Bush’s Home Away From Home May Not Be the Ritz, But It’ll Do With AM-Bush Bjt
HOUSTON (AP) _ Home away from home for President Bush is Suite 271 in the Houstonian Hotel - two bedrooms and a parlor at the government discount rate of $88 a room per night, plus access to a world-class fitness facility on a wooded, 22-acre estate.
The Houstonian here in Bush’s adopted hometown - not 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue - is his legal residence. It’s the only home he has left in Texas.
It is a short jog from his old neighborhood, and not far from the glittering Galleria shopping center and skyscrapers of this oil town where Bush’s political career got its start.
Bush and his wife, Barbara, spend five to 10 nights a year at the Houstonian. The rest of the time, the presidential suite is open to other wayfarers for $550 a night - a good deal steeper than the flat $88 per room the Houstonian charges Bush and other government workers in his entourage.
It is not the ritziest hotel in Houston by a long shot, but it does boast a world-class health club and a mile-long, Astroturf jogging trail that snakes around the Houstonian’s campus, hard by the Buffalo Bayou and just outside the Loop, the main artery around Houston.
The Houstonian actually is more of a retreat center for corporate conferences than a carriage-trade hotel.
″Joe Smith the traveling salesman we don’t get,″ said General Manager Louis R. Lanzino.
Bush started hanging his hat at the Houstonian after selling his old home nearby when he moved to Washington in 1981 to become vice president.
Why did Bush choose the Houstonian?
″It’s a great place for him. It’s secluded, it’s got a wonderful health club, familiar surroundings,″ said Stephen Hart, a deputy White House spokesman.
″It’s close to Otto’s Bar-B-Q and friends in the (Houston) Country Club,″ added Hart, singling out two disparate touchstones of Bush’s existence in Houston.
Otto’s, an unpretentious cafeteria-style eatery, remains a favorite Bush haunt. And Bush, winding up a year-end vacation, got in a round of golf Saturday at the Houston Country Club, which costs $35,000 to join.
″He has to be from somewhere,″ said Craig Miller, concierge at the adjacent Inn on the Park, who still remembers Bush as his local congressman.
The Houstonian does not get a lot of guests’ requesting to sleep in the president’s bed.
″Every now and then the local Democrats rent it and have something in there. They think that’s fairly clever,″ said Miller.
″Our presidential suite is a very nice suite, but it’s not overdone,″ said Lanzino, choosing his adjectives carefully. He described the Bushes as ″very down-to-earth people, and the suite is reflective of that.″
The Houstonian is owned by a local developer, Joe Russo, and a Saudi businessman, Ahmad Mannai. With 300 hotel rooms and 35 conference rooms, it was near capacity when Bush and his entourage of aides, Secret Service agents and communications specialists rolled in Friday night.
Most Houstonian rooms have ″servi-bars″ that offer guests snacks and drinks - for a price. But not Bush’s suite.
″We’ve been asked to not have ‘servi-bars’ in there,″ said Lanzino. ″The president likes diet soft drinks and fresh fruit, so we have that available all the time.″
If the hotel rooms are modest, the health club is not, from the full size gym to racquetball and tennis courts, sauna, massage and a locker room where attendants dispense both fruit juices and Heineken beer in cans. There is an indoor track with computerized pacing lights that loops around nearly 80 yards worth of weight machines, treadmills, stair-walkers and other muscle-building gear.
″The president claims that we have the best masseuse in the world here,″ said Lanzino.
The compliment is for a 47-year-old onetime South Vietnamese major called John, who charges $40 for a one-hour massage.
John - his real name is Huynh Duy Nguyen - came to be a masseur fairly late in life. He was trained in kung fu in Vietnam, but abandoned the martial art after seriously injuring a friend in the fight.
Now he uses his hands on the backs of the president of the United States and other clients.
″My job, I love it,″ he said. ″Mr. President is a very special customer. He’s very good for me.″