hotel’s staff is better prepared now than it was in 2008.
“I think it’s easier this time because we’ve gained a lot of experience since Bush came, so we have a better sense of expectations.”
Asked if he would meet Obama, Ritz smiled.
“I met Bush last time, so hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to meet Obama as well,” he said, adding, “and get a photo taken with him.”