When the DC Cool campaign was launched a few years back, you could readily understand where it was coming from. Like Brussels, the city has a reputation as a starchy, administrative capital. But in some ways, it also kind of missed the point of what people come here for.
“Cool,” of course, has little meaning these days anyway (hipsters look exactly the same in Copenhagen as they do in Colorado) – and the city always had a great music scene. But what many of us visit DC for is a sense of gravitas, a feeling that this is a place where the fate of the world teeters. You can veritably feel it in the air here.
So an invite to the opening of the new Conrad Washington DC flagship received a swift RSVP from us – as it seemed for everything like a hotel that would live up to both the grandeur of the capital and the style ethos of the brand. We proceeded to camp out for a few days and take in a newly burgeoning downtown (including hipsteriffic cocktail spot Service Bar, and the spectacular restaurant Succotash, serving modern Southern cooking in neo-classical surrounds), which decisively laid to rest any of those old cliches about the city’s fustiness.
Here’s what we loved.
A spectacular glass masterpiece by Herzog & de Meuron, with interiors by Houston’s venerable Rottet Studio (they’ve worked with the considerable likes of Richard Meier, Renzo Piano, Foster & Partners). The interior space is all curvy and sensual, yet also remarkable clean and airy. Light floods in and seems to reflect and dazzle at every turn, and the proportions are sublimely realized. As Rottet founder Lauren Rottet puts it, “People really do want surprise and good design.” And that’s precisely what she gave them here.
An extension of the sleek but not at all frigid aesthetic of the public spaces, the design of the conspicuously spacious sleeping chambers has a soothing yet luxurious quality about it. Understatedly plush, purposefully uncluttered, and done in muted shades of beige and white, everything about them makes for remarkable user-friendliness. And the for those of us seduced by a spectacular view, floor-to-ceiling windows frame surprisingly handsome architectural tableaux. (DC is building well downtown these days.) Tip: Book a club level room or suite and get access to the laid back but decidedly cosmopolitan Sakura Club, which is like an encapsulation of the Japanese ethos in a private DC club. Enjoy healthy breakfasts, Japanese fusion cuisine, and finish off the night with a well-chosen Japanese whiskey.
Yes, every luxe hotel wants to boast about its art collection these days. But the Conrad DC didn’t just assemble a showy patchwork of who’s who in contemporary art. Rather, they commissioned mostly local artists to create, as curator and Tatar Projects founder Judith Tatar explains it, “site specific works around three narratives: Soft Power, Urban Symmetry and The Washington Color School” – which gives the art an in situ context (like a Caravaggio hanging in an actual church). Look for highlights by DC artist Matthew Langley.
A short skip from the Conrad is DC’s eminent museum of modern and contemporary art, housed in a listed 1971 building by Gordon Bunshaft. The collection is marquee, with works by Picasso, de Kooning, Rothko, Pollock, Calder, Francis Bacon and Jeff Koons. While the ethereal Sculpture Garden boasts pieces by the likes of Rodin and Yayoi Kusama, and invites moments of thoughtful contemplation in a busy urban center. Mark Bradford’s monumental installation Pickett’s Charge forwards a thought-provoking narrative on a turning point in the American Civil War – don’t miss it.
The metro DC area tended to push its high-end shopping out to places like Tyson’s Corner, VA. But the massive undertaking that has been the new CityCenter has attracted a jaw-dropping list of iconic fashion houses. Indeed, Bulgari, Burberry, Dior, Gucci, Vuitton, Ferragamo, and even Zadig & Voltaire have all set up shop here, making it the new luxury and style epicenter of the capital. The dining options are also marquee, with Momofuku / Milk Bar, DBGB Kitchen & Bar, and Fig & Olive all sating the local and international cognoscenti. Though we particularly love Centrolina’s rustic Italian vibe, with its handmade pastas and impressive to-go market. Don’t forget to stop in for a coffee and seasonal gelato at DC fave Dolcezza.
Okay, right – how many occasions do you actually have to shop at Tiffany? But this light-flooded, 5000 square foot beauty veritably attached to the hotel might just inspire countless monogrammed shopping sprees, as it just feels so lovely being here. The glass facade houses some surprises, including an exclusive, and quite spectacular Tiffany Blue chandelier, and a mini-museum of historical Presidential artifacts. Watching their stylish staff engrave an item in your name is a one-of-a-kind experience. Obviously.
It won’t be opening until late May (we were able to get a sneak peek), but the Conrad’s rooftop venue will be one of the most breathtaking in the city. Snaking around the outside of the 17th floor of the hotel, it takes in the stateliness of the surrounding edifices – but the view also stretches on to some of DC’s most iconic buildings. Expect it to be quite a scene this summer.
Outside of those who go crab-wild every season, we’re not sure the monumental Chesapeake Bay has ever been given its proper due regarding its edible bounty. But brothers Brian and Michael Voltaggio have paid it glorious tribute with Estuary, their stylish new restaurant and bar at the Conrad. Sunlit through wraparound, 360 floor-to-ceiling windows, and done up in a cool minimalism, the place just beams with possibility and promise. And the menu overwhelms with delightful surprises: octopus with kelp pasta, whitefish Milanese, cedar planked salmon, kale rigatoni and lamb pastrami, all exceedingly artistically presented. The Maryland crab roll is already an Instagram fave.