And now, I give you a reason to hate Hilton Hotels other than the existence of Paris Hilton. But first, a story. Once upon a time, there was a restaurant in Washington D.C., not to far from Walter Reed Army Hospital and Bethesda Naval Hospital, that decided to do a nice thing for the seriously wounded Iraq veterans who were recuperating at the medical facilities. This restaurant, called Fran O'Brien's, made a plan to hold free steak dinners for the wounded soldiers every Friday night, giving them a place to have a good meal with all of the trimmings, to enjoy bottomless drinks and, hopefully, to have a welcome respite from the pain of rehab and tests, and from the harsh adjustment process that comes with losing one or more limbs in a combat zone. The proprietors of Fran O'Brien's pulled out all the stop to make their special clientele comfortable, even going so far as to purée steaks for those who could no longer chew - you know, 'cause part of their jaws were gone - and to purée them in a way that they could still tell they were consuming steak. In other words, Fran O'Brien's gave a damn about these men and women and what they had given up for the sake of their country.
All of this is now in the past tense, 'cause Fran O'Brien's held its last Friday night dinner a few days ago. You see, the restaurant was located in the basement of the Capitol Hilton Hotel in D.C., and the folks at Hilton have seen to evict the restaurant from the space. May 1 is their last day of business. The folks at Hilton, if you ask them - and many have in the weeks since this story first went down - will tell you that this is only business, that it had nothing to do with the weekly sight of wheelchair-bound people regularly appearing on their property. They say that negotiations for a lease renewal broke down, and just recently pulled out the old "late rent" chestnut. Hilton even offered to continue the tradition elsewhere in the facility - just not at Fran O'Brien's, and not with the staff who was catered to the veterans' needs for the past two-and-a-half years.
There's the likelihood that the Friday night dinners aren't done yet. The owners of Fran O'Brien's say they are looking for new permanent space, and several D.C. locations, including the Italian embassy (!) have offered temporary refuge. But that's almost not the point. The bigger point is how Hilton Hotels, a major international corporation, could have made such a boneheaded P.R. choice - and, worse, how they seem hellbound not to submit to pressure - pressure coming from all political stripes and from all opinions about the Iraq war itself - to change its mind and do the right thing.
So I ask everyone who reads this blog to make it a bit clearer to the Hilton folks about what's going on here - by never, ever staying at a Hilton property again. Ever. If you have a Hilton account, cancel it. If you're a member of Hilton's HHonors program, cancel that. If they ask you why you're canceling, tell them why. (I would have posted some direct e-mail addresses to Hilton executives, but it seems that most of these have been disabled, making the fat cats something the wounded vets aren't - cowards.)
Click the subject line (which I didn't think of, by the way) to read the Washington Post article about the last Friday night dinner at Fran O'Brien's.
P.S. Hilton Hotels would have never pulled this stuff during World War II. Just something to think about.