Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
A midsize luxury-chain hotel right down the street from the White House; dominated by businesspeople during the week and leisure travelers on weekends
In the eight decades since Calvin Coolidge cut the ceremonial grand-opening ribbon, every president has visited the St. Regis. For seven of those decades -- from 1926 to end of the last century -- the property was known as the Carlton Hotel, and hosted everyone from presidents (Reagan had his hair cut there) to celebrities (Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Cher were frequent guests). Howard Hughes kept a permanent suite at the Carlton during World War II.
In 1999, the hotel changed hands and became the second St. Regis in the world, 95 years after the flagship property in New York opened. (There are now about 20 other St. Regis hotels, including one in San Francisco that's Oyster's only five-pearl hotel in that city.) Just as significant as the hotel's St. Regis label is its association with Starwood, which enables the chain's frequent customers to use or accrue preferred guest points. The result is a clientele -- and hence a vibe -- even more corporate than other Washington hotels, at least during the week. When I was there, a conference for CEOs dominated both the lobby and the meeting rooms downstairs; at night, men in suits filled the restaurant and bar.
With eight meeting rooms, the St. Regis relies heavily on business travelers, but its impressive Astor Ballroom, along with its al-fresco accompaniment, the Astor Terrace -- named after the founder of the original St. Regis, John Jacob Astor IV (who later became the richest casualty of the Titanic) -- host scores of social events as well. The high-profile (and commensurately high-priced) restaurant, meanwhile, is one of the few hotel eateries in D.C. that attracts locals as well as guests. The hotel's biggest draw, though, is probably the simple fact that it underwent a massive renovation, closing for 16 months and reopening in 2008. Everything still looks shiny and new, and you can bet, given the pedigree of the St. Regis brand, it will remain that way for a while.
So how does the St. Regis stack up against the other luxury hotels in D.C.? Its newness helps a lot, but not much else sets it apart. If location is a deciding factor and you want to be downtown, you're better off at either of the St. Regis's boutique neighbors, the Hay-Adams or Jefferson. Both offer far more charm and individuality, better service, and just as many amenities despite being far smaller. If you feel more comfortable at a chain, or the aforementioned boutiques are charging more than you'd like, we love the Park Hyatt in Foggy Bottom.
Impressive, as you'd expect, but not quite up there with the best
You get almost everything you'd expect from a St. Regis -- 24-hour room service, choice of morning newspaper, a doorman to hold the door for you every time. Classical music awaited me when I returned to my room after the evening turndown. There's even someone on call 24 hours a day to bring you anything you need (they call him/her a butler, but as far as I could tell, it's basically a staffer in a tuxedo).
Yet I was a bit disappointed with the service, especially after experiencing the royal (or rather, presidential) treatment at the Hay-Adams and Jefferson. Among the missteps: The woman at the front desk who checked me in was either having a bad day or was generally uninspired -- she didn't seem happy to be there. Then, when the bellman who gave me a tour of my room discovered the mirror TV in the bathroom wasn't working, he said he would send up an engineer to fix it. The TV worked OK (albeit not perfectly) later that night, but I'm not sure if anyone ever came. Finally, the room service did not include a cart, which forced me to eat at the desk.
In the heart of downtown, a 10-minute walk to the White House, 15 to the Washington Monument and the Mall
The St. Regis is in the heart of "old downtown," just a short walk from the White House. 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 or at other hotels like the Hay-Adams or the Jefferson.
What you'd expect from a St. Regis: roomy and comfy; elegant and high-tech
The rooms are up there with the best in the city. Renovated in 2008, they're equipped with the newest technology (Bose iPod docks, flat-screens embedded in the bathroom mirrors) and still look brand new. I didn't love the color scheme, but to each his own. Besides, the crucial bases are all covered. Comfortable bed? Check. Amenities aplenty? Many checks. Space to move around, dine in, set up that ironing board? Check, check, check. (In general, they're bigger than the rooms at the similarly pricey hotels just down the street, the Hay-Adams and Jefferson, but smaller than those at luxury hotels in other parts of the city.) Basically, the rooms lack the fun touches and individuality of those at the Hay-Adams or Jefferson, but they hit their marks where they should. Unless you're a spoiled hotel reviewer, it's tough to complain.
The St. Regis doesn't offer a ton in the way of amenities, but then, neither do most hotels in D.C., even its luxury competitors. And with the exception of the fitness center, which is poorly equipped (no free weights; just three weight machines), everything is top-notch. The most unique feature is the nightly "Champagne Sabering Ritual". Every day at 6 p.m. (5 p.m. during the spring and summer), a wine server makes a loud announcement to the effect of, "Ladies and gentleman: On this, the 23rd day of March, 2010, we mark the occasion with the pouring of our ceremonial champagne. ..." Then she pops the cork and pours glasses for everyone who wants one. It's over by 6:05. All in all, a lot of pomp for very little circumstance. But hey, free booze.
Not great for young kids, but no reason not to take the family
Because of its mature vibe (antiquish furniture, conservative decor), the St. Regis isn't ideal for families with young children. At the least, though, you can be sure the attentive staff will go above and beyond to make the young'uns smile.
A highly regarded restaurant on-site, but the area's not known for its dining
The St. Regis's restaurant, Adour, represents a rare breed: a hotel restaurant that wields enough cache to draw beyond its hotel-guest base. Though celebrity-chef Alain Ducasse has lent his name to the restaurant (it's named after the river in southwest France near Ducasse's hometown), it's worth noting he is not the executive chef. Nevertheless, Adour has already garnered several honors, including Robb Report's "2009 Best of the Best" and Mobil Travel Guide's Four Star Award. My dinner there was delightful.
The feather in Starwood's D.C. cap, the 175-room St. Regis underwent a huge renovation (closing for 16 months and reopening in 2008) and still looks sharp. It doesn't quite match up to its main competitors downtown (the Hay-Adams and Jefferson), but its premier restaurant, 24-hour butler service, and spacious, high-tech rooms place it among the city's elite.