Tourism in D.C. has been growing at a steady clip in the past five years. In 2010, about 17 million visitors spent $5.68 billion in the nation’s capital, according to Destination DC, the city’s tourism marketing arm. More than half of that money came from business travelers, and the rest from leisure. The bottom line: Tourism is crucial to this region’s bottom line.
But with 122 hotels and 29,256 guestrooms to choose from, according to Destination DC, it can be tough for those all-important visitors to decide where to stay. To help them, we put together this guide of properties that excel at catering to certain personality types, so that Washington — an eclectic hub of politics, business, history and entertainment — provides each visitor with an individually tailored experience in the nation’s capital.
Best for Value-Minded Travelers: St. Gregory Luxury Hotel & Suites
2033 M St., NW
Rates may range from $199 to $249 per night at this 12-year-old, locally owned and managed hotel, but the staff and amenities will have you double-checking your receipt (diplomatic discounts are also available). With 154 rooms, 100 of which are suites, spread across nine floors, the hotel is smaller than some of its big-name competitors. But that’s part of the appeal — and a way to manage costs, said Jay Haddock, president of Capital Hotels & Suites, which also owns the Beacon Hotel & Corporate Headquarters.
“We can make quick changes,” Haddock said. “I don’t have to check with anyone. I’m the president of the company and if one day I get a group that has been using me for years, and one year pays me X amount of money and the next year has a budget, I will never say no to them.”
Amenities such as a business center, building-wide Wi-Fi and use of a nearby gym have kept some guests returning as often as every week since the hotel opened, Haddock said. Besides attracting budget-minded travelers during tight economic times, the conveniently located St. Gregory also plays host to delegations from Mexico, El Salvador, Peru, Chile, Costa Rica, Chad, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Best for Discreet Travelers: Four Seasons Hotel
2800 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
D.C. is no stranger to the spotlight, but sometimes even the most media-friendly folks need a break from the public eye. For that, they turn to the Four Seasons in Georgetown. To find out who exactly graces the hotel with their presence, you’ll have to check the news. Mum’s the word when it comes to talking about the hotel’s guest list, said Liliana Baldassari, director of public relations for the Four Seasons.
“Every time you see the black cars, you know that there’s somebody,” she said. “Sometimes the flag is hanging if they specifically request it. Sometimes they’re very discreet and nothing is hung.”
Political delegations in town to see the president stay a maximum of three days and usually take 25 to 50 rooms and five suites. Royal families often stay as long as 10 days and take 10 to 15 rooms and two to four suites. The crème de la crème of suites is the Royal, a 4,000-square-foot space encased in bullet-resistant glass. It’s in a wing added in 2009 as part of a $40 million renovation, and it has its own entrance for people wanting to avoid the glare of passersby in the downstairs lobby.
Just as important as privacy is security at D.C.’s only five-star, five-diamond hotel, Baldassari said.
“Secret Service knows the hotel very well,” she said. “It’s very easy for them when a delegation chooses this hotel because of the relationships we already have. They know the hotel very well; they can maneuver throughout.”
Best for History Buffs: The Hay-Adams
800 16th St., NW
Channel the ghosts of politicians past by sleeping at the former site of the home of John Hay, private assistant to President Abraham Lincoln and later secretary of state, as well as Henry Adams, a descendant of Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams. The Romanesque homes that once stood at 16th and H Streets were frequented by many famous names of the time, including sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, authors Henry James and Mark Twain, and President Theodore Roosevelt.
“The hotel hosted many prominent guests back in the day that included Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Sinclair Lewis and Ethel Barrymore,” said Colette Marquez, director of operations at the 145-room uber-elegant hotel. Presidents such as Jimmy Carter, the Bushes (father and son) and Bill Clinton all visited the hotel, as did foreign heads of state such as Britain’s Tony Blair and Israel’s Shimon Peres. It makes perfect sense — the Hay-Adams is located directly across from the White House overlooking Lafayette Square.
“Most recently, we were the residence for the Obama family when they moved to Washington, D.C., before the inauguration,” Marquez said.
