Pricey valet parking (unlimited in-out for 24 hours)
Wi-Fi fee for non-members
The Donovan House is a sleek offering that's helping define Obama-era D.C. cool along with hip counterparts like the W and the Dupont Hotel. From its dark-purple-and-white color scheme, to its pod-shaped "cocoon" showers, to its mod lobby, and rowdy rooftop pool parties, the Donovan House offers a sexy night in the nation's capital.
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
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.
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.
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.
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'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.