Hotel options are not in short supply in the nation’s capital. Whether travelers want a recognizable chain, an independent stand-alone boutique or something steeped in history (we’re looking at you, Watergate, Willard and Washington Hilton), there’s really something for everyone. But D.C. tourism is evolving and so is the hospitality landscape here.
So far in 2017 alone, four hotels have debuted in four different neighborhoods, with more to come. For instance, there’s the Pod DC in Penn Quarter, the District’s second micro-hotel, which has tiny rooms but big plans, as well as its predecessor, the sleekly compact Hotel Hive in Foggy Bottom. There’s also The Darcy, based on a fictional character but with very real complimentary daily gin tastings, and The Line, which is joining the marketplace later this summer with a radio station broadcasting from its lobby. In fact, according to Destination DC, there are 16 hotels in the pipeline, with 3,703 rooms opening in the rest of 2017 through 2020 and beyond.
Other prominent newcomers that have made waves in the region include Trump International, which plays its own interesting role here for obvious reasons, and the gigantic MGM National Harbor just across the Potomac, which is making its mark not only as a casino, but as a popular concert venue, too.
Here’s a look at each of these new properties, what they have to offer, how they differ and how they hope to stand out in an already crowded market.
1515 Rhode Island Ave., NW
This 226-room hotel with 37 suites opened April 26 bursting with amenities. First, some background: The hotel’s name is based on a fictional man who grew up in D.C. but attended boarding school in London. When he returned to D.C., he brought many of his acquired European tastes with him, including a propensity toward gin, fine suits and great food.
To those ends, the hotel partnered with locally owned Green Hat Gin and Element Shrub, which makes vinegar-based drinking mixers, to offer complimentary tastings in the lobby every day at 5:30 p.m. Ingredients to make the hotel’s signature drink, the Darcy Double, are available in each room, along with instructions. But guests can also reserve a cocktail cart, which comes with a mixologist to prepare cocktails en suite.
The hotel also works with Read Wall, a local menswear designer, to offer a haberdashery — a trunk full of cufflinks, ties, pocket squares and more — that guests can borrow from. The focus on men’s fashion extends into the rooms, added Kelly McCourt, director of sales and marketing at the hotel. For instance, the sofas are covered in fabric reminiscent of men’s suiting.
Additionally, twice a month on Fridays, the hotel provides a pop-up flower shop through a partnership with UrbanStems. Shoppers can build their own bouquets and the hotel donates all proceeds to Safe Shores, the D.C. children’s advocacy center.
The property, which was purchased by KHP Capital Partners last May for $65 million, began life as a DoubleTree Hilton but has been completely revamped from a chain hotel into an independent boutique property that is now part of Hilton’s Curio Collection, which boasts hotels with individual history and character.
In addition to its swanky but restrained décor reminiscent of “Mad Men,” The Darcy brought in local talent to distinguish its culinary offerings. Onsite dining comes in the form of the 96-seat Siren, a seafood restaurant and bar by chef Robert Wiedmaier of Brasserie Beck and Marcel’s. There’s also Lil’ B Coffee Bar and Eatery, run by celebrity chef David Guas, the brainchild behind Bayou Bakery in Arlington, Va. The food offerings include New Orleans-inspired muffuletta and gumbos, as well as loaded Southern sandwiches.
The hotel also emphasizes family-friendliness. Through the Gear Shop, it offers bikes, scooters, helmets, strollers and picnic materials for adults and children to borrow.
“We’re six blocks from the White House, six blocks from the National Mall,” McCourt said. “It’s a great way for families to get out and explore the city.”
The Darcy Kids Program lets children borrow backpacks stuffed with goodies based on six themes, such as art, cooking and history. The most popular is Shoot for the Stars, which is inspired by the popular National Air and Space Museum and includes astronaut ice cream.
Situated next door to the Embassy of Australia, McCourt recognized the importance of catering to the diplomatic community. She hired a diplomatic sales manager, Jilan Bruce, to help attend to diplomats’ needs.
“When you’re working with embassies, you need to be as flexible as possible, be able to accommodate all different types of cultures, all types of different people from the highest levels of government and make sure you can produce that kind of luxury and very individual service,” Bruce said.
The Pod DC
627 H St., NW
The micro-hotel trend — small, no-frills, budget-friendly but stylishly designed rooms — has officially arrived in D.C. In addition to Hotel Hive, the Pod DC recently made its debut. The 245 rooms at this micro-hotel come in three varieties: twin, queen or full. But every room is only 150 square feet big, eschewing in-room amenities such as ironing boards, refrigerators and even dressers. Instead, guests — only two per room allowed — can find free Wi-Fi, 50-inch flat-screen TVs, a media hub and USB charging ports.
“We didn’t want to take up space in the room that not every traveler uses,” said Janne Clare, executive vice president of Modus Hotels, which developed, owns and operates Pod. “It isn’t about taking things out. It’s more about having guests’ requests responded to quickly.”
