Home The Washington Diplomat July 2008 City Rises from the Ashes

City Rises from the Ashes


Massive Convention Center Hotel Anchors National Harbor Project

Calling the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center a small, self-contained city would be only half right. It is a city — but it’s not exactly small.

The Gaylord National has 2,000 rooms, including 110 suites, seven eating establishments, five retail shops, a whopping 470,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, and a 20,000-square-foot luxury spa. And that’s just inside its walls.

More retail and restaurants — along with thousands of residential units, office space, as well as a marina — abound at the new National Harbor, a behemoth 300-acre mixed-use development project in Prince George’s County perched on the banks of the Potomac River just minutes from Washington, D.C. Already dozens of establishments are open to the public, including the Gaylord complex, and more are signing on to become a part of what developers are billing as the “new gateway to the national capital region.” In fact, the National Harbor, situated in Oxon Hill, Md., may give the metropolitan region’s fastest-growing area, Virginia’s Loudoun County, a run for its money.

There’s almost nothing developer Milton Peterson of the Peterson Cos. left out of the 5 million Gaylord National, or the billion National Harbor for that matter. The Gaylord resort, which covers 42 acres, opened in April and is a centerpiece of the National Harbor endeavor, which is expected to be a major economic driver for Prince George’s County. In fact, Gaylord National the largest combined hotel and convention center on the East Coast. The resort is the fourth Gaylord property in the United States — others include the iconic Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville and Gaylord Palms in Florida.

The Gaylord National sits on the Potomac River on the Maryland shore, just eight miles from D.C. or a quick drive from Old Town Alexandria, Va., via the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Or leave your car completely behind and jump on a water taxi. Potomac Riverboat Company ferries visitors to and from the National Harbor via Old Town Alexandria, Georgetown in the District, and George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. The water taxi departs Gaylord at 30 minutes past every hour, and tickets cost anywhere from to depending on where you go. And if you end up on the dock at Old Town Alexandria, there’s a brand-new, super-convenient free trolley that runs up and down King Street, concluding at the King Street Metro Station.


Gaylord strives to create hotels that act like a virtual “sponge” of the location and city they’re about to enter. For the Gaylord National, that meant pulling from the D.C. area’s rich history, from the fleur-de-lis patterns (an homage to Washington’s architect Pierre-Charles L’Enfant) dotting the carpet around the convention center to the Old Hickory Steakhouse dressed like a classic Georgetown row house.

“We take different elements from buildings in places like Old Town and Georgetown and we play with it,” said Christopher Walker, marketing and public relations coordinator of the resort. “Guests feel like they’ve had the experience even if they can’t get to Georgetown in person.”

Walker said that 70 percent to 80 percent of the resort’s business will be convention guests attending meetings throughout the resort’s 470,000 square feet of convention space, which includes a giant exhibit hall, intimate boardrooms, ballrooms, conference rooms and other areas. In fact, prior to the official opening in April, the sales team of the Gaylord National already pre-sold 1.5 million hotel room nights for future meetings and conventions.

To accommodate the high-profile guests and VIPs in some of those meetings, during construction the developers consulted with the U.S. Secret Service, which inspected and approved plans for a special entrance for foreign dignitaries and presidents that leads directly into the building’s 50,000-square-foot Potomac Ballroom. VIPs can literally drive into the complex without stepping out of their car until they reach an elevator that takes them straight to the center stage of the ballroom.

For other guests simply using the front entrance, checking in at the Gaylord National is a breeze thanks to more than 20 kiosks peppered throughout the resort’s front lobby, which is housed in an 18-story glass atrium boasting stunning views of the water outside.

The Gaylord National’s luxurious standard guest rooms start at 9, with suites starting at class=”import-text”>2008July.City Rises From Ashes.txt,100. Each room features a flat-screen television, marble bathroom with an oversize glass-enclosed shower and tasteful décor punctuated by black-and-white photography and nautical blues, oranges and ivories. Suites, which also come with a dining area and wet bar, range in size from 800 square feet to 2,800 square feet.

But if you want spectacular views, stay in a “premium” guest room that has a patio opening onto the 18-story glass atrium. The patio overlooks the atrium’s lush indoor garden that intertwines with a series of fountains, restaurants and two focal-point replica buildings: a clapboard Federalist-style farmhouse and a mercantile brick home that looks as if it was plucked from the Colonial era. And that’s just what you see inside the atrium — beyond the floor-toceiling glass windows are views of the ship-filled Potomac River and the bustling waterfront in Old Town Alexandria.


Officials with Prince George’s County entertained a string of unsuccessful projects for the Oxon Hill site that is now home to the National Harbor, including a concept called Port America and before that something called Smoot Bay. It wasn’t until developer Peterson — the brainchild behind Fair Lakes in Fairfax, Va., and the revitalized downtown section of Silver Spring, Md. — came to the table that forward momentum was achieved.

But even then, National Harbor went through a series of roadblocks, including a debate over whether the county would approve an alcohol license for the project (lawmakers had criticized the lack of minority-owned businesses in the harbor). Gaylord too has had its own setbacks, with some bad publicity grabbing headlines shortly after its debut, including cases of guests contracting norovirus and field mice sneaking into the resort.

But it appears the property has moved past all the bugs, and mice. “We’re through it now,” Gaylord’s Walker insists.

