The gorgeous, 317-room W Washington D.C. opened in July 2009, taking over the historic Hotel Washington's 1917 Beaux Arts building. But blending the new -- fusion cuisine from Jean-Georges Vongerichten; a fashionable rooftop bar; a great spa and gym; Whatever/Whenever service -- with the old -- small guest rooms; no pool; desolate location (come evening) -- has its trade-offs.
Fawning service, well-equipped (though small) rooms, and stunning design -- it's the hippest hotel next to the White House
Opened in July 2009, just steps from the White House, this 317-room W hotel -- the first in Washington, D.C. -- is among a string of other new Ws, like the W South Beach, W Boston, and the W Hoboken. But unlike the others, each housed in a gleaming new building, this one replaced the historic Hotel Washington, a landmark Beaux Arts building that was built in 1917 and has hosted everyone from Elvis, to Harrison Ford, to presidential galas (the original hotel signage remains).
Unlike other hotels near the White House, like the Hay-Adams or the Sofitel, the W seems to be making efforts to shake up the neighborhood's conservative air. Its soaring lobby, a seamless blend of classic architecture and contemporary style, features a rectangular digital fireplace. Employees are dubbed "talent." The swank rooftop bar, POV, draws a crowd, but W guests can cross the velvet rope without a problem. And unlike some of the other W hotels, the guest room doors and elevators are conveniently rigged with high-tech sensors -- just wave your key card and enter.
Starting at about 215 square feet, the standard rooms are significantly smaller than at other W hotels, as well as most other hotel rooms in D.C. But they do have the W's style and high-end comforts -- cloud-like beds; backlit orange headboards; rainfall showerheads; Bliss Spa bath products; a new spin on crystal chandeliers.
And as with any W hotel, the hotel comes with superb Whatever/Whenever concierge services, a first-rate fitness center (Sweat), an on-site Bliss Spa, and free rides in a top-notch Accura SUV -- all more than you get at the Sofitel or most other downtown hotels. But if your after comparable service and style, along with some great free perks, also consider one of the many Kimpton properties in Washington, like the Hotel George or the Palomar, in livelier Dupont Circle.
Service at the W is a high-priority mission. Its lobby is crawling with staffers resembling Secret Service agents and the Whatever/Whenever concierge service includes everything from helicopter rides, to chocolate baths, to private dinners -- anything legal you can dream up (though, of course, you'll pay dearly for these requests). Get used to hearing the following phrases often: "Enjoy your experience with us" and "How was your experience with us?" Even front desk clerks answer the phone with: "Welcome to Whatever/Whenever, my name is ___, what is your wish?" (I wished for an engineer to change a burned-out light bulb above the bathroom sink, but, strangely, it took more than an hour for him to appear.)
24-hour room service from J&G Steakhouse by chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten (plus delivery charge and automatic gratuity)
24-hour Whatever/Whenever concierge services
The "Acura Experience": Free drop-off service within a five-mile radius of the hotel in a chauffeured Acura MDX SUV
In downtown, near the Penn Quarter, just two blocks from the White House and a short walk from the Mall
The W 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.
Two-and-a-half blocks to the White House and Lafayette Square
Closest Metro stations, Metro Center (Red, Blue, and Orange Lines) and McPherson Square (Blue and Orange Lines), are four blocks away, respectively.
15-minute walk (or three-minute cab ride) to the Washington Monument
One-mile to the Smithsonian Institution on the National Mall (about a five minutes by cab)
1.8 miles to U.S. Capitol building (less than 10 minutes away by cab)
Two miles to Union Station (about 10 minutes by cab)
4.7 miles to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (about 10 minutes by cab)
29 miles to Washington Dulles International Airport (up to a 70-minute drive in traffic)
Small, but with top-tier electronics and comforts and whimsical touches, like a lamp shaped like George Washington's head
The W has several room categories, each described by a glowing adjective: Wonderful, Spectacular, Fabulous, Marvelous, and so forth (a witty twist on other hotels' "Deluxe" and "Superior" rooms). But while the space-saving furnishings in the standard "Wonderful Rooms" leave enough room for a large work desk and a built-in white leather chaise lounge, the rooms themselves are a bit smaller than most other guest rooms in Washington, D.C.