Rooms at the Pod, which opened April 7, make the most of their space, with storage under the bed for luggage and plenty of shelves and hooks. Most guests stay one or two nights, and so far the hotel has attracted a mix of business travelers attending events at the Washington Convention Center — which drew 1.4 million convention attendees in 2016, according to DowntownDC — and leisure travelers, who spend eight to 10 hours outside the hotel, Clare noted.
“Pod is designed for three really important things. One is location, second is value and three is community,” she said.
Pod offers an onsite fitness facility plus access to Washington Sports Club and Sculpt DC, a cycling and yoga studio. Wednesday mornings are Pod Runs with the Pod Squad, or guests can take Pod Walks. Offered three times a week, groups leave from the lobby with a local guide to explore lesser-known parts of the city. “It’s a fun way to meet other people,” Clare said.
Food and drink options opening this summer include a diner serving breakfast all day plus dishes such as sweet corn chowder and smothered pork chops. Later this month or early next, the whiskey bar will open with customized moonshine and a craft beer, while the Crimson View rooftop bar will serve up views along with the drinks.
Pod keeps its rates below market pricing, Clare said. For example, this summer, guests could pay $109 a night, but at peak times that can jump to $289.
Clare said that value and quality will help Pod stand out in the D.C. hotel crowd. “D.C. has a lot of wonderful hotels,” she said. “You have the iconic luxury that exists, and you have a lot of brand. Pod filled a void in [that] there aren’t a lot of hotels in the Penn Quarter/Mount Vernon area, and there’s nothing that’s like this.”
The Line DC
1770 Euclid St., NW
Housed in a 110-year-old church, the 220-room Line DC hotel in Adams Morgan will open later this summer, with Full Service Radio, a community station that has more than three dozen local hosts covering art, entertainment, music, food politics, comedy, human interest and fiction, broadcasting from the lobby. Additionally, guests will find throughout the hotel original artwork and photography from local female artists.
“One of the elements that makes The Line so unique is our partnerships,” Crawford Sherman, the hotel’s managing director, said in an email. “We’ve partnered with the local community to create an experience unlike any other, including a wealth of food and beverage options, a radio station in the hotel lobby and even a community center that will cater to local nonprofits.”
The hotel will offer eight room types, including the 400-square-foot District King, 420-square-foot District Double Queen, 500-square-foot studios and a 1,200-square-foot Monument View Master Suite. Rooms overlooking the National Cathedral and other sites can be requested.
The hotel also will have three restaurants headed by two James Beard-recognized chefs: Spike Gjerde and Erik Bruner-Yang. At A Rake’s Progress, Gjerde will serve locally sourced Chesapeake ingredients. At Brothers and Sisters, Bruner-Yang will serve American classics with Taiwanese and Japanese twists, while Spoken English will have only 10 seats and will offer an Asian-inspired tasting menu served family style. All three made Zagat’s list of the 10 most anticipated D.C. restaurants of 2017.
Fitness is also a priority for the hotel, which boasts a 1,600-square-foot fitness center stocked with weight and cardio equipment, a rowing machine, TRX straps, boxing equipment and a space for Pilates, yoga and group classes. Additionally, guests can work out with Urban Athletic Club owner Graham King, who focuses on functional fitness. With The Line, he offers a 50-minute Urban Athlete Class, a series of 20-minute mini workouts, seasonal outdoor courses and rooftop yoga. Classes are free for hotel guests, and there are weekly community classes free to Adams Morgan residents.
“We want locals to feel just at home at The Line as our hotel guests, to come together in our space and enjoy good food, good drinks and great company — whether that’s inside the beautifully designed building or on the church steps,” Sherman said.
Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C.
1100 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
The 263-room hotel, which occupies the Old Post Office Pavilion, had its grand opening in the fall of 2016. Since then, it has come to embody the unconventional presidency of its namesake, for better or worse.
Before Donald Trump’s surprising election victory, many locals and pundits had their doubts about the glittering, pricey property — and whether guests and organizations would want to be associated with the polarizing real estate billionaire. Those doubts quickly evaporated when Trump defied expectations and took up residence in the White House, not far from his hotel, which underwent a $200 million to transform yet preserve the historic Old Post Office Pavilion space.
Today, the plush hotel is the place to spot figures associated with the Trump administration and other prominent politicos, from Cabinet secretaries to members of Congress (the Republican ones at least). It also attracts a surreal mix of tourists, supporters and detractors, many drawn out of sheer curiosity, whether it’s to check out the Swarovski chandeliers in the soaring lobby atrium or sample decadent offerings like a $100 vodka cocktail with caviar (there are cheaper drink options, although they’ll still run you about $24 each).
