Free wine and champagne reception for guests every day in lobby, lounge, and patio area
Free in-room Wi-Fi (uncommon in D.C.)
12 specialty guest rooms including Bunk (with bunk beds), Eats (with kitchenettes), Flex (with exercise alcoves), and Zone (with entertainment center alcoves)
Room service not 24 hours
Helix Lounge open only for breakfast buffet and light dinners
Nearest Metro station, the Dupont Circle stop on the Red Line, is a 15- to 20-minute walk
No pool or spa, but in-room spa treatments available
Overnight valet parking is pricey, daily parking is more reasonable
An eccentric, reasonably priced, 178-room Kimpton hotel (a chain with seven D.C. properties), Hotel Helix opened in 2002 on a once-sketchy but now pretty block of Rhode Island Avenue in the Dupont Circle vicinity. It has was revamped in 2009 with extra-large guest rooms, free Wi-Fi, modish decor, and a relaxed mood, but the nearest Metro station is a 15- to 20-minute walk.
Hip and high spirited -- without taking itself too seriously
This free-spirited 178-room hotel owned by Kimpton, a national boutique group with seven hotels in D.C., opened in 2002, and most of the property has been kept well since a $1.3 million renovation in 2009. From start to finish, the tone here is all about fun. When you call to make a reservation, a recorded Austin-Powers-like voice (with accompanying movie music) enthusiastically greets you with a rousing "Yeah, Baby!" and walks you through the automated system. Neon lights and patent-leather furniture in the Helix Lounge channel the Jetsons. Throughout the lobby, elevators, and Helix Lounge, '80s music blares continuously. And the Helix takes its Hollywood-esque "15 minutes of fame" theme seriously: Framed photos of film and music stars line the hallways, while meeting rooms are dubbed Casting Rooms A and B.
The hotel's vivid pop-art ambiance, large Deluxe King standard rooms (averaging a pretty typical 350 square feet), free in-room Wi-Fi, and free nightly happy hour attract all kinds of travelers. Like most Kimpton hotels, the Helix is super kid- and pet-friendly, and offers amenities for both two- and four-legged guests.
Arguments against? The postage-stamp-size fitness center is a bit of a joke. The Helix Lounge doesn't serve lunch or full dinners, and room service isn't 24 hours. And the hotel is a trek from the nearest Metro station. Comparable in price, the Carlyle Suites Hotel is much closer to Dupont Circle (three and a half blocks to the Metro) and its rooms are similar in size, if not larger; but it lacks the Helix's endearingly idiosyncratic personality. Still, both are a significant value for the area. And the trendy Dupont Hotel (formerly the Jurys Hotel), with beautiful guest rooms, great food, and free business center, is directly in the midst of Dupont Circle's action, but costs quite a bit more per night. So the Helix's fun-loving atmosphere, commodious rooms, and fair rates, plus its residential locale a 15- to 20-minute walk from Dupont Circle make it a solid choice for most travelers -- particularly those who prefer cabbing it to hoofing it around town.
As befits this unfussy boutique hotel, lobby employees dress casually and act informally, but gladly help with luggage, taxis, and baggage storage. Hotel Helix claims to have a concierge, but front desk clerks actually handle that task. The free and convivial happy hour is a welcome post-check-in treat (all you can drink wine and champagne in 60 minutes), but that's one of the only times service here goes beyond the usual.
A staffer pours free wine and champagne during a nightly happy hour for guests in the lobby, lounge, and on patio.
Room service not 24 hours
Free printout of flight or train boarding pass and delivery from front desk
Staff will deliver tote bag with yoga mat, strap, and block to guest room upon request.
Bring your walking shoes -- it's a hike to Dupont Circle
Hotel Helix claims to be in Dupont Circle, but it's actually on the neighborhood's fringe -- on a leafy, residential block a 15- to 20-minute walk to the Dupont Circle Metro stop on the Red Line. In fact, the Helix is much closer to Logan Circle, Scott Circle, and the strip of restaurants, pubs, and shops on P Street between Logan Circle and 15th Street, a formerly down-and-out area now populated by restored apartment buildings, a Whole Foods supermarket, and hybrid cars.
The diverse Dupont Circle neighborhood, named in honor of American naval officer Samuel Francis Dupont, is a longtime spirited gathering spot for progressive, socially minded types; coffeehouses, bars, restaurants, and upscale retail shops abound. It's the place to head for a vegan dessert, a gay bar, or to buy fresh produce on Sundays at the farmers' market. Centrally located with numerous options for nightlife (and frequent crowds), Dupont Circle is ideal for travelers who want to get out of "old downtown" and stay in a neighborhood where locals actually live. It's also the historic center of the city's gay community and home to Embassy Row.
340 square feet of colorful whimsy -- appealingly spacious, but not sumptuous
A $1.3 million rehabbing in 2009 is apparent in the comfortably large and well-laid-out rooms: vibrant colors, eclectic furniture, faux pop art, sheer curtains around the bed area, flat-screen TVs, and free Wi-Fi. Incongruously, most in-room electronics seem stuck in the past (much like the piped-in lobby music) thanks to the Panasonic five-CD disc changer, Panasonic radio/alarm clock, and Sony cordless phone. And there were a few more problematic issues: My bed wasn't particularly comfortable; I could hear guests talking in other rooms; the Weather Channel was frozen on the TV; and the free yoga TV channel kept replaying the same short savasana segment -- over and over and over. (On the other hand, the front desk will deliver a tote bag with a yoga mat, strap, and block, and there's almost enough space in the room for three yogis to practice simultaneously.) Much closer to Dupont Circle, guest rooms at the Carlyle Suites Hotel rival those at the Hotel Helix in terms of size, but not attitude.
Lacks a spa, a serious restaurant, and a well-equipped fitness center
There's no way around it: Hotel Helix doesn't proffer nearly as many cool amenities as Hotel Palomar, its less expensive sister hotel in Dupont Circle (with a pool, real restaurant, and great fitness center), or the pricier Downtown W Hotel (with Bliss Spa, a top-notch gym, and several chichi restaurants and bars).
Hotel Helix, like all Kimpton hotels, has a serious affinity for animals. Staff members welcome pets by writing their names on a chalkboard in the lobby and leaving out bowls of food and water near the entrance.
Any pet under 200 pounds allowed (no limit on number of pets)
Hotel provides pet treats, feeding bowls, a mat, bed, bottled water, and pickup bags for no charge.
Pet packages available, include pet robes, and pet manicures and pedicures
Hotel provides list of local pet sitters and doggie day care facilities.
Hotel Helix attempts to go the extra mile by running a program called "KimptonKids," but aside from pint-size robes and in-room child safety kits, it's not that different from what most other D.C. hotels offer. That said, youngsters will feel comfortable here thanks to crazy colors and fun touches, and parents will appreciate the chilled-out environment.
Kid and adult menus are virtually interchangeable here, but the "Cadillac" grilled cheese and milk shake are safe bets for tots.
Specialty guest room categories: Bunk (with bunk beds), Eats (with kitchenettes), Flex (with exercise alcoves), and Zone (with entertainment center alcoves), many of which are ideal for families
Free cribs, rollaways, playards, high chairs, booster seats, and in-room child safety kits (outlet covers, toilet latches, nightlights) upon request
Kid-size animal-print robes (for loan or to buy)
Hotel provides list of child-friendly area parks, restaurants, and activities.
Front desk can connect you to stroller rentals, babysitting services, and car rental company with safety seats.
Just off the lobby, the Helix Lounge serves "pajama party" cocktails with cutesy names, burgers, hush puppies, waffle fries, a vegetable pot pie, and lobster mac and cheese (portions for two) during the evening to the sounds of '80s pop music in a groovy room and adjacent outdoor patio with plenty of comfy seating and changing mood lighting. If you prefer a hip hotel that serves food throughout the day, check out the Hotel Dupont right on Dupont Circle.
Free wine and champagne happy hour every evening for guests in lobby, lounge, and patio
Free morning coffee in lobby
Continental breakfast buffet; a la carte options available.
Helix Lounge not open for lunch; light fare during dinnertime