Luxury Hotels

Four Seasons Hotel Washington DC knows how to attract loyalty

Helen Olivia’s Alexandria VA  flower shop

When there is such incredibly high turnover in much of the luxury hotel industry, it was heartening to be greeted at Four Seasons Hotel Washington DC by a doorman, above, who had started at the hotel 37 years ago…. wow.  And, of course, this being a Four Seasons the public areas are one big Chelsea Flower Show of gorgeous arrangements, here done by Helen Olivia Flowers, an Alexandria VA company owned by husband and wife Charles and Rachel Gang, who bought from Craig and Marianne Raub (who named the company they founded in 2005 after their grandmothers).  Really, says the gal, Four Seasons as a brand reigns supreme when it comes to flowers. But there are other things that make this 211-room hotel unforgettable for its many loyal followers.

The ultimate wagyu burger

The GM, David Bernand, comes bounding in.  He is a triathlete, and says he gets ideas when he is out training. This winter he is going to do Bourbon On Ice pop-ups, three igloos holding up to eight, offering warming fur wraps to those gathering there for hot food and, presumably, hot drinks.  In January he will be celebrating the tenth anniversary of Bourbon Steak, the Michael Mina restaurant that has been a sell-out success since 2009 – Washingtonian magazine says it is 2018’s best steakhouse in town. Well, it was just the opportunity, I felt, to try a real American burger.  See it on the right, American wagyu and cheese and pickles and yes, it was delicious, though I left the bun.

How to hide in a car – Spy Museum

There is so much going on here.  2019 is also the 40th anniversary of the hotel, now owned by Strategic, so expect special celebrations.  Behind the hotel, by the way, it looks as if the brutalist-style  West Heating Plant might finally be converted into 56 residences, but not by Strategic.  It seems that the basic shell has to remain, but the architect who will do the conversion is David Adjaye, who has designed the striking new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History.  I drove past this square building, looking like an outsize ladies’ skirt, three flounces but formed of dulled brown metal.

Newseum store

I did get to two museums, both spectacular, and, unusually for Washington DC, pay-for.  The International Spy Museum has lots of interaction for kids but it fascinates adults too. The Newseum, opened in 2008, is heavily funded by, and promotes, Bloomberg, NBC, Time Warner and other household names – it is amazing to see, pinned up, actual front pages of today’s top world newspapers as well as all daily papers from around the whole USA.  But, back at the luxury Four Seasons hotel, I continued to be amazed, by the unique in-house aroma, Georgetown Gardens, specially blended by New York-based Air Aroma, whose other clients include Aston Martin and Dom Pérignon. And soon, I heard, the flower displays will have to compete with 23 Christmas trees, each decorated by a local artist and all to be auctioned in aid of Washington Children’s Hospital.



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Luxury Hotels

A unique luxury ‘brick’ hotel in Georgetown

Looking up, you see mostly-brick buildings for a whole block

Ritz-Carlton Georgetown claims, like many other luxury hotels, to be unique but in this case it probably is.  A growing number of former banks, post and telegraph offices and schools are being converted to hospitality but this must surely be the only ‘city incinerator’ – although, to respect American sensitivity, it is generally said the hotel was formerly ‘industrial offices’.  The gal knows better.  The all-brick structure, in Georgetown on South Street, parallel to M Street, is also a one-off for the number of bricks used, both outside and in. The exterior shows that the entire block of South Street, between 31st NW and 32nd NW, seems to be an infinity of gorgeous bricks. The original chimney stack, covered over, is a private dining room – see below.

Looking out of 470

The 86 rooms are in two wings, joined below ground, and separated at street level by historic clapboard buildings that are now the hotel’s administration offices.  I was in 740, a Presidential Suite, with a partial view of the Potomac – see the video below.  This is a very Washingtonian space, which speaks of successful bankers and politicians who love sitting comfortably in grandfather-type tan leather sofas.  For those who choose to dine in their rooms, there are many hints of the city – choose, say, such a DC craft beer as DC Brau’s The Pils, or Porter.  I was, however, dining with Hotel Manager Martin Raffl in Degrees Bistro.  I was tempted by a Georgetown Mule cocktail, of Virginia Highland whisky, blackberry purée, ginger beer and lime juice, but went, instead, for a Meiomi Pinot Noir, South Coast 2017, which went beautifully with a beet and baby kale salad (why IS US kale so addictive, while European kale is hard as nails?).  The ribeye that followed was divine, and further enhanced by truffle fries, oh boy.

