- Business-oriented neighborhood is dead at night
- Fee for Wi-Fi
- Pricey valet parking (typical of D.C)
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.
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.
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.
At 375 square feet, standard rooms are spacious if bland -- but they're all being renovated.
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.
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.
Rooms are larger than average and good for families.
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.
Public spaces and rooms were very well kept.
Food isn't the highlight of the Willard, but the Round Robin Bar is popular.
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.
It's gorgeous, but expensive, especially considering all the extra fees and requisite minimums set at upwards of $45,000.
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