Destination: Washington, D.C.
One of Washington’s most venerable properties, the Jefferson Hotel re-opened in August 2009 after a meticulous, two-year-plus renovation. The hotel pays homage to the third U.S. president it is named after—but in a truly modern way. Thomas Jefferson’s influence, as well as his passion for architecture, literature, botany, wines, and fine dining, can be felt throughout the residential-style hotel, located just four blocks from the White House.
Built in 1923, the Beaux Arts building that houses the Jefferson was returned to its former glory (it was converted into a hotel in 1955): a once-covered vaulted skylight now casts natural light into the lobby whose magnificent Wedgewood-style plaster work was also fully restored. There are 99 rooms and all are classically appointed with touches of velvet, mahogany, alabaster, down and Dupioni silk. Two unusual (and complimentary) services are the overnight shoe shine and pressing of one item of clothing. Respect for history did not exclude technology in the Jefferson’s redesign: free high speed WiFi is available throughout and rooms come not only with high-definition flatscreens but also with seventeen-inch televisions embedded in the bathroom mirrors. Housekeeping and your butler (each room is assigned one at check-in) are alerted to your housekeeping and privacy needs via a subtle light outside your room (no need to hang up signs). You don’t even have to call room-service anymore to clear away plates: a microchip in the cart alerts the staff.
On the public floor, guests can lounge, meet or work in several private seating areas. The Book Room, with honeyed wood paneling, a working fireplace and shelves lined with vintage hardcovers chosen to reflect Jefferson’s time and interests, is one of the most welcoming. The hotel’s newest feature is the jewel-box spa whose menus are based on herbs and other botanicals grown on Jefferson’s farm and vineyards. Male guests can have a traditional shave in the spa’s vintage style barber chair. Products named Monticello Grove, found in the spa and the guest bathrooms, were custom-made using orange, jasmine, peach and more, all of which grew at Monticello. Near the spa, the hotel also has a small but well-equipped fitness room.
The two restaurants and cool bar also invite lingering. Greenhouse serves perfectly wonderful dishes, with house-made ingredients, at breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, and Quill is a cozy, low-ceilinged space, with an amber-colored bar, live piano music on most nights and house-made mixers and herbal alcohols (the likes of ginger, pear, Prosecco, watermelon, basil, mint are incorporated into inventive and not-too-sweet cocktails, made by a bartender the hotel lured away from Rome’s La Pergola). The real star, however, is fine dining restaurant Plume, headed by talented chef Damon Gordon. Immediately embraced as a special-occasion restaurant for Washingtonians, Plume is one of the hardest tables to get, and as it doesn’t offer any preferential treatment for hotel guests, reservations should be made well in advance. The added bonus of having a meal as a guest of the hotel is that when you arrive back at your room, you discover house-made caramels or other treats, accompanied by the details of the wine you enjoyed at Plume.
Staying at this special hotel reminded me that many of Thomas Jefferson’s passions are as relevant today as they were when the country was young. Walking around the property, it’s impossible not to be reminded of this visionary president: beyond the elegant reception desks, original signed documents line a wall; there are toile patterns custom-designed with different Jeffersonian architectural themes; and a dumbwaiter (a Jefferson invention) carries wine up from the 1,000 bottle cellar to the private dining room. The only down side of The Jefferson might be the neighborhood, which is convenient to many sights but is not that interesting at night. Great restaurants and bars are just a short cab ride away in Penn Quarter, the more edgy U Street Corridor, or in Georgetown. There are also three Metro stops within five blocks.
WHO SHOULD STAY
Travelers who like the look and feel of hotels like London’s Connaught or the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, and those who are charmed by tradition but also appreciate technology. Travelers with pets will be happy, as four-legged friends are welcome (for a fee); and there are many pet amenities and dog-walking service upon request.
WHO SHOULD NOT STAY
The Jefferson is not the best choice for people with active children or teens. That said, your children will be made to feel at home, with robes-to-fit and video games at a minimum.
ROOMS TO GET
The best views are looking down 16th Street toward the White House, with the Washington Monument rising above it in the background. For this view, request rooms 503, 504, 603, 604, 703, and 704, and the largest suite, the Thomas Jefferson Suite (803). There is also a spa suite. ~ ANN COCHRAN
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