The Willard Intercontinental Rating: 4.5 Pearls
Downtown, Washington, D.C., United States

Oyster Review Summary

Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators

Pros

  • Listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places
  • Two blocks from the White House and the Mall; four blocks from two Metro stations
  • Exceptional service
  • Popular Round Robin Bar
  • Opulent lobby and plentiful meeting space

Cons

  • Business-oriented neighborhood is dead at night
  • Fee for Wi-Fi
  • Pricey valet parking (typical of D.C)

Bottom Line

A grande dame hotel that's hosted presidents and diplomats since 1901, the 332-room Willard is a D.C. icon dripping with history just two blocks from the White House. The exceptional staff and opulent lobby compensate for rooms that lack the flash of those at the newly renovated W Washington D.C. next door.

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Oyster Hotel Review

 Scene

A landmark hotel with an incredible history, the Willard Intercontinental's extravagant lobby and excellent service outshine its bland rooms.

Peacock Alley, lined with sofas and meeting rooms
Peacock Alley, lined with sofas and meeting rooms

A hotel has been in this location since 1816; the Willard Intercontinental first gained fame in 1850, when brothers Joseph and Henry bought the property, put their last name on the sign, and promptly hosted President Zachary Taylor. Abraham Lincoln stayed for the 10 days leading up to his inauguration. After the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant met with political operatives in the hotel's lobby, doing deals with men who came to be known as "lobbyists." In 1901, the hotel expanded into its current 12-story form. In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. composed a draft of his "I Have a Dream" speech while a guest at the hotel. The Willard Intercontinental continues to host presidents, diplomats, and D.C. power players thanks to its location just two blocks from the White House and the National Mall.

Indeed, the hotel's opulent lobby is a good place to spot the kinds of people that pass for celebrities in D.C.; I caught a glimpse of New York Times columnist and The World Is Flat author Thomas Friedman during my stay. Cutting through the hotel's ground floor, linking the main Pennsylvania Avenue entrance to F Street is Peacock Alley, a red-carpeted hallway lined with sofas and flanked by meeting rooms, including the space that was, until early 2009, the Willard Room restaurant. The dining room has been closed and converted to additional meeting space, but formal afternoon tea is still served on request -- and with much flourish -- in the seats along the hallway. It's a good place for preening.

While public spaces gleam, in part thanks to a 2006 refurbishment, the rooms are bland, with the kind of beige-and-brown color palette you find at cookie-cutter convention hotels like the nearby Marriott Washington Metro Center and Grand Hyatt Washington. However, renovations to all guestrooms are underway, with the first phase of upgrades completed in 2011. Guets can look forward to new everything: carpets, furniture, linens, paint. Gone are the bland beiges of yesteryear; rooms now feature dark wood furniture with gold, green, and red accents.

Rooms are also spacious, starting at a well-laid-out 375 square feet. Marble-trimmed bathrooms are well lit and roomy if not particularly sumptuous. While an in-room coffeemaker is free to use, the hotel charges for Wi-Fi, a needling fee when rooms can go for upwards of $500 a night.

Service throughout is top-notch and professional, and the concierge staff includes members of the professional organization Les Clefs d'Or. Front desk employees address guests by name, and porters offer to help with bags curbside. Restaurant staff at both Cafe du Parc and the Round Robin Bar were appropriately formal but also accommodating.

 Service

High-quality, luxury-level service throughout

The front desk staff addresses guests by name both in person and over the phone, and service standards are appropriately high. On arrival, doormen offer to shepherd guests' luggage to their rooms; in my experience, bell services were swift and professional.

  • Top-notch service at the front desk, bell stand, and curbside
  • Les Clefs d'Or concierge on duty throughout the day
  • Formal yet accomodating restaurant staff at Cafe du Parc and the Round Robin Bar
  • Fee for valet parking

 Location

In downtown, near the Penn Quarter, just two blocks from the White House and a short walk from the Mall

The InterContinental 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.

