Revisiting the Grandeur of Washington, D.C.

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Americans of all political stripes tend to take a jaundiced view of Washington, D.C., these days, so it is easy to forget that it is a city of great beauty, with fine hotels, stellar restaurants, a vibrant arts scene and world-class museums. My recent trip was inspired chiefly by a desire to stay in the new and much-anticipated Capella hotel in Georgetown, but I was soon reminded how I invariably enjoy visits to the nation’s capital.

Although Washington has many attractive neighborhoods, Georgetown is the most storied, having been home to Thomas Jefferson, Francis Scott Key (who wrote the lyrics of the national anthem), the Kennedys prior to their move to the White House and countless other notables. With its rows of Federalist townhouses, streets canopied by stately old trees, and brick sidewalks with their eccentric undulations, Georgetown is an enclave unto itself. When D.C. built its subway system in the 1970s and ’80s, the residents voted against a stop that they feared would lead to the area being overrun. This decision turned out to be a classic example of the law of unexpected consequences, as it caused a slump in local business, and Georgetown quickly lost some of its luster. Of late, however, the area has acquired a new vibrancy, thanks to the lively Washington Harbour development on the Potomac; the ongoing renovation of the once-pacesetting Georgetown Park mall; and the thriving retail area at the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street. A number of appealing restaurants has also helped to make Georgetown a popular destination on weekends.

Capella Washington

The 49-room Capella Washington, D.C., Georgetown is convenient for the Kennedy Center, Rock Creek Park, and Georgetown and George Washington universities. It stands in a restored red-brick warehouse whose industrial style blends smoothly with similar structures along the C&O Canal (a project in which George Washington himself was an investor). From the moment we stepped out of our cab, staff swirled about us, opening doors, dispatching luggage and ushering us through the gleaming marble and wood lobby into the Capella Living Room for registration. There, we found a discreet sanctuary separate from the hotel’s public areas, with high ceilings, tall bookcases, comfortable chairs and a glowing onyx fireplace. A Personal Assistant checked us in. There are no clerks or concierges at the Capella. Instead, the PAs help in any way they can: arranging guides; securing restaurant reservations; booking tickets for hard-to-get performances. The system works very well, and we found “If we can, we will” to be the staff’s prevailing attitude.

Our PA escorted us to a Deluxe Room via a guests-only elevator, and there provided a clear and thorough briefing on the lighting and bedside controls. The décor was comfortable contemporary, and I found its mix of dark woods, cream walls and judiciously placed art to be extremely pleasing. The bed was made up with Pratesi linens; a small but well-supplied console came with an illy coffeemaker, an electric kettle and a mini-fridge well-stocked with water, milk and soft drinks; a plush club chair provided a fine spot for an afternoon read; and the work desk was equipped with ample plugs and connections, as well as with pencils, erasers, even a stapler. In the black marble bath, we found the same attention to detail. The lighting was perfect; we never had far to reach for towels, thanks to the many well-stocked racks; convenient hooks beside the sculptural freestanding limestone tub provided spots for hanging robes; and a generous supply of Acqua di Parma toiletries was much appreciated (as was the small white leather travel kit containing extras for the journey home).

It is noticeable at Capella that in-house guests are accorded priority. At too many hotels nowadays, the restaurants, the spa and the public areas in general are overrun by people who are not staying there. Personally, when paying close to $1,000 a night I find it infuriating to be told that it might be possible to squeeze me into the dining room, assuming that I don’t mind eating at 6 p.m. or 10 p.m. Here, both the Capella Living Room and the rooftop bar — with its panoramic views of the Potomac, the Watergate apartments and the elegant Kennedy Center — are reserved for residents and their invited guests, as is the indoor/outdoor raised infinity-edge pool. Nearby, a compact fitness room affords sweeping views north to residential Georgetown.

Hotel guests and Georgetown residents mingle in The Rye Bar. Polished mahogany, subdued lighting and leather seats make this a congenial spot year-round, but in clement weather, the canal-side patio is most in demand. The adjacent Grill Room also offers canal views through a wall of glass. Chef Jakob Esko serves a seasonal farm-to-table menu on which fresh seafood and bone-in meats feature prominently. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal, highlights of which were a plump Maryland crab cake, nicely matched with a 2011 King Estate Pinot Gris from the Willamette Valley, and a Virginia pork chop with crushed red potatoes, sweet baked peach, baby bok choy and smoked ham-hock jus, accompanied by a 2009 Miura Pinot Noir from Monterey.

AT A GLANCE:

Capella Washington, D.C., Georgetown, 95. Superior King Room, $595; Deluxe Room, $745; Georgetown Room, $1,045. 1050 31st Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. Tel. (202) 617-2400.

LIKE: Exceptionally friendly and welcoming staff; lounges reserved for the exclusive use of guests.

DISLIKE: Deluxe Rooms are a little small for the price.

GOOD TO KNOW: Rooms on the east and north of the hotel have the best views and should be specifically requested.

The Jefferson

Staying in Georgetown is a little like being on New York’s Upper East Side, a similarly gracious enclave just a short distance from the center of town. Overall, the Capella proved a comfortable and civilized hotel, where we felt very well cared for by attentive, friendly and accommodating staff.

For those who wish to be close to the White House, I have long recommended The Hay-Adams, whose location on 16th Street just north of Lafayette Square can scarcely be bettered. However, a serious alternative is now provided by The Jefferson, three blocks farther up 16th Street, which recently underwent a comprehensive renovation of its public areas and 96 guest rooms. Within easy walking distance of lively Dupont Circle and bustling Farragut Square, The Jefferson occupies a pleasing, if not especially distinctive, Beaux Arts building that dates from 1923. But its interior impresses immediately. On entering the lobby, I paused for a moment to survey the dramatic black-and-white checkerboard floor, the imposing iron gates leading to The Greenhouse restaurant, the intricate plaster moldings and the magnificent skylight rediscovered during the renovation. We checked in at one of two elegant desks backed by a serene mural, then proceeded to our room, escorted by a charming young woman who pointed out the original Thomas Jefferson documents on display.

Our Deluxe Room was snug but cozy, with wainscoting, an antique-style writing desk, a large closet, a jacket stand, custom carpeting and handsome fabrics that included toile depictions of Jefferson’s beloved Monticello. A warm palette, chiefly of taupe and white, combined with well-placed lights to create an environment of charm and sophistication. Our bath was on the small side, with just a single vanity, but the roomy walk-in shower and a TV set in the mirror above the sink were both welcome, as were the Monticello Grove toiletries, made especially for The Jefferson. We also appreciated the Bose sound system with an iPod dock, free Wi-Fi and long-distance phone calls, and the complimentary shoe shine and pressing (one piece per person per day).

Downstairs, the Book Room, reserved exclusively for residents, offers an agreeable refuge, with warm woods, discreet lighting, well-stocked shelves, comfortable furniture and a fireplace. In the fine-dining restaurant, Plume, chef Chris Jakubiec offers an inventive menu of contemporary American cuisine.

A charming young woman pointed out the original Thomas Jefferson documents on display.

We relished dishes such as diver sea scallops with fava beans, chanterelles and Manila clams in a hazelnut reduction; and filet of Angus prime beef with a mousseline of truffled potatoes, bone marrow and Madeira jus. Both were complemented by sommelier Michael Scaffidi’s wine selections. We also enjoyed Quill, The Jefferson’s clubby bar, which has an outdoor terrace for fine weather. An intimate spa, added at the time of the renovations, completes the hotel’s amenities.

In general, I am fond of independent hotels such as The Jefferson. Not part of a chain or group, it has an individual personality. The aesthetic is distinctive, and the staff’s lines never seem scripted. Throughout our stay, we felt welcome and comfortable, and I recommend the property without hesitation.

AT A GLANCE:

The Jefferson, 94. Deluxe King Room, $500; Deluxe Suite, $700. 1200 16th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. Tel.(202) 448-2300.

LIKE: Thoughtful touches such as the fresh lemonade in the lobby, which was most welcome on a hot day.

DISLIKE: The location is very convenient, but the setting is not especially inspiring.

GOOD TO KNOW: Rooms at the back of the hotel face another building, so are best avoided.

By Hideaway Report Editor Hideaway Report editors travel the world anonymously to give you the unvarnished truth about luxury hotels. Hotels have no idea who the editors are, so they are treated exactly as you might be.
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