Washington Teems With Wintertime Diversions

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It’s that time of year where you’ve checked off the last holiday party, finished the remaining leftovers and started thinking about bundling up by a warm fire indoors to ride out the frigid temperatures outdoors. The weather may be chilly and the holiday rush winding down, but Washington in winter is still bustling with activities.

“The nation’s capital is rich in holiday traditions like the lighting of the National Christmas Tree, a visit with Panda Claus at the National Zoo and a sing-along Messiah at the Kennedy Center,” said Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC, a membership nonprofit that markets the city as an attractive destination. “Everyone’s seasonal favorites are unique and D.C. satisfies them all: blockbuster art exhibitions, celebrations on and off the National Mall and shopping throughout our distinctive neighborhoods.”

Whether you prefer cozy indoor fun or festive outings, The Washington Diplomat spoke to several hotel experts around town for the inside scoop on how to beat the wintertime blues. From ice skating against iconic D.C. backdrops to stargazing in the comfort of a heated museum, we’ve got your itinerary covered for the cool months ahead.

Skating and Service

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Photo: Capitol Riverfront BID
The 12,000-square-foot ice rink in Canal Park in the Capitol Riverfront neighbor-
hood offers lessons for begin- ners and a full bar at the nearby Park Tavern to warm up afterward.

Alexandra Byrne, sales and marketing director for the Sofitel Washington DC Lafayette Square, says that part of D.C.’s charm is that every neighborhood has its own unique culture and character. One up-and-coming neighborhood that’s still somewhat off the beaten path is the Capitol Riverfront, dubbed by Bisnow as the city’s fastest-growing neighborhood. Located south of the U.S. Capitol between Capitol Hill and the Anacostia River, the 500-acre space is home to loads of river views and new restaurants, all conveniently anchored by the Navy Yard Metro station.

Byrne said that the historic Washington Canal in the heart of the Riverfront, for example, is perfect for dusting off your ice skates and enjoying the rink in the wintertime. The 12,000-square-foot rink in Canal Park offers lessons for beginners and a full bar at the nearby Park Tavern to warm up after. The city also offers two other outdoor rinks (open until March): one inside the National Gallery of Art’s sculpture garden and a newer rink at the Washington Harbour in Georgetown with stunning views of the Potomac.

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The Sofitel's ICI Urban Bistro offers a four-course dinner for Valentine's Day.

The Sofitel recommends that its guests celebrate Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 18 with a day of community service. At 8 a.m., the National Park Service will host a wreath laying ceremony at the MLK Memorial to commemorate the slain civil rights leader. At 11 a.m., there will be a parade and peace walk — featuring the Ballou Marching Band and representatives from the city’s Asian, Bolivian, Jamaican and African American communities — taking place along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Milwaukee Place, SE. You can end the day with a musical celebration, “Let Freedom Ring!” hosted by the Kennedy Center and Georgetown University. The free concert will feature the Let Freedom Ring Choir and Grammy Award-winning singer Natalie Cole.

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Photo: Greg Kinch
The Smithsonian has three IMAX theaters with the largest screens in the region.

Byrne also advised taking advantage of January when the holiday crowds have thinned out to enjoy the myriad museums the city has to offer. Her top three favorites include the National Museum of American History, Museum of Natural History and the Air and Space Museum. Stay toasty indoors while enjoying one of the Smithsonian’s three IMAX theaters, which boast the largest screens in the region and offer an immersive experience that complements museum exhibits. They also play Hollywood hits such as the latest installments of “Hunger Games” and “Star Wars.” Meanwhile, the Air and Space Museum Planetarium’s 77-foot digital dome is the only full-dome cinema in D.C. Audiences can journey through time and space to view some of the most extraordinary images not visible to the naked eye.

If drama on stage as opposed to the big screen is your preference, escape the frigid temperatures outside by traveling to turn-of-the-century Paris. The Sofitel’s January newsletter recommends that guests check out Lerner and Loewe’s musical comedy “Gigi, starring Vanessa Hudgens and directed by Eric Schaeffer. The pre-Broadway production will be playing at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater and tells the story of a free-spirited young courtesan-in-training who falls in love with a prominent heir during La Belle Époque.

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Photo: Sofitel Washington DC
 

Of course, the Sofitel stays true to its own French heritage and injects some of Parisian flair wherever possible. If you’d like to get a head start planning Valentine’s Day for your significant other, this 237-room hotel, recently renovated to showcase the links between Paris and D.C., offers a romantic milieu. Its ICI Urban Bistro will host a four-course dinner on Feb. 13 and 14, prepared by Parisian-trained executive chef Franck Loquet. On Feb. 14, the hotel’s pastry chef will present a special Valrhona Chocolate event, with treats using the brand’s Opalys, Dulcey, Bahibe, Manjari, Tainori and Guanaja chocolates. Tickets are $80 per couple.