  • Three Metro lines within four blocks; two more within nine blocks
  • Two-mile, 10-minute drive to Union Station
  • 27-mile, 60-minute drive to Dulles International Airport. It's a five-mile, 10-minute drive to Reagan National Airport, which is also served by the Yellow and Blue Metro Lines.
  • 20-minute walk from the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam memorial, WW II memorial, and other sites on the western end of the mall.
  • 20-minute walk from the National Gallery of Art, National Air and Space Museum, U.S. Botanic Garden, and the eastern end of the mall.
  • Two blocks from the White House; one mile from the U.S. Capitol

 Rooms

At 375 square feet, standard rooms are spacious if bland -- but they're all being renovated.

A Double Superior Room
A Double Superior Room

The Willard isn't a cookie-cutter business hotel, but its rooms certainly have that feel -- for now. What's not beige is dark-stained wood. My Double Superior Room had two double beds with leather-upholstered benches at their feet, a flat-screen TV, a small sitting area with two armchairs, ample closet space, and a well-stocked minibar. Furniture, including a large work desk with two power plugs built in, was in good repair; some splotches on the carpet were the only noticeable defect. However, renovations to all guestrooms are underway, with the first phase of upgrades completed in 2011. Guets can look forward to new everything: carpets, furniture, linens, paint. Gone are the bland beiges of yesteryear; rooms now feature dark wood furniture with gold, green, and red accents.

The large bathroom had a tub-shower combo with a shower curtain rod that curved out to create a little extra space. Along with shampoo, conditioner, soap, and body wash from Floris, the bathroom was also stocked with Scope mouthwash, cotton swabs, a hair dryer, a scale, and two robes.

 Features

The hotel's many features include plentiful meeting space, a large fitness center, and a spa.

The large gym is popular with guests
The large gym is popular with guests

On the second floor, the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa offers a variety of facials, body treatments, massages, and salon and nail services; it's part of the Red Door Spa chain. A large gym inside the spa is popular with guests. And the hotel's extensive meeting spaces were a constant buzz of activity during my visit; the hotel hosts innumerable events for locals and visiting groups.

  • Gym has more than a dozen Precor cardio machines (five treadmills, two stair-steppers, two ellipticals, two recumbent bikes, one excercise bike, and one rowing machine), weight machines, free weights, and various other stretching and aerobic equipment. Personal trainers can be arranged.
  • The second-floor Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa is open daily and has facials, body treatments, massage, and salon and nail services.
  • Almost 20,000 square feet of meeting space split among numerous rooms and floors
  • Comfortable business center has four computer workstations, a Xerox Workcentre 7328 (with printing, copying, faxing, and scanning capabilities), and audiovisual equipment for rent.

 Family

Rooms are larger than average and good for families.

A Double Superior Room
A Double Superior Room

The hotel's opulent public spaces and relatively formal dining options may not be appropriate for younger kids, but the teens I saw at Cafe du Parc were enjoying the French-inspired breakfast buffet.

  • Rooms with two double beds or two queen-size beds are available.
  • Rollaway beds are charged per night and can fit in any room; cribs are free.
  • A short kids' menu at Cafe du Parc includes dishes like fresh pasta with butter and parmesan, fresh fish, and chopped beef steak.
  • The White House is just two blocks away; the National Mall is two blocks south. The hotel's Penn Quarter neighborhood has a couple kid-friendly activities like the International Spy Museum and Ford's Theatre.

 Cleanliness

Public spaces and rooms were very well kept.

Except for some splotches on the carpet in my room, everything was spotless, including in the large bathroom. Public spaces sparkled, too.

 Food

Food isn't the highlight of the Willard, but the Round Robin Bar is popular.

Cafe Du Parc's outdoor seating
Cafe Du Parc's outdoor seating

The Willard Room restaurant closed in early 2009, meaning the only dining options at the hotel are French bistro Cafe du Parc and a small menu of bites at the Round Robin Bar. Adjacent to the hotel (and also built by the founding Willard brothers) is the Occidental Grill & Seafood, which serves steaks and fresh seafood daily for lunch and dinner.

The stately Round Robin Bar has long been popular for cocktails -- it was the first bar in D.C. to serve mint juleps -- and it also has more than 100 labels of Scotch, one of the largest selections in the city. The suit-heavy crowd matches perfectly with the setting -- all green felt and dark-wood trim.