While Trump’s hotel has capitalized on its namesake’s political fortunes, it hasn’t been able to avoid the controversies dogging his presidency. The most obvious of these is the glaring conflicts of interest in trying to curry favor with Trump by spending money at his hotel.
While the Justice Department has said that Trump’s hotel is not violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause, meaning his businesses can continue to legally accept payments from foreign governments while he is in office, various groups from watchdogs to local restaurants have filed lawsuits against the president and his business ventures. Most recently, in the first case of its kind, attorneys general for Maryland and D.C. filed suit against Trump, alleging that he violated anti-corruption clauses in the Constitution by accepting millions in payments and benefits from foreign governments since taking office. The hotel itself has attracted protests, including an artist’s projection of the emoluments clause and the words “Pay Trump Bribes Here” on the property’s façade last month.
The various legal challenges face a steep climb, however, and despite the questionable optics, foreign governments haven’t shied away from spending lavishly at the hotel. The embassies of Azerbaijan, Bahrain and Kuwait have hosted receptions there, while lobbyists working for Saudi Arabia racked up a $270,000 tab there, according to Time’s Alex Altman.
The ongoing legal headaches haven’t stopped visitors from coming or the property from rolling out the red carpet for them. The gilded Benjamin Bar & Lounge is a focal point of the Grand Lobby, offering Champagne sabering, rare wine by the spoon and cocktails in addition to breakfast pastries, afternoon charcuterie and cheeses, and a menu of salads, sandwiches and burgers, Patricia Tang, director of sales and marketing at the hotel, said in an email.
The Benjamin Terrace on Pennsylvania Avenue is now open, too, with outdoor seating and lighter fare, including bar food and beers. Additionally, The Spa by Ivanka Trump opened in January and offers services that fall into three categories: calm, energize and restore. Most 90-minute massages cost $225, while one 60-minute facial goes for $175.
The original building, built in the late 19th century, included a 315-foot clock tower. In April, the National Park Service began managing the Clock Tower Museum and tours, and later this summer or early fall, the hotel will add a gift shop and New York’s acclaimed Sushi Nakazawa restaurant to its roster.
“With more than 45 nationalities represented, we are pleased that we have attracted a team of such diverse, energetic and passionate associates, all focused on delivering exceptional guest experiences and anticipatory versus merely responsive service,” Tang said.
Guest surveys have been positive, she said, attributing that to location, management and staff. Trump would certainly be pleased with — and perhaps envious of — the high approval ratings.
MGM National Harbor
101 MGM National Ave, Oxon Hill, Md.
Travelers who want to take a gamble on a new hotel and staycation experience beyond District limits can head across the Potomac River to the $1.4 billion MGM. The hefty price tag to develop the 23-acre destination isn’t the only big number associated with the resort and casino: In addition to 234 guest rooms and 74 suites, the hotel’s 125,000-square-foot casino offers 3,300 slot machines, 124 table games, 25 types of carnival games, and 39 poker, 10 craps, 12 roulette and 25 baccarat tables.
Opened Dec. 8, 2016, the hotel also has a 3,000-seat, state-of-the-art theater where upcoming shows include performances by The Who on July 18, Mary J. Blige on Aug. 15 and Cher from Aug. 31 to Sept. 10.
Onsite dining boasts 15 eateries, including restaurants headed by celebrity chefs. At José Andrés’s Fish, diners can splurge on seafood such as stone crabs, abalone, oysters and squid prepared with global cooking techniques. Brothers Bryan and Michael Voltaggio of “Top Chef” fame teamed up for a steakhouse that offers appetizers such as roasted beef bone marrow and entrées such as a 22-ounce T-bone and 36-ounce porterhouse. Other options include burgers at Shake Shack; Asian dishes at Ginger; a floor-to-ceiling chocolate fountain at Bellagio Patisserie; and Marcus, offering classic American fare.
Since the hotel’s opening, it has added more retail shops such as Breitling, Stitched and Ella-Rue to expand the resort experience.
“Since opening, we have focused on continually enhancing our guest service,” said Patrick Fisher, executive director of hotel operations at MGM National Harbor. “Our [outdoor] Potomac Plaza recently opened and provides another opportunity to experience entertainment at our property with the best views in the DMV.”
The article “New Kids on Block: From Micro Rooms to Trump’s Huge Mark, D.C.’s Hotel Scene Continues to Evolve” in the July 2017 issue incorrectly stated that Lil’ B Coffee Bar and Eatery in The Darcy is the kid sister of the former Bayou Bakery. Lil’ B Coffee Bar and Eatery is run by chef David Guas, the brainchild behind the flagship Bayou Bakery in Arlington, Va., which remains open. The menu at Lil’ B Coffee Bar and Eatery, which opens in early August, will have a Southern focus while Bayou Bakery specializes in New Orleans-inspired dishes.
About the Author
Stephanie Kanowitz is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.