The homes at the site were razed in 1927 and a luxury hotel was born. Many of the original building’s design elements are still intact, including walnut wainscoting and ceiling treatments with Tudor, Elizabethan and Italian motifs. The John Hay Room is accented with wood paneling from the Hay residence.
“The hotel is always very concerned with the preservation of its historical significance,” Marquez said. “The room that of course is most requested and attractive if you are a history buff is our Presidential Suite. That is where most of the notable guests have stayed…. There is just something very remarkable and special about staying in a room where a president has stayed, and overlooking the sitting president’s home at the same time.”
Best for Young Urbanites: Kimpton Hotels
Seven locations in the District
Aside from the “Kimpton Hotels” sign outside, you’d be hard pressed to link the chain’s seven boutique properties in D.C. Each is intended to be unique, said Barry Pollard, regional vice president of operations for Mid-Atlantic Kimpton Hotels.
“We don’t have the cookie-cutter approach that some of the larger hotel brands do where everything is the same,” Pollard said. “Our hotels are highly designed and they’re whimsical and fun but at the same time they’re comfortable.”
When the first Kimpton — Hotel Topaz — opened in 2001, the concept was new in D.C. “We were worried whether they would be successful, but they were pretty much right from the get-go,” Pollard said. The city’s evolution toward a more cultural and less buttoned-up persona may be to thank for that.
The hotels dot the Northwest quadrant, with locations in hotspots such as Dupont Circle, Capitol Hill and Penn Quarter. Noticeably missing is the traditional, European style and opulence of many of D.C.’s lodgings. For instance, the 183-room Hotel Monaco in Penn Quarter sits in the original General Post Office Building, a National Historic Landmark, and is within a block of the Verizon Center and International Spy Museum. Its design draws on its history by preserving the original Roman Corinthian white marble columns outside, while playing up its location inside with busts of Thomas Jefferson overlooking each guestroom. Crimson and periwinkle make up the modern color palette in the rooms, which start at $299 a night.
By contrast, the 335-room Hotel Palomar blends 1930s French Moderne style and bold European flair. Here, rooms start at $350 a night. “The theme for the D.C. Palomar is ‘art in motion’ and features a lot of original artwork in the hotel,” Pollard noted.
Another draw: Kimpton properties are paired with chef-driven restaurants such as Poste Moderne Brasserie, which are popular with locals as well as out-of-towners. “That makes it attractive to hotel guests whenever they can go into a restaurant and bar frequented by local people,” Pollard said.
Even the original Kimpton in the area, the Topaz, hasn’t lost its flair for fun — something the city desperately needs in this heated election year. So local Kimpton mixologist Rico Wisner has concocted a new 2012 Campaign Cocktail Menu for the Topaz Bar with drinks inspired by each of the four Republican candidates, such as the non-alcoholic Romney Float made with Old Dominion Root Beer, with President Obama represented by Home Sweet Home, a play on D.C.’s signature cocktail, the Rickey.
Best for Staycationers: The Willard InterContinental Washington
1401 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
If you live in the D.C. metro area, it’s easy to take for granted all that the region offers. Soaring gas prices and a still-iffy economy are reinforcing the appeal of the staycation. The Willard InterContinental Washington could certainly have fit in the history buff category (Ulysses S. Grant is famously said to have coined the term lobbyist in the hotel’s ornate lobby), but the Beaux-Arts property’s reputation for luxury and pampering all in one place situated between the White House and Capitol also make it an ideal place to become reacquainted with D.C.’s greatness.
“The Willard is a destination unto itself,” said Barbara Bahny, director of public relations at the Willard, which has 335 rooms, 41 suites and 12 floors. “It’s really in a way like a small country. There’s so much going on here.”
The hotel’s history gallery offers more than a glimpse into the building’s storied past. It’s a time capsule for D.C., too. The display dates to 1818, when the building was erected, and includes photographs of the area from 1850, when the Willard brothers bought the property.
