Donovan HouseDowntown, Washington, D.C., United States
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Sex sells. Sushi, spy stuff, steamy showers, and swimming pool soirees don't hurt either.
"Wild Bill" Donovan was a World War II spy who is commonly referred to today as the "father of the CIA." A man steeped in gathering intelligence and counterespionage might be surprised to learn his name adorns one of Washington D.C.'s hippest hotels, but spend one night at the Donovan House and the cloak-and-dagger ambience starts to make sense. It begins at the entrance with the Donovan House's symbol-- Morse code for "spy" -- and continues right into the shadowy lobby with its bar tucked away under the continuous black-and-white D.C.-themed movies like The Last Hurrah and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and onto the meeting rooms named for Deep Throat's buddies, Woodward and Bernstein.
The Donovan House opened in 2008, shortly before President Cool came to Washington, and meshes with the new urban sophistication much more than the Holiday Inn it replaced. It has the spy thing going for it, which is really aimed at those whose "covert operation" is to get lucky. The hotel is colored in dark purple and white, like the flophouse in Prince's "Erotic City" come to life. The rooms are a bit more sensual than what button-down D.C. is known for, what with their leather headboards and canopies, frosted cocoon showers (imagine cleansing yourself inside a seashell), Veuve Clicquot in the minibar, and a "Pleasure Pack" with not one, but two, types of personal lubricant. Throw in a sultry rooftop pool and an exotic Pan-Asian restaurant, and the Donovan House has all the makings of a clandestine weekend that won't soon be forgotten.
It's a good thing you may not want to leave the hotel because the Donovan House is in dull Thomas Circle, a central location in a quiet neighborhood. It's close to the historical touristy areas, the 14th Street boutiques, and the bars and restaurants of K Street, Dupont Circle, and the Shaw district, but the immediate surroundings don't have much going on. If the W or the Dupont Hotel have comparable rates, they are in livelier locales, but the Donovan House feels funkier and fresher than nearby boutiques like the Hotel Palomar and the Hotel Madera.
Personal service includes wake-up knocks on the door.
Given the downtown Manhattan feel, the Donovan House could be staffed with hipper-than-thou employees, but it's not. Everyone is friendly and staffers aren't discouraged from letting their personalities show. Besides knowing the quickest routes -- by both car and Metro -- to the historical monuments, the concierge shared a great story about the craziest thing she was ever asked to procure. (A private jet. On short notice. For a guy who gave her no information other than he was going to Philly in two days.)
Entertaining stories like these, a bar manager visibly excited about the house drink he concocted, and a knock-on-the-door-making-sure-you've-arisen fail-safe wake-up call add up to the kind of personal experience that makes the Donovan House not just cool, but comforting. The one issue I had was upon check-in, when I was "upgraded" to a handicap room. It was bigger, but it didn't feature the unique cocoon shower, and by the time I figured it out, I was already in the handicap room shower. I would've appreciated if the desk clerk explained the "upgrade," because in the end, it really wasn't. Also, it was a bit annoying when both housekeeping and the minibar man knocked on the door between 9 and 10 a.m.
- Concierge hours are a bit sporadic
- Pets stay free, with extra services that include grooming and walking (for a fee).
- Room service available throughout the day.
- Valet parking is pricey (unlimited in-out for 24 hours).
- Free overnight shoeshine.
- Self-parking is available on the street, but is not recommended by the front desk. On Sunday street parking is free all day.
Centrally located in Thomas Circle, with a quiet neighborhood feel
Donovan House is in Thomas Circle, a central location in a quiet neighborhood that's close to the historical, touristy areas, the 14th Street boutiques, and the bars and restaurants of K Street, Dupont Circle, and the Shaw district.
- Two miles, or a 10-minute cab ride, to Union Station, D.C.'s main train station serviced by Amtrak, the Metro (subway), and commuter trains
- Three blocks from closest Metro stop, McPherson Square Station
- 20-minute cab ride, (or 25-minute Metro trip to Farragut North), from Reagan National Airport
- 45- to 60-minute cab ride, to Dulles International Airport
- One stop from Metro Center, a downtown train stop two blocks from the National Mall, D.C.'s open air national park featuring the major monuments and memorials, from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol
- Less than a mile 10-minute walk to the White House
- 1.3-mile, 15-minute walk to the center of the Mall (Washington Monument, WW II, etc.)
- 1.4-mile, 15-minute walk to the Smithsonian Institution, a collection of museums including Air and Space and American History
- Two-mile, 20-minute walk to the U.S. Capitol
- Two-mile walk to western monuments on the Mall (Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Veterans, Vietnam Veterans, etc.)
- Two-mile walk to southwest monuments on the Mall (Jefferson Memorial, FDR, etc.)
