What do the Dalai Lama, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln all have in common? Aside from the notably obvious fact that they were/are all unparalleled visionaries and history-changing leaders, they have all stayed at the legendary Willard InterContinental in Washington, D.C. – a hotel which has left its own significant mark on history. More recently, it has been the choice of the likes of Tom Cruise and George Clooney.
Now, despite the perpetually contentious political environment we’re embroiled in (with our over-tweeting, 3D-gun-blueprint-endorsing president ever looming over Pennsylvania Avenue) we unequivocally believe that this is as good a time as ever to visit our nation’s capitol. And the Willard offers charm, charisma and the best opportunity for real historic immersion.
Actually located right in the heart of all the political machinations, the luxury hotel with its Beaux-Arts style atmosphere has also affectionately earned the title “Residence of Presidents” – as it has hosted nearly every American POTUS since Franklin Pierce in 1853. But its cultural proximity is also impressive, so near as it is to the Renwick Gallery, Ford’s Theatre, Spy Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
International Spy Museum
This year, there’s even more cause for celebration, as The Willard is throwing its own 200th birthday fête throughout 2018. In honor of its storied bicentennial, it was recently given a 6-month, $18 million dollar renovation. 335 guestrooms and suites, along with their respective corridors, have been refreshed by Parker-Torres Design – and we loved how the look is transitional, straddling the line between contemporary and classic…which was intentional. Miriam Torres, Principal at the design and interior architectural firm notes that “our most important objective was to respect the history of this Grand Dame hotel.”
And indeed, upgrades are aplenty, while it is apparent that they preserved the soul and integrity of the spaces. Classic guest rooms exhibit sophistication with peacock blue tones, gold, and ivory; meanwhile, the sprawling suites utilize warm creams, beiges and chocolate browns. Opulence comes by way of luxe drapery, textured wallpaper, crystal chandeliers and marble showers. Rooms are also amongst the largest in the city, with sizes ranging from a comfortable 375 sq.ft. to a palatial 3000 sq.ft.
Of the pied-à-terre styled guestrooms, our favorites would have to be the Oval and Jenny Lind suites. The former’s curvaceous sitting room is accented with regal red and offers sweeping views of Pennsylvania Avenue; the latter is a frequently requested room for brides-to-be (and was recently featured in the film The Greatest Showman); graced with robin’s egg blue tones, it’s decorated with more feminine flourishes, including a cushy canopy bed that’s situated under a domed cupola, and a serenity-inducing sunken jacuzzi.
If you’re able to tear yourself away from the plush rooms and their views of Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and the US Capitol building, then wander down to the main lobby for teatime in Peacock Alley. Posh but unstuffy and with notably friendly service, it offers bespoke brews from J’enwey Tea Co.’s owner Lisa Marie. And of course, there’s the famous meltingly-tender scones that are best smeared with cloud-like clotted cream and zippy housemade lemon curd.
Or for a culinary détente with our great ally France, there’s the recently renovated Café du Parc. Decor hallmarks include orb lighting, French-brasserie style tables, and navy blue banquettes – while on the menu, crafted by Chef Guy Ododi, stand-out delicacies include gloriously gooey french onion soup, seared scallops, decadent beef bourguignon and lobster + lamb (a refined take on surf and turf, in our humble opinion). Cafe du Parc also features a popular outdoor patio, with ice cream and crepe cart.
The adjacent Occidental Grill is considered a DC dining institution, and its illustrious history dates back over 110 years – evidenced by walls that are lined with portraits of famous faces. The menu and food philosophy was conceived by chef Jake Addeo, who’s cooked alongside greats such as Fortunato Nicotra and Lidia Bastianich. Obvious staples include their popular Roseda Farm dry-aged NY Strip Steak; but it’s the intermingling of the flavors of Italia and America that defines the experience, with favorites such as the sinfully unctuous burrata and pan-seared ricotta gnocchi with white asparagus cream.
Finally, a stay at the Willard really should include a History Happy Hour visit to the Round Robin Bar. Held every month, it’s a hands-on mixology event lead by beloved barman Jim Hewes. We learned how the Mint Julep was introduced in the mid-1800s by statesman Henry Clay – and today it’s the Willard’s signature drink, successfully quenching the thirst of over 20,000 guests and visitors annually.
You can visit D.C., take in the culture, and forget our current troubles for a bit with a walk through the hotel’s historic on-site gallery and museum. Being face to face with wise and humble leaders who championed camaraderie and cooperation amongst one another for the good of the country actually gave us a bit of hope; and with any luck, the tides will turn and we’ll soon have a chance to return to those days of civility, respect, and honor – those qualities so perfectly embodied by the Willard.