Wonderful Rooms (the standard room type with double, queen, or king-size beds) range from 215 to 286 square feet -- smaller than most other hotel rooms in Washington -- and face an interior airshaft, so they don't get much natural light (the W's website calls this a "courtyard view").
Spectacular Rooms (230 to 318 square feet) and Fabulous Rooms (280 to 318 square feet) aren't much bigger -- the big difference, they overlook F Street and 15th Street (more light, but also more street noise).
W Signature Beds: 350-thread-count sheets; pillow-top mattress; goose down duvet; good-quality Downlite pillows; 100-percent cashmere throw from Deborah Sharpe
Daily fee for in-room Wi-Fi and hard-wired Internet
Sleek, well-designed bathrooms -- cool European Geberit wall-flush toilet; big, stand-up shower (no tub) with a terrific showerhead; Scented Bliss Spa toiletries; good towels; comfy waffle-weave robes by Cypress (no slippers)
Poor noise insulation -- I could hear some amorous guests next door
Suites available: one-bedroom Fantastic Suite (516 to 684 square feet) and Marvelous Suites (500 square feet); the Wow Suite (805 to 851 square feet) includes a digital fireplace and the Extreme Wow Suite (1,176 square feet) includes a "floating tub"
Bliss Spa, on the basement level, offers a full range of massages, body treatments, skin care, and nail care for women and men in a soothing setting with separate quiet rooms, locker rooms, and steam rooms.
Attractive, 895-square-foot Sweat fitness center offers privacy, natural light, top-notch TechnoGym circuit-weight-training and cardio equipment with personal TVs and iPod outlets, boxing training bags (and gloves), yoga mats and straps, balance balls, jump ropes, earbuds, towels, magazines, a water cooler, and room to stretch out; personal trainers available upon request
Roomy, 24-hour "Wired" business center on the mezzanine level: two Mac desktop computers; a printer and a copier; faxing, scanning, and loaner laptops available. All come with nominal charges per use.
Free Wi-Fi in Living Room (just off the lobby), but guests must log on every two hours
Bring your critters, but prepare to pay for the privilege
The W promotes its P.A.W. (Pets Are Welcome) program, which basically means that your pooch or kitty can stay for a nonrefundable cleaning fee.
Hotel provides a free "pet welcome kit" including a pet toy, treats, W Hotels pet tag, clean-up bags, custom W pet bed, food and water bowls, leashes, litter boxes, wee pads, and even pet first-aid kits
Room service menu includes IAMS dog food, IAMS cat food, grilled chicken with vegetables, six-ounce grilled sirloin with vegetables, and salmon or tuna.
W provides referrals for dog walking, dog sitting, and nearby vet and grooming facilities.
Completely redone on the inside and it shows (mostly)
Because the W just opened in July 2009, it's essentially immaculate inside and out. Still, a few minor scuffs are visible in the rooms -- mostly because much of the flooring and furniture is white. And though my bedroom rug was soft and shaggy, it didn't appear to have been vacuumed thoroughly.
Three bars and a celebrity-chef-led restaurant, all on-site, plus 24-hour room service
Handsome J&G Steakhouse from the world-renowned, fusion, fine-dining chef, Jean-Georges Vongerichten; open breakfast, lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch
Lobby-level Living Room lounge and the Cellar Wine Bar (downstairs) -- both serve light fare from J&G and the Cellar Wine Bar offers food late night
On the enclosed roof, POV and the Rooftop Terrace offer serious cocktails (as well as ice cubes in five different shapes); drinks developed by Sasha Petraske, of New York's well-regarded Milk & Honey bar.