Modern, if small, with funky pod-like showers
The basic Queen Superior Rooms come in on the small side for D.C., at around 220 square feet, whereas the King Superior Room I stayed in was a bit larger at 270 square feet, albeit without the thrill of the cocoon shower. All rooms except the King Deluxe on the 13th floor have the pod-like showers. There is no desk in the Queen Superior Rooms -- nor was there one in mine -- and even with the strong Wi-Fi signal, working on a laptop in bed doesn't tend to equal productivity. Otherwise, the room was clean, relaxing, and more sensual than what button-down D.C. is known for, what with the leather headboards and canopies, Veuve Clicquot in the minibar, and a "Pleasure Pack" with not one, but two, types of personal lubricant. It's just risqué enough to make you feel like an under cover encounter is in order.
- Standard rooms, called Queen Superior, are about 220 square feet, on the small side for D.C.; beds have 400-thread-count Sferra sheets; no work desks.
- Bathrooms have CO Bigelow toiletries, Frette bathrobes, fine water pressure (though the handle to operate the shower kept falling off).
- In an eco-friendly initiative, the Donovan House beds don't include a top sheet; covers for down duvets are changed daily, ask for a sheet if necessary.
- Solid electronics: iPod docking station, 32-inch flat-screen LCD TV with over 40 channels (including actual HD selections), on-demand movies and video games
- Minibar is stocked with Dean & Deluca items.
- Other room options range from a 320-square-foot King Deluxe Room to a 1,000-square-foot penthouse.
- The Executive Suites feature a tub and a large enough for two -- even three -- "party shower."
- All rooms are now smoke-free
- Pet-friendly rooms. No fees, no weight-limits
- Turndown service upon request
Few amenities, but there's a cool seasonal rooftop pool
Like most boutique hotels, the Donovan House doesn't have a lot in the way of amenities. The cramped 24-hour fitness center isn't the greatest and the business center is perfunctory. But the seasonal rooftop pool (open basically from Memorial Day until it gets too cold) is a welcome respite from Washington's sweltering summers and sweaty lobbyists.
- At 12 by 30 feet and only four feet deep, the pool isn't big enough for doing laps, but there's plenty of room for lounging about, at least up until 5 p.m. when swimmers must turn the pool over to hipsters at the ADC (Above D.C. lounge); poolside food and drink service offered.
- ADC offers an illuminated pool, killer views, DJs, and a full bar; guests can attend whatever party is being thrown, whether it's open to regular workaday slobs or not.
- Tiny fitness center packs in four treadmills, three ellipticals, a recumbent bike, and a rack of barbells, which leaves almost no room for stretching or floor exercises.
- Rudimentary business center with nominal charges for Internet access
- Free copies of the Washington Post and the New York Times in the lobby
- On-site, lively Zentan restaurant serves Pan-Asian fare and fancy cocktails.
- Poolside room service during summer months with extended daytime weekend hours; drinks and sushi when the Above D.C. lounge opens in the evening
Not the best for families, even with a fun pool
Although the hotel doesn't dissuade kids, the Donovan House's aesthetic isn't geared toward families. The pool gives kids something to do, but it takes a hipster turn when swimming stops at 5:30 p.m., and the pool parties aren't conducive to early bedtimes. A more family-friendly vibe, with a pool, is found across the street at the Washington Plaza.
- A family would probably need one of the two 650-square-foot Thompson Suites, or at least a 313-square-foot Double Deluxe.
- Rooms feature on-demand movies and video games.
- No kids' menu in the on-site restaurant, which focuses on sushi and seafood
- A couple of free mini-fridges, best to reserve
- Room service available throughout the day
- Free cribs; rollaways are available for a nightly fee, but don't fit in rooms with two double beds
The hotel is in great shape.
- Nozzle on the shower's water control kept falling off, tough going for a handicapped guest.
Lively, on-site Pan-Asian eatery
The original plan was for the Donovan House to have a restaurant from well-known chef Todd English, but Cha never came to fruition. Instead the hotel tapped "Iron Chef America" (and Thompson LES) vet Susur Lee to head the Pan-Asian Zentan. Zentan is Cantonese for "spy," and it's got enough dark corners to hide Robert Hanssen and Eliot Spitzer alike. Zentan's low-lit wood interior is livened up by little flourishes like communal tables, faux candles, glass faces smiling out from behind the bar, and colorful patterns watching over the sushi station. Being one of the "it" places in town often translates to a too-hip-to-care-about-you attitude, but it's not the case at Zentan, where a friendly attitude is more important than who is on the guest list.
- Zentan is open for for breakfast, lunch, and dinner
- Zentan's food has been getting solid reviews; its signature drink, the Spicy Thai Martini (an unholy mixture of sake, pepper vodka, St. Germaine and cranberry), isn't a combination you run into that often. It's interesting -- we'll leave it at that.
- Room service is available throughout the day
- There are extended room service weekend daytime hours when pool is open.
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Things You Should Know About Donovan House
Address1155 14th Street NW, Washington DC, District of Columbia 20005-4111, United States
Also Known As
- Donovan Hotel a Thompson
- Donovan House Washington Dc
- Donovan Suite
- Double Deluxe Room
- King Deluxe Room
- King Suite
- Standard Room
- Studio King Room
- Superior Room
- Thompson Suite