Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
The Fairfax dates back to 1927 and enjoys a great location at the end of Embassy Row, only one block from Dupont Circle. Though the hotel has its own bit of history (presidents and dignitaries have stayed here, and Al Gore lived here during the school year as a child), it lacks the grandeur and notoriety of D.C. power hotels like the Park Hyatt or Hay-Adams, probably due to its long history of changing hands and names.
Most recently, the hotel was a Westin, but in 2008, the company renovated the rooms, the lobby, and the restaurant and rebranded it as a Starwood Luxury Collection hotel. The result stays true to the building's Beaux Arts design but falls short of true luxury -- there's little sense of grandeur here, though the fitness center, business center, and 2100 Prime restaurant are certainly adequate.
That said, if you're not actually expecting to shake hands with your senator over a high-priced meal, and you just want a good room, good service (including nightly turndowns), and a central location, the Fairfax doesn't fail.
Small extras like turndown service and a dedicated concierge with long hours make service here great.
The service at the Fairfax is superb. Doormen are always posted to help guests in and out of the hotel, and the staff is friendly and welcoming. A bellman stands near the elevators at all times to make sure one is always available at the lobby level -- a nice touch. Another bellman gave me an abbreviated tour of the hotel on the way to my room after check-in, and when I asked for toothpaste to be delivered to my room, it was there within five minutes -- brought to me in a little gift bag.
At the end of Embassy Row, one block away from Dupont Circle
Set on an attractive, treelined block of Massachusetts Avenue, two blocks from Dupont Circle in the neighborhood's center, the Fairfax really has location going for it. 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 gay community and home to Embassy Row.
Well appointed but small, with somewhat dowdy decor
Rooms are small and, though they were renovated in 2008, you'd hardly know it if it weren't for the flat-screen TVs. The dowdy decor feels far older than it is: There were five different floral motifs in my room, plus a plaid chair, some crystal, marble, painted wood, dark stained wood, and gold picture frames. It was overwhelming, to say the least -- more of an outdated and cluttered effect than a grand Beaux Arts effect. Still, the actual furnishings and electronics were nice: big flat-screen TVs, comfortable beds with pillow-top mattresses and Fili D'oro Italian sheets, Frette towels and Gilchrist & Soames toiletries. Some guests complained about hearing their neighbors due to thin walls, but I didn't have an issue.
The features here are exactly what you'd expect for an urban hotel, and not much more. The small fitness center is adequate, and the business center offers free computer use and printing -- a nice contrast to so many other hotels that nickel-and-dime their guests. For extras like a pool and spa, you can consider the Fairmont Hotel, but you'd be giving up the Fairfax's superb location.
Small rooms and a stiff atmosphere are less than ideal for families with children.
The location is central and there's 24-hour room service, but the tiny lobby and formal restaurant dining room aren't ideal for playful families (the 2100 Prime has a loosely enforced dress code of no jeans, and doesn't feature a kids' menu). The hotel's relatively small rooms aren't great for kids, either. For alternative options, check out the best kid-friendly hotels.
Very clean; completely renovated in 2008
The furnishings and decor only seem old; in fact, they were renovated in 2008 and are kept sparkling with meticulous twice-daily housekeeping.
Despite a legendary past, food and drinks are average at 2100 Prime and Fairfax Lounge.
After the 2008 renovations, the hotel restored its dining space and menu as a close match to its original storied Jockey Club restaurant (presidents and celebrities had dined here in the past). But deciding it was time for a change, the hotel rebranded its signature space 2100 Prime and introduced a new menu serving classic American fare with all natural, local ingredients (similar to, and just as unexciting as, its predecessor). The restaurant is still extremely traditional: formal, doting service from multiple staff members, and a dress code (officially, no jeans, jacket-required dress code, but this is loosely enforced -- friends joined in business-casual attire and weren't given a second look). The dining room, retaining the decor of its predecessor, borders on gimmicky, with a heavy English riding motif including horse paintings and campy red plaid tablecloths.
The Fairfax Lounge, which also received a bit of a revamp in the 2008 overhaul, is simmilarly set up like a moody lobby bar for power cocktails like specialty vodka martinis. But when I was there they were missing several of their exclusive alcohols and couldn't make both of the drinks I ordered. Plus, the large flat-screen showing the night's football game detracted from the ambience created by the deep couches and fireside seating. In reality, the drinks are overpriced and the atmosphere is disappointing -- better options abound in Dupont Circle.
Built in 1927 and changed in 2008 from a Westin to a Starwood Luxury Collection property, the historic, 259-room Fairfax has an ideal location -- near great dining and nightlife, but still quiet and close to the sights. Guest rooms, though small, are comfortable, the service is superb, and the features are solid. All around, a fine pick for the price.