If some of the area’s lesser-known treasures are more interesting to you, the “In the Know Concierge” program can help. The service has developed relationships with cultural and historic organizations throughout the city to provide even longtime Washingtonians with insider knowledge and new experiences.
Best for Foodies: The Mandarin Oriental
1330 Maryland Ave., SW
Thanks to the growing nationwide popularity of local chefs, attention in D.C. is turning to what’s cooking beyond Congress and the Oval Office. The array of internationally driven restaurants is fast replacing the traditional D.C. powerbroker steakhouses (although plenty of those still thrive), and nowhere is this culinary evolution more evident than at CityZen in the Mandarin Oriental. It is the only restaurant here to have both a AAA Five-Diamond and Four-Star rating — and an executive chef, Eric Ziebold, with a James Beard Award. Sou’Wester, the hotel’s other restaurant, has a 2.5 star rating.
“Many D.C. hotels may have a ‘celebrity chef’ and/or a notable chef affiliation, but executive chef Eric Ziebold not only calls the D.C. area his home, he is also working ‘on the line’ every evening,” said Mandarin general manager Amanda Hyndman.
Not-to-miss dishes at CityZen include the Parker House Rolls, although you can’t go wrong with the chef’s tasting menu — also available in a vegetarian version — or a four-course meal for $90 that offers puree of savoy cabbage soup made with Maine lobster, black trumpet mushroom and pickled mustard seeds; lamb shortrib pot au feu; and Valrhona chocolate and coffee brioche.
At the more casual Sou’Wester, the hush puppies are a must. It’s “American comfort food at its best,” Hyndman said. Salads range from $9 to $14, while entrées such as blackened bluefish go for $22 to $35.
Once sufficiently satiated (or stuffed, whichever the case may be), head up to one of the hotel’s 347 rooms, which go for $595 on weekdays and $295 on weekends.
Best for Business Travelers: St. Regis
923 16th and K Streets, NW
Aside from being the seat of American politics, D.C. is home to thousands of businesses, trade groups and all kinds of companies under the sun. Indeed, more than 50 percent of visitors to Washington come here on business, according to Destination DC. To make their stays more comfortable, the St. Regis, located in the business-heavy K Street corridor, turns to its hallmark round-the-clock butler service.
“We feel that the butler gives the luxury to the business traveler and that’s the luxury of time,” general manager Laura Schofield said. “We really look at the butler as the guest’s assistant while they’re here in Washington. Our butlers can do anything from packing and unpacking to bringing your coffee in the morning to making reservations for you.”
The butlers each have their own e-mail addresses for easy remote access, too.
“The idea is you can be at your meeting on Capitol Hill or anywhere in Washington and something can come to mind. You might want to suddenly arrange a meeting back in your suite, and you can just e-mail the butler and everything will be taken care of for you, really saving you a lot of phone calls, a lot of extra work,” Schofield said.
Because the hotel receives many guests from China, it has room service menus and brochures in Chinese and an associate who speaks Mandarin.
The 182-room hotel with 25 suites also offers a business center, secretarial and translation services, and wireless Internet in all guestrooms. Rates go from $350 for a standard room to $10,000 a night for the Presidential Suite.
Best for Movie Fans: The Fairmont
2401 M St., NW
Washington can be a veritable Hollywood on the East Coast, and when it comes to welcoming film crews and actors, the Fairmont has done its fair share. Parts of the hotel such as the lobby meeting spaces and the courtyard have all made cameos in movies such as “Enemy of the State.” Film crews from “The Pelican Brief,” “Hollow Man,” “Contact,” “Broadcast News” and “Nixon” stayed at the hotel. Famous faces such as boxer Muhammad Ali, violinist Itzhak Perlman, actor-former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and actress Lauren Bacall have all laid their heads to rest in one of the hotel’s 415 guestrooms and 38 suites.
“When a movie company is filming in Washington, D.C., or any location, they really want the stars or the actors to have a place that they can really call home and that creates a comfort zone because so much of acting is getting into character and perhaps being somebody they normally aren’t,” said Mark Andrew, Fairmont regional vice president and general manager. “They want a place they can get away to and be themselves.”