Brick-lined corridor

In the morning I eschewed the ‘Georgetown breakfast melt. of potatoes, English muffins, Virginia sausage, white Cheddar and fried eggs, for somewhat simpler fare.  Then I was shown around the hotel, and its memorable brick-lined corridors. Right next to the gym, incidentally, are 11 ‘wellness rooms’, all 450 sq ft and boosted by Aromatherapy Vitamin C showers, plus Sound+Sleep machines, and yoga mats, and lavender bath salts, sleep masks and ear buds.  They also have Tempur-Pedic pillows, originally created by NASA, plus alpaca basket-weave throws. There is also impressive art throughout the hotel, with many modern-slant portraits of President Lincoln and his ilk.  These paintings, apparently, all come from DTR Modern Georgetown.

The hotel garden is a hive of activity, in Summer

I was also thrilled to have an escorted walk, a couple of blocks to the C&O, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, for which President John Quincy Adams broke ground.  The canal was to be 185 miles in all but today the remaining bits in Georgetown are a sorry state, silted up and covered in weed.  There is hope that the Georgetown Heritage, a non-profit organization headed by Alison Greenberg, will be able to restore one mile, and bring back a boat that formerly used to take passengers along the waterway.  The current initiative is being supervised by James Corner, whose Field Operations designed New York’s highly successful High Line, so fingers crossed, he will work his same magic here in DC.  Meanwhile, this luxury hotel has its own outdoor space in the form of a garden created by Ritz-Carlton Washington DC complex GM Marcus Loevenfort: when the weather allows this is a magnet not only for hotel guests but for local residents. NOW SEE, FIRST, SUITE 470, AND THEN INSIDE THE ONE-OFF CHIMNEY-STACK PRIVATE DINING ROOM


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Luxury Hotels

Chic Frenchness at a luxury Washington DC hotel

Karla Erales

Of course we expect that a traditional French dish should be best prepared, namely with ingredients procured, cooked and served by the French. Take a simple salade Niçoise, says the gal. One of the best ever is at Le Negresco, in Nice (how fascinating it will be to see how that legendary luxury hotel’s new chef, Virginie Basselot MOF, presents a ‘Niçoise’ in the pop-up restaurant she is running while the hotel’s La Rotonde is re-designed).  But, here in the US capital, the lovely Sofitel Washington DC Lafayette Square has a new take on that dish, as Karla Erales, Mexican-born GM of the 237-room hotel, showed me. See a photo of the hotel’s Niçoise, above.

Caprese, French style

This is a really stylish hotel, a hidden gem on 15th and H streets. No wonder Pebblebrook Hotel Trust Chairman/CEO Jon Bortz announced, on September 6th, 2018, that it was to merge with LaSalle Hotel Properties – it gained Sofitel Washington DC Lafayette Square as part of the package. This is a property that sees 83% occupancy, with average stay of 2.1 nights – weekdays are business, weekends leisure, but interestingly overall only three percent of people staying here are French.  They can eat in the French-designed Opaline Restaurant, by Pierre-Yves Rochon, or, like me, they can go Italian, say a memorable burrata.

More transport, Washington DC-style

And then there was just time to see bedroom 814, the only one free in this busy central-city hotel (I liked the Lanvin toiletries), and to hear about the 14th July celebrations, when sizeable cut-outs of the Eiffel Tower and other memorable landmarks were dotted around the hotel.  We need to show we are not old France but NEW France, said Karla Erales as I left. And then it was hello to tomorrow; at the first crossing I nearly collided with a pair of yet another kind of vehicle to transport Washingtonians, a multi-cart for toddlers.

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