You don’t have to stay at these tiny hotels to experience the best of their lobbies.
The Willard InterContinental
What to expect: A throwback to grand hotels of the 19th century near the White House. It’s where powerful people still go to make powerful decisions. Crowned heads rest on the Willard’s pillows.
Where to spend your dollars: Sip a mint julep or sample a single malt whiskey in the Round Robin Bar and Scotch Bar alongside powerbrokers. It may not be polite to say so, but this is a great place to eavesdrop. “The next day’s work starts between 6 and 8 p.m.,” says Jim Hewes, bartender there for 22 years. “The Round Robin gets a drift on tomorrow’s news.”
The inside story: D.C. insiders strut the lobby’s Peacock Alley where you people-watch while nibbling on tea and scones ($39).
1401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.; www.washington.intercontinental.com or 1-800-327-0200
What to expect: Formal and classic yet balanced with a boutiquish and intimate atmosphere. Walk out the front door to see Lafayette Park and the White House.
Where to spend your dollars: The basement bar, Off the Record, attracts politicos from the White House and the nearby World Bank. “Always sit at the bar,” says John Boswell, the friendly 12-year veteran bartender. “The half-moon shape tends to get people into conversations.” Patrons stick to the classics―martinis, Manhattans, and wines.
The inside story: The Sunday morning talk show hosts and hotel guests rub elbows at the extravagant late-morning brunch in The Lafayette dining room ($65, reservations required).
16th and H Streets NW.; www.hayadams.com or (202) 638-6600
What to expect: A meeting of the old and new: luxe gilt lobby with endless Italian marble floors vs. leather-and-chrome restaurant bar helmed by celebrity chef Alain Ducasse.
Where to spend your dollars: Settle into the purple Bar at St. Regis. Populated by admiring foodies, the bar pours the coolest drinks. “Our Trial by Berry (Champagne, house-infused vanilla and nutmeg vodka, muddled blackberries) is the favorite,” says Marianna Alfa, restaurant director. “The chef’s slider duo―two burgers, one beef, the other boudin―is our rock and roll item.”
The inside story: Mixologist Mia Baila creates D.C.’s most unusual drink: Champagne adorned with pearls of Cointreau and gold flecks.
923 16th and K Streets NW.; www.starwoodhotels.com/stregis or (202) 638-2626
What to expect: A sleek Euro feel of glass, natural fibers, and golden-hued wood. A favorite among world travelers who trust the Park Hyatt brand and prefer the energy at the cusp of Georgetown.
Where to spend your dollars: Cozy in at the Tea Cellar, presided over by tea expert Marie Hatakeyama. Those seeking a sturdier drink slip into glass-enclosed booths at the bar. “It’s like having a private conversation on display,” says frequent visitor Chris Gieckel, adding that the pear martini is a house favorite. “I’m not known for having girly drinks, but I’ll order a second one.”
The inside story: Purchase your favorite tea from the tasting to prepare at home, including vintage brews.
24th and M Streets NW.; www.parkhyattwashington.com or (202) 789-1234