Catering to actors can bring some pretty specific requests, Andrew said. He’s been asked to provide only red M&M’s or certain types of water, plants or laundry detergent. Some high-end musical groups have rented out the health club to work out at 2 a.m. after a show.
All of it means that the odds of rubbing elbows with a star are pretty high, Andrew said. “The chance of people coming into the hotels in the Northwest corner of Washington, D.C., and finding somebody [famous] are pretty good.”
Best for Jet-Setters with a Fear of Flying: The Fairfax at Embassy Row
2100 Massachusetts Ave., NW
D.C. is home to more embassies than any other city in the world, making it easy to become a world traveler without setting foot inside an airliner. Guests at the four-star, four-diamond Fairfax can literally walk out the door and onto the soil of another country within moments.
“Within a 15-minute walk, there are probably 40 to 50 of them,” said general manager Stephen Johnston, who sees four embassies when he looks out his office window. “We are probably the hotel that is in the densest part of the embassy district.”
Because of its location on Embassy Row, the hotel attracts many foreigners looking to do business with the city’s 175 foreign missions. But it also gets plenty of leisure travelers looking for the atypical D.C. experience slightly away from the monuments and Mall madness (a visit to the Phillips Collection, for example, is just a block away).
“I’m absolutely amazed at the amount of business that comes to us year-round simply because of the embassies,” Johnston observed. “The embassy market is an important one for us.”
For example, to accommodate Chinese guests, the 259-room hotel, which charges anywhere from $189 to $449 per night depending on the season, is working to translate in-room menus and information into Mandarin.
Best for Families: The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner
1700 Tysons Blvd., McLean, Va.
Traveling in high style isn’t just for the 18 and up crowd. Little ones know opulence when they see it, and there’s plenty to keep them busy at the 398-room Ritz in Tysons Corner, Va. For instance, through Dec. 31, the American Girl Store Package, starting at $259 per night, includes an overnight stay, American breakfast for two, valet parking, entrance to win an American Girl doll, American Girl doll-size travel bed to take home, and a special sweet turndown in the evening.
The hotel is attached to the Tysons Galleria shopping mall, which has anchor stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. Tysons Corner Center just across the way has children’s concerts and a play area.
Easter celebrants can enjoy an Easter Sunday brunch in the Old Dominion restaurant from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. for $120 per adult and $40 per child ages 4 to 12. The feast includes breakfast staples like eggs benedict, custom-made omelets, and waffles, plus more exotic fare such as caviar, a carving station and seafood bar. On April 7, kids can decorate their own chocolate Easter eggs with executive pastry chef Frederic Barasse for $65.
Best for Large Groups and Conferences: Washington Hilton
1919 Connecticut Ave., NW
The Washington Hilton hosts almost 80 large conferences and social events each year in its 110,000 square feet of function space, including big affairs such as the First Lady’s Luncheon. The White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner has been held in the International Ballroom — D.C.’s largest hotel ballroom — annually since the mid-1970s and the National Prayer Breakfast has taken place here every winter since 1966.
“Since Washington Hilton opened in 1965, our legendary hotel has been linked to notable moments in American history, hosting countless noteworthy guests, from U.S. presidents and foreign dignitaries to business leaders and celebrities from around the world,” general manager Steve Cowan said. “Hosting these notable meetings and events gives Washington Hilton a special distinction among leisure guests that Washington Hilton is a place to see and be seen in Washington.”
Indeed, the hotel hosts nearly half a million people in its 1,070 rooms each year who typically pay between $179 and $299 per night.
Highlights of the hotel include the Heights Executive Meeting Center with nine rooms of meeting space at the lobby level; the 30,000-square-foot Columbia Hall multipurpose room with movable walls; the Presidents Walk that heads of state use to get to the ballroom; and a presidential holding area where leaders can relax before making their appearance.
About the Author
Stephanie Kanowitz is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.