Ok, you got me. I never actually left DC…physically. But I have been transported to a place in time where service is king.
The deep-rooted history of The Willard Intercontinental Hotel is something I always wanted to experience but instead found myself appreciating from a distance. Situated as a neighbor to the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, one of the lusters of this attractive property is how great it is for a weekend retreat.
Besides, The Willard is that place us Washingtonians say we’d like to stay but never get around to, leaving the out-of-towners left to enjoy it all for themselves.
I told myself it was time to spend a weekend at this Washington icon. Canceling all my other plans would have to take precedence. I deemed it necessary to skip out on my “Philosophy and Star Trek” class and focus elsewhere. It wasn’t a priority. Instead, I’d be staying at The Willard.
Here’s what I did and what you should, too.
Do it: Check-in
After you reserve your room with The Willard, I’d advise you to be at the property by mid to late afternoon. The lobby is majestic of the old-world, with a golden glow accenting the columns and intricate features of the ceiling. Plus, you never know which policy-maker or celebrity you may bump into around here. I’ve been told how kings and queens of foreign nations have been known to have a seat in this lobby as they wait patiently for their counterparts to join them all the while playing candy crush. Finally, once you have the room key in hand then the experience truly begins.
Do this, too: Enjoy the room, prepare for dinner at Café Du Parc
Will it be a Deluxe Room or a Speciality Suite? That’s up to you! The rooms at the Willard are all designed to accentuate complete relaxation. Comfortable seating, a stereo system, and a mini bar can be found in each room, as well as pleasant coffee options/coffee maker. The rooms are precisely maintained just like the rest of the property and the bathrooms offer an ornate space to prepare yourself for the look you desire for dinner. Call Café Du Parc, the French restaurant in the hotel, and schedule a time you’d like to have dinner.
You’ve gotta eat Dinner: Café Du Parc
Chef Gyo Santa is Japanese-American and fluent in French by way of working and studying culinary in France for many years. Lately, there’s been a buzz in Washington over his version of the beef bourguignon, a meal that’ll remain with you for years to come. Picture this: slow cooked, fall apart on your lips Angus short rib becoming polished off with potatoes and pearl onions in a red wine sauce that flirts with a smoky flavor from the addition of tiny slab bacon cuts. This meal itself speaks Washington, DC; The appreciation of French cuisine of the district and the all-American flavor commitment to Maryland and Virginia. After dinner and on the first floor of the restaurant, be sure to purchase some of the best macaroons around. Made by Pastry Chef Jason Jimenez and his full pastry team, you’ll carefully bite into each colorful pillow-like arrangement and not want to wake up until the hotel staff pinches you conscious from your indulgent daydream, likely in one of the lobby chairs.
Do it: Round Robin Bar (Part 1)
The Willard’s in-house bar is the epitome of antique. Over the past 200 years, this charming room has hosted innumerable influential world leaders who’ve shared a drink and some gab. The room oozes classical sophistication surrounded by an aura that transcends you to a place long ago. The Round Robin Bar also adopted and popularized the mint julep in Washington, a typical southern drink, after a visit from Kentucky statesman Henry Clay in the early 1800s. Make sure to get here early enough after dinner, since the bar fills up rather quickly.
Must Do It: Afternoon Tea in Peacock Alley
Hands down, you must make reservations for afternoon tea in the hotel’s Peacock Alley. Be prepared for small gourmet sandwiches and pastries tasting of dough-like divinity, with the chance to indulge in arguably the best scones in the mid-Atlantic region. These scones breakaway in your mouth, in a lavishly flaky way, only to be met with the perfect buttery balance highlighted by the mildly sweet yet tart blueberries at the end. Add to that the tea options and you’ll see what easing oneself is all about. All of this occurs while the harp player plays a tune that fills Peacock Alley with harmonic vibrations. Furthermore, we wait ever-patiently for the harp player to perform the Titanic theme song “My Heart Will Go On” so that we can wash our work-week sorrows away with champagne or tea if you please. Woe is me! But no woes at The Willard during afternoon tea, that’s a sure thing.
Do It: Step Outside for Adventure
Take a step outside of The Willard and walk to nearby attractions on Pennsylvania Avenue while you have some daylight remaining if that’s the case for you. The National Mall is a short walk from the hotel’s front doors, as well as many other museums. If you’re a DC native, then this is the perfect opportunity to use this time to see the things you’ve always wanted to see. If you’re a visitor, everything’s at your fingertips. For example, the White House is next door to the hotel, and you can earn a superior view of the property by walking around the backside instead of the postcard-popular frontside. After your time away from the hotel, making yourself comfortable back in your hotel room now becomes a high priority for the rest of the evening. Perhaps you’ll re-visit Cafe Du Parc? Beef bourguignon still on the mind?
Must Do It: Round Robin Bar (Part 2)
Whether or not this is check-out day, you’ll want to meet with bartender Jim Hewes, Washington historian extraordinaire, sometime around noon or so. Ask him questions about the history of the hotel while nursing a solid drink in your hand and you will find yourself in the company of an expert narrator who can easily transport you in and out of the lives of the significant people and circumstances that made the Willard Hotel so remarkable in the first place. It’s like live action History Channel documentaries with a mint julep. The only thing missing on you is the Monopoly man’s monocle and a top hat as you listen to the stories Mr. Hewes shares. And they’re also the perfect topping to an exceptional weekend stay.
Visit The Willard here.
All photos are courtesy of the Willard Intercontinental Hotel unless otherwise noted.
You can follow Dan Fecht on Twitter: @realdanfecht
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Cultural and Poetry Editor