And although lingering doubts about the economy and housing market have some worried about the scale of the project, National Harbor has pressed ahead with ambitious plans to build itself into a regional destination. Already, one building of yet-to-be-opened condominiums has sold out, and the development is actively selling its contemporary Waterfront Street Condominiums. Two other hotels have also opened at National Harbor: a 195-room Westin and a 151-room Hampton Inn and Suites.

In addition, several other projects are on the drawing board, including a Marriott Residence Inn and W Aloft on the hotel front, as well as a bevy of soon-to-open restaurants, such as Rosa Mexicana, Maggiono’s, McCormick & Schmick’s, Ben & Jerry’s ice creamery, and two restaurants by the Los Angeles-based Dolce Group: Dolce Enoteca e Ristorante and Ketchup, whose celebrity ownership includes actors Ashton Kutcher, Wilmer Valderrama and Tara Reid. Retailers that have signed onto the National Harbor project include South Moon Under, Harley-Davidson, Jos. A. Banks, and Fossil.


The Gaylord National itself has five shopping venues to choose from: an art glass shop called Strictly First Glass; a 24-hour sundry shop called Key Provisions; Urban Chic, a trendy women’s boutique; the sleep clothier Pajama Party; and the Williamsburg Shop, operated by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and featuring home and garden collectibles.

The Gaylord National also has four signature restaurants: Old Hickory Steakhouse, Moon Bay Coastal Cuisine, National Pastime Sports Bar & Grille, and Pienza Italian Market, as well as an upscale bar off the lobby called the Belvedere, a poolside bar, and the 24-hour coffee shop Java Coast.

Appropriate to the harbor’s coastal theme, Moon Bay is Gaylord’s all-seafood restaurant that brings in fresh catches daily from the Chesapeake Bay. The menu has a bounty of maritime delights: Highlights include a meaty chilled lobster with mustard remoulade served on a bed of ice, and a whole crispy striped bass that’s worth every bite, with the fish sitting on stone-ground cheddar grits, basil-stewed tomatoes and grilled artichoke.

True to its dishes, the restaurant looks like an open-air fish market — all that’s missing is a fish flying through the warehouse and into the waiting arms of a fishmonger. Soothing natural woods are juxtaposed against industrial accents of metal and brick walls, while long, filmy curtains add softness and break up the space.

If you prefer a more high-energy atmosphere, reserve a couple seats at National Pastime, the official sports bar of the Washington Nationals baseball team, whose new stadium is located a short water taxi ride away across the river. The bar entrance has the actual home plate from the Nationals’ last season at RFK Stadium permanently encased in the floor.

National Pastime is the most popular hangout at the resort, featuring a 30-foot-tall high-definition video wall as well as dozens of flat-screen televisions scattered throughout. There’s even a golf simulator that guests can use for per person per hour.


So when you’re done with the golf, meetings, sightseeing and shopping and you need a place to relax, stop at Relâche Spa and Fitness Center — but be careful, you may not want to return to the outside world once you experience the luxury and pampering within this 20,000-square-foot day spa.

Relâche (French for relax or respite) is a swanky space with Chanel-esque appeal, completely decked out in elegant black and white. This serene haven offers 12 treatment rooms, including couples and VIP treatment rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, whirlpool tub, gigantic shower and white leather lounge chairs.

The centerpiece of the spa is a 4,000-square-foot, 24-hour fitness center connected to an indoor pool that features cardio machines, treadmills, bikes and cross-trainers.

A variety of treatments are available at Relâche, including sports massage, deep tissue, aromatherapy, soothing stone and shiatsu. Prior to your treatment, take the opportunity to check out the Tea/Relaxation Lounge, where you can sip steaming tea, snack on fresh fruit and check out the view of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

Relâche’s signature massage — priced at 0 for 50 minutes or 5 for 80 minutes — is a customized full-body massage to relieve muscle stress and tension. Massage therapists also offer tips to help you permanently remove your aches and pains. For example, leaning into a tennis ball placed against the wall is a good way to remove stress in and around your shoulder area. The ball is also easy to travel with.

After you wind down at Relâche, it’s time to don your club gear and head up to Pose Ultra Lounge, the super-sleek nightclub situated on the resort’s 18th and 19th floors. (It costs to get into the club, or for resort guests, and doors open at 9 p.m.)

Once you pass through the first level of the Gaylord lobby, an express elevator whisks you up to the two-story rooftop lounge. Pose is a very cool club experience, complete with flashing lights, high energy and a variety of exotic drinks. A vodka infusion bar greets club-goers once the elevator opens to the lounge. There, you can buy a cone of vodka and infuse it with anything from mocha to jalapeño.

Be prepared to stand though unless you’re in the mood to spend big bucks. The comfy, white leather and bright modern lounge chairs parked around the little tables cost at least 0 per table. The VIP section upstairs costs a tad more, offering entire sections that are dramatically furnished with all-white leather chairs, ottomans and daybeds. There are even private, curtained-off booths appropriately lined with white leather bench seating. A wraparound terrace also offers breathtaking vistas of the exterior.

Not in the mood to “pose” upstairs? No problem: Downstairs, the 18-foot, floor-to-ceiling windows offer plenty of exquisite scenery. Pose dubs itself “National Harbor’s most exclusive place to find your pose.” And like the chic hotspot, it looks as if Gaylord National has finally found its pose as well.

For more on the Gaylord National, visit www.gaylordhotels.com/gaylord-national/ For more on the National Harbor, visit www.nationalharbor.com

About the Author

Christine Cub