  • French bistro Cafe du Parc serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, along with pastries and coffee throughout the day. Outdoor seating along Pennsylvania Avenue is popular in nice weather.
  • A short kids' menu at Cafe du Parc includes dishes like fresh pasta with butter and parmesan, fresh fish, and chopped beef steak.
  • Occidental Grill & Seafood, a Washington institution, has served steak and seafood daily for over one hundred years. Open for lunch and dinner.
  • Round Robin Bar has fancy cocktails, beer and wine, and small bites, along with more than 100 labels of Scotch.
  • Formal afternoon tea service is served on request in Peacock Alley.

 Weddings

It's gorgeous, but expensive, especially considering all the extra fees and requisite minimums set at upwards of $45,000.

Just a taste of the Willard's stunning reception spaces
Just a taste of the Willard's stunning reception spaces
  • Wedding Size: up to 500 guests, depending on the event location
  • Extra Fees and Restrictions: If your wedding party is fewer than 25 guests, there's a labor fee. The in-house pastry chef charges a steep, per person amount to design a wedding cake, though there's a also a per slice cake-cutting fee if you bring your own cake. Also, note that a minimum spending amount applies (depending on the location and time of day) on any event, and that this price doesn't include the service charge.
  • Wedding Package: The standard wedding packages include a four-hour open bar, passed hors d'oeuvres, a three- or four-course plated dinner with wine, a champagne toast, and a wedding cake.
  • Ceremony Locations: the Ballroom, the Crystal Room, the Willard Ceremony Room, or the Nest
  • Food: If you don't opt for the complete wedding package, a reception with passed hors d' oeuvres, some fruit and cheese, and a buffet of pasta and a black angus beef carving station starts at steep per person (minimum 35 guests) fee, plus another charge for the three required "chefs" to attend the buffet and cut the meat, plus another per person fee if you want dessert. Alternatively, you can opt for a variety of stations (from a fresh oyster bar to cuban sandwiches and fried plantains), which could be a bit more expensive. Plated dinners range per person. Kids ages three to 11 can also get a children's menu. Kosher, gluten-free, and vegetarian options are all available on request.
  • Drinks: If you don't go for a wedding package, which includes an open bar, a cash or hosted bar is available. In addition, you can get a martini bar or a flavored vodka station (ice carvings or an elegant vodka chute are also available). On top of this, a bartender, which comes with his or her own fee, is required for every 75 guests (waived if you spend a certain amount at the bar). If you go with a cash bar there's also a bartender "labor charge" as well as a cashier labor charge for the first hour, plus another for each additional hour.

 Bottom Line

A grande dame hotel that's hosted presidents and diplomats since 1901, the 332-room Willard is a D.C. icon dripping with history just two blocks from the White House. The exceptional staff and opulent lobby compensate for rooms that lack the flash of those at the newly renovated W Washington D.C. next door.

Things You Should Know About The Willard Intercontinental

Address

  • 1401 Pennsylvania Ave Nw, Washington, DC 20004

Hotel Is Also Known As...

  • Intercontinental Hotel Washington Dc
  • Intercontinental Washington Dc
  • Willard InterContinental Washington

Room Types

  • ADA Room
  • Deluxe Room
  • Executive Suite
  • Executive Suite w/View
  • George Washington Suite
  • Jenny Lind Suite
  • Junior Suite
  • One King Bed Deluxe Room
  • One King Bed Premier Room
  • One King Bed Premier Room with View
  • One King Bed Superior Room
  • One King Bed Willard Room
  • One Queen Bed Superior Room
  • Oval Suite
  • Thomas Jefferson Suite
  • Two Double Bed Superior Room
  • Two Double Bed Willard Room
  • Two Double Beds Deluxe Room
  • Two Queen Bed Premier Room
  • Two Queen Bed Willard Room
  • Two Queen Deluxe Room

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Hotel Features

Number of Rooms: 332
Fitness Center: Yes
Spa: Yes
Internet Access: Yes
Pets Allowed: Yes
Cribs: Yes
Jacuzzi (in room): Some
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Hotel Information

Location: Downtown, Washington, D.C.
Address: 1401 Pennsylvania Ave Nw, Washington, DC 20004
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