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The launch party Thursday night for the renovated Hotel Washington, now called W Hotel by its new owners, was a mix of White House staff, members of Congress, socialites, business executives and athletes.
The famous hotel, built in 1917 at Pennsylvania Avenue and 15th Street NW, has been the site of many political meetings and a residence for lawmakers.
It had become rundown, however, and underwent a two-year renovation after being sold in 2006 to Istithmar Hotels. The renovated bar is covered.
The new W Hotel is sleek, modern and chic — in other words, very unlike staid, formal Washington. For those of us who have a soft spot for the history of the building, all the entrances to the hotel charmingly have “Hotel Washington” on the black overhang signs, with a subtle “W” above the words.
The W Hotel is the closest hotel to the White House — so close, in fact, that an underground tunnel leads from the White House, under the Treasury Department and ends at the front door of the hotel.
The party started on the ground-floor lobby, with models dressed as Marie Antoinette dancing on tables, and extended to the rooftop.
Political types present included White House aide and Obama BFF Reggie Love; Democratic lobbyist Jack Quinn and his wife, writer Susanna; and celebrity stylist Johnny Wright, who does First Lady Michelle Obama’s hair. Other White House staff at the party insisted I not use their names in this story, so I didn’t investigate further if they had used the underground tunnel to get to the hotel.
Celebrities included actress Emmy Rossum and singer John Legend — who performed in the crowded ballroom. The D.C. social crowd included Winston Lord, Amanda Polk,
The rumored stars of two new
The media was out in full force: Amy and Bret Baier (Fox News), Amy Argetsinger (Washington Post), Mike Allen (Politico), Steve Chenevey (Fox 5). The Washington business crowd was also there to check out the new hotel, including Marla and Barry Beck (owners of Blue Mercury), Dondi and Mark Schoenfeld (Carlyle Group), Mark Ein (Kastles owner) and Brian Friedman (CFO of Bliss, which has a new spa outpost at the hotel).
Professional athletes from the Capitals, Wizards and Nationals arrived later. As I’m only 5-foot-2, I couldn’t get the attention of any of the extremely tall men, but was told by an adoring female fan that I was riding the elevator with the Wizards’ 7-foot center, Brendan Haywood.
For Washingtonians, the hotel has never gone out of style, thanks to its famous rooftop bar, which offered stunning views of the city. But the old rooftop was shabby (and not “shabby chic”). The open-air bar was also very hot in the summer, and ice in the drinks would melt before being served. Pigeon droppings were common on the chairs because there were no walls or screens.
The renovated bar is covered.
But the views of the Washington Monument (so close it seemed you could touch it), the White House South Lawn (is that where the tennis court is hidden?) the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial are breathtaking, no matter how many times you see them.
W Hotel has been open since the summer and already is the hottest site in town for parties. The waiting list for a rooftop table is weeks long. The first time I visited after the renovations, I walked toward the elevators but was intercepted by a large man wearing a black suit with a Secret Service-style earpiece.
I assumed a Cabinet member or maybe the vice president was eating in the restaurant. Nope, the new hotel is so popular that if you don’t have a reservation or aren’t on a list for a party, you have to wait in line to take an elevator to the rooftop.
“What is this? New York City? Sheesh,” I said to a friend. Luckily, I was on “the list” then and have been on it other times I have been to gatherings there, so I haven’t had to stand in the line of shamed people begging and pleading to get on the elevators. Once, I saw friends having drinks along the balcony, and they told me it took them three weeks to get a reservation for their table for two.
Over the years, political leaders used the Hotel Washington as their primary residence while in D.C., including Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, