Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2008

Sofitel, Lafayette Square

In some way, every Sofitel is a Parisian hotel, and despite the inescapable fact of its location in downtown Washington, the Lafayette is no exception. Francophone staff click-clack over shiny black marble floors as jazz floats overhead; chic young things lounge artfully in the dramatic wine-and-gray halls of Le Bar, sipping champagne. The 237 Art Deco-inspired rooms, buff and brown with red-velvet accents, are creatively lit, and hung with original paintings, black-and-white architectural photos of Washington, and — la surprise — Paris. Corner rooms 14 and 26 have windows on two sides flooding the space with light.

Insider Tip: "Deluxe" suites (bedroom and living room) nearly double your space for just $100 more than a standard room.

Room to Book: Suite 1114 has Japanese-inspired, red-lacquer wall panels, sexy crushed-velour daybed, and over-the-top leopard-print armchairs.

Four Seasons Hotel

Spacious and rambling, this Four Seasons sits on an unassuming patch of Georgetown real estate. Guest quarters are split into two wings; currently the east wing's 151 newly renovated rooms are the best bet. All have stylish contemporary furniture, a muted palette of mauve and sage, chic lithographs in gilt-edged frames, and brand-new bathrooms with soaking tubs and separate glass-and-stone showers. (The 60 west-wing rooms, furnished more traditionally with antiques but with so-so bathrooms, are up for a matching redo by summer 2008). The fitness center here is grand, comfortable, and flooded with light from floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the C&O Canal.

Insider Tip: You'll never go thirsty here; look for thoughtfully placed urns of hot chocolate (in winter) and icy lemonade (in summer) throughout the hotel.

Room to Book: 617, a Presidential Suite, has a beautiful green-and-gold canopy bed you won't have to make any campaign contributions to sleep in.


Only seven years young, the downtown Ritz-Carlton feels like an old-fashioned grand hotel, where bellmen wear white gloves and the clubby old-boy bar fairly rings with the sound of shoulders being clapped. An ongoing renovation is restyling all 300 guest rooms (retro bentwood armchairs in zippy velour are in, cherry credenzas with fussy brass drawer-pulls are out), but the sumptuous marble bathrooms with big gilt mirrors will remain. The biggest nod to modernity, though, comes with the second- and third-floor Sports Club/LA fitness center; its 100,000 square feet of fat-burning splendor and huge spa are open to guests for a fee.

Insider Tip: The hotel's chocolate chef — yes, that's his job description — lays out an array of sweet treats every afternoon near the elevators.

Room to Book: Of the standard rooms, the courtyard premier units are quietest and have the best views — over the eponymous expansive courtyard with its waterfall and Japanese garden.

The Hay-Adams

One of the city's finest hotels, this rebuilt 19th-century residence also boasts what is arguably the city's best location: directly across Lafayette Park from the White House, with knockout views of the famous mansion from the sixth, seventh, and eighth floors. The 145 impeccable guest rooms glow with sunlight from oversize windows; understated soft-beige furniture and beds swathed in Frette linens and pale Asian-inspired toile get a graceful lift from original and unique 1920's plasterwork on the ceilings. Downstairs, the elegant Lafayette Room restaurant overlooks the park — although watching power lunchers inside may be even more interesting.

Insider Tip: On Sundays when he's in town, the president often attends church across the street at St. John's (the hotel entrance closes as his motorcade arrives, a uniquely Washingtonian inconvenience).

Room to Book: 708, a king room, has White House views — a vista otherwise reserved for more expensive suites.

Willard InterContinental

This opened-in-1816 hotel remains steeped in Washington history, even though the rooms where Lincoln lived, Coolidge governed, and Martin Luther King Jr. wrote have long since been renovated away. Today's Willard, a bit like the political world it esteems, is grand in public, bland in private: its majestic lobby dazzles with soaring Corinthian columns and a marble mosaic floor, while the 332 guest rooms, while spacious and comfortable, are comparatively spare. Café du Parc sells enticing French pastries to go — a great breakfast and a surprisingly great deal.

Insider Tip: The Willard is admirably green: low-energy lightbulbs, lit by wind-generated power, are standard, and the hotel composts food waste.

Room to Book: Suite 1212 (the Jenny Lind Suite) is all romance, with a white-draped wrought-iron bed tucked into a roof turret, and a double Jacuzzi looking out a giant porthole at the Washington Monument.