The next day, Feb. 15, the Sofitel will join with the D.C.-based art collective known as Art Soiree for a glamorous evening of dancing and live entertainment, including a live New Orleans-style jazz band, DJ, costumed models and more to fête Mardi Gras in style, so get your most whimsical masquerade mask ready.

Icy Wonderland 

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Photo: Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center
A 65-foot-tall Christmas tree looms over the atrium of the Gaylord National Resort.

Each year, the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center transforms into a winter wonderland. Located in the heart of the National Harbor in Maryland, the entire resort is decked out in the spirit of the season, including a 65-foot-tall Christmas tree and more than 2 million lights sprinkled throughout the atrium and outdoor garden. A centerpiece is the glass atrium, whose 19 stories offer sweeping views of the Potomac River and 1.5 acres of shopping that has the feel of an outdoor market. Every night, the atrium hosts free shows of dancing fountains that shoot water 60 feet up in the air in a magical combination of lights, sounds and water.

The hotel will also be wrapping up its popular annual indoor winter wonderland known as “ICE!,” which features a massive array of ice sculptures and ice slides for the whole family. The walk-through attraction includes an impressive 2 million pounds of hand-carved ice sculptures, five ice slides, a live carving zone known as “The Frostbite Factory” and seven individual rooms retelling the classic story of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” — all kept at a chilly 9 degrees, so don’t forget your gloves. For those wishing to make the experience extra special, there are VIP guided tours available.

If you aren’t shopped out from the holiday season at this point, the Gaylord has convenient access to the Tanger Outlets, where you can get your fill of more than 80 name brands. For those wishing to save their money, the National Harbor offers free rides on the 180-foot tall Capital Wheel, with views of Northern Virginia, D.C. and the surrounding harbor. The Gaylord concierge team also recommends taking advantage of the cultural events happening this season, including: “West Side Story” at Signature Theatre (runs through Jan. 24); the Washington Auto Show (Jan. 22 to 31); and the exhibits “Celebrating Photography” at the National Gallery of Art or “Womanimal: Zine Art by Caroline Paquita” at the National Museum of Women in Arts.

Kimpton Growth

With nine boutique hotels in Washington, Kimpton is gearing up to open a new flagship hotel along D.C.’s bustling 14th Street Corridor in spring 2016. The new Mason & Rook Hotel will serve as a perfect base for those who want close access to the some of the city’s trendiest bars, restaurants and shops.

In addition, after months of extensive renovations and a design revamp, Kimpton is rebranding the Savoy Suites Hotel as the Glover Park Hotel this spring. The multimillion-dollar project will become the company’s second design-driven property in the city.

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Photo: Kimpton
Kimpton's renovated Glover Park Hotel will debut this spring.

World-renowned artist Michele Oka Doner’s conceptual vision for the hotel was inspired by the neighborhood’s namesake, Charles Carroll Glover — a famed banker and philanthropist who helped reshape the nation’s capital as a city of parks with donations of nearly 3,000 acres of parkland, including nearby Rock Creek Park. Local inspirations, matched with Doner’s own penchant for abstract organic art, combine to recreate an atmosphere closely linked to the artist’s own studio. 

But before guests can enjoy the park-themed hotel and all the wonders of spring, they have to get through winter. For that, Philip Biggerstaff, chief concierge at Kimpton’s Hotel Palomar, offered some advice.

Biggerstaff noted that the National Zoo is debuting its male panda cub named Bei Bei on Jan. 16 in what is sure to become a major local draw. Also, he pointed out that winter is an ideal time to visit local art galleries that aren’t swarming with tourists. “My favorite is the Phillips Collection only a few blocks away from Hotel Palomar, or you could check out the newly reopened Renwick Gallery after its two-year renovation,” he told us. “Bonus: It’s indoors and always warm, no matter the temperature outside.”

The concierge offered a few other insider tips on hidden local treasures to Britain’s Blouin Artinfo blog. Among his finds: the Fainting Goat gastropub on 14th and U Streets; DNV Rooftop Bar atop the Donovan hotel; Redeem specialty clothing shop; Bourbon Coffee Capitol Hill; and the National Portrait Gallery.

Or just sit back and grab a hot cocoa. “When all else fails, the perfect January day in the District has to include a warm cup of coffee or some hot chocolate at Dolcezza.” 

Hotel Happenings

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Photo: Ritz-Carlton D.C.
The Ritz-Carlton is serving an array of indulgent hot chocolate varieties from around the world.

Hot chocolate is on tap at the Ritz-Carlton on 22nd Street — but not just any hot chocolate. The hotel is serving five indulgent, gourmet varieties from around the world, along with a “spiked” alcoholic version, on the Westend Bistro’s outdoor patio, replete with outside heaters and warm pashminas to ward off the cold. The hot chocolates featured this year are inspired by D.C. (flavors are cherry blossom and Virginia ham), India, Italy and France.

Inside, the Ritz’s main lobby will be adorned with a Wishing Tree decorated with holiday wishes from the children of Martha’s Table, as well as festive gingerbread ornaments created by executive pastry chef John Quinn. Guests who purchase a “wish” will receive a gingerbread ornament created by the pastry team that can be eaten or used as a Christmas tree decoration.

On Dec. 6 and 13, the hotel will host a gingerbread house decorating class for children, and on Dec. 12 and 19, it will offer a sumptuous “Chocolate Decadence” buffet, including a candy cane bar and champagne cocktails. For even more spirits, try the Holiday Cheer Mixology Class on Dec. 12 in the newly opened Quadrant Bar and Lounge with lead mixologist Christopher Mendenhall, who will teach guests how to make his favorite big-batch cocktails for holiday entertaining while guests sip on holiday-inspired cocktails and enjoy small bites.  

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Photo: Ritz-Carlton
Butler-passed French toast s'mores will be served nightly by the fireplace in the Ritz-Carlton in Georgetown.

Meanwhile, the nearby Ritz-Carlton in Georgetown is also ringing in the holidays with a smorgasbord of tasty treats. Butler-passed French toast s’mores by the fireplace will be served nightly in the lobby, as will homemade hot apple cider prepared with fresh, regional apples.

Two holiday cupcake decorating workshops on Dec. 6 and 13 will be hosted by Katherine Kallinis Berman and Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne, co-founders of Georgetown Cupcake. For every dozen decorated, the hotel will donate one meal to Georgetown Ministries. The Ritz-Carlton Georgetown is also offering “Sip, Savor, Shop,” a seasonal package bundling valet parking, shopping bag storage and lunch for $39. A more lavish boutique spa package priced at $465 includes a 25-minute cranberry and pomegranate sugar scrub, 50-minute winter facial with Eminence Lip Enhancement and other goodies.

Over at the recently renovated Embassy Row Hotel, its new restaurant, Station Kitchen & Cocktails, is serving up a Loaded Mocha that includes spiced rum, espresso, chocolate and RumChata. Guests can also get cozy by the fireplace in the hotel’s lobby with some Hot Spice, a concoction of Cachaça, apple butter, chai, lemon and hot water.

The stately Willard Intercontinental Washington on Pennsylvania Avenue is offering a variety of holiday-themed packages, as well as a Christmas Eve dinner, Nutcracker brunch, holiday tea and musical performances in the ornate lobby.

Finally, the Marriott Marquis is creating its first-ever life-size gingerbread house in its lobby. Using gigantic measures of holiday baking favorites — 700 pounds of flour, 200 pounds of sugar, 15 pounds of cinnamon and 250 pounds of candy — the hotel’s 70-member culinary team will construct a 10-foot-high, A-frame gingerbread house.

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Photo: Tallie Wiles/Smithsonian's National Zoo
Philip Biggerstaff, chief concierge at Kimpton's Hotel Palomar, notes that the National Zoo is debuting its male panda cub, Bei Bei, on Jan. 16.  

Other Holiday Highlights

Jan. 1 is the last chance to catch a glimpse of ZooLights at the National Zoo, featuring more than 40 animated light installations as well as a photo op with Panda Claws.

Enjoy a month of musical performances at the National Christmas Tree in President’s Park on the Ellipse, where concerts are held every night at dusk until Jan. 1.

Stroll through Tudor Place, the mansion built by Martha Washington’s granddaughter almost 200 years ago, and attend a gingerbread house-making workshop on Dec. 19 and 20.

Theatrical traditions to ring in the holidays abound, including the Washington Ballet’s D.C.-themed rendition of “The Nutcracker” at Warner Theatre (through Dec. 23), complete with England’s King George II as the villainous Rat King, as well as a Victorian version of “A Christmas Carol” at Ford’s Theatre (through Dec. 31).

Also check out new (and old) musicals playing throughout the city, including Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s “Bright Star” at the Kennedy Center (through Jan. 11); “Oliver!” at Arena Stage (through Jan. 6); and “Motown: The Musical” at the National Theater (through Jan. 3).


About the Author

Sarah Alaoui (@musingsdiffused) is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.

Last Edited on December 21, 2015

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