- No pool or spa
- Pricey valet parking
Et voila -- you could almost be in gay Par-ee.
This 237-room hotel (part of a French-owned chain), which opened in 2002 in a circa-1880 former office building, feels like a petit pocket of Paris. You regularly hear French being spoken by welcoming staffers as well as guests. The hotel feels smaller and more intimate than its size would suggest. The lobby is all jewel tones and warm woods, with gilt frames, hanging lamps, fresh flower arrangements, and gleaming square clocks set to the times in France, Tokyo, and Washington, D.C., above each elevator. The Sofitel sees lots of repeat guests, including French and Canadians in town on business. And everywhere I turned I saw chic, well-dressed French businesspeople murmuring bon mots into their mobile phones.
Its setting practically around the corner from the White House can't be beat, except perhaps by the Hay-Adams. All aspects of the property are continually being upgraded. Guest rooms are pleasantly spacious and well designed, with tasteful furnishings, soothing monochromatic tones, and framed black-and-white photos of Paris and D.C. Sofitel's Ici Urban Bistro and Le Bar are cool, low-key spots for a quiet drink or dinner. (Visitors hoping for a velvet-rope, clipboard-toting hostess, thumping rooftop bar scene, for a pretty penny more a night, should try the recently opened W Hotel, formerly Hotel Washington, just a few blocks away.)
The Sofitel suffers a few drawbacks, including the lack of a spa and free Wi-Fi (for that, see the Fairmont or Hotel Helix), but Sofitel's rooms, beds, service, and location may make you forgive those flaws. A much less expensive (yet louder, super-slick, and trendy) downtown alternative to the Sofitel is the Donovan House. The Hay-Adams provides views of the White House for a bit more a night than the Sofitel, while a room at legendary grande dame the Willard can run a whopping tab per night; you may be better off just stopping in for a cocktail at its Round Robin Bar, a fave of politicos.
Impressively high level of attention
Service at the Sofitel feels surprisingly personal for a hotel with 237 rooms. Front desk clerks, concierges, bellman, porters, doormen, and housekeeping and maintenance staff are unfailingly polite and helpful, and execute requests quickly and efficiently. Most address guests by name as often as possible, and give guests the option of speaking French; whenever guests call down to the front desk or concierge, a monsieur or madame greets them with a "Bonjour/soir, Ms. E___."
Around the corner from the White House and Lafayette Park
In the heart of old downtown, on the corner of 15th and H Streets, just steps from Lafayette Park, the only way to get closer to the White House is to stay at the Hay-Adams, or run for high office yourself. Lots of must-see historic sites are within easy walking distance, but while the immediate area around the hotel is bustling with nine-to-fivers during the day, it can border on desolate at night. Your only dining and drinking options in the immediate area are on-site, at other hotels like the Hay-Adams or the Jefferson, or at nearby Bobby Vans Steakhouse or Woodward Table.
Big, well-designed rooms feel like peaceful cocoons.
Sofitel guest rooms are commodious by D.C. standards, well laid out, quiet (even those that face busy 15th Street), and equipped with up-to-date electronics. A Superior Room with king-size bed is 370 square feet, with a large closet, desk, velvet chair, and side table. (A Superior room with two double beds is 400 square feet.) Luxury rooms are 400 square feet (king bed) or 450 square feet (two double beds); Junior Suites with king beds are at least 475 square feet. In-room catalogs advertise Sofitel's own SoBed or MyBed. Though the one in my room didn't appear to be either brand, the mattress was extremely comfortable and the bedding felt luxurious.
No pool or spa, but a well-equipped fitness center in the basement
Though its list of amenities isn't enormous (no spa, small business center), somehow the Sofitel doesn't feel lacking in perks. But for more extensive facilities, consider the W Hotel or the Hay-Adams.
Pets under 50 pounds allowed at no extra cost.
This being a French-owned establishment, dogs are encouraged (as are cats, both for free), and the hotel spoils them rotten.
Better suited to families with older children than little ones
While the hotel happily receives children, the guest rooms have plenty of space, and the downtown location is ideal for walking and sightseeing, the Sofitel feels tranquil, grown up, and business-like -- not like a place for youngsters to frolic.
Thoroughly neat, clean, and tidy
Public spaces and guest rooms are virtually spotless, aside from a few negligible carpet stains. Though a perfect storm of relatively minor problems occurred in my room upon arrival (clock wasn't set to standard time; door handle came off; minibar door wouldn't close; Bose sound system remote didn't work; electronic safe didn't operate; light bulb in bathroom was out), hotel maintenance and engineering fixed the issues apologetically, and the front desk soon followed up by phone to make sure everything had been handled to my satisfaction.
Tasty food and drink from Ici Urban Bistro, Le Bar, or room service
Ici Urban Bistro and Le Bar sit across the lobby from each other. Ici Urban Bistro is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. Open daily, Le Bar serves soups, salads, a croque monsieur, and has a full bar in a casual, supper-club-like setting with red and black hues, settees, and cocktail tables.
A city rich with many museums and monuments like Washington DC will require a good deal of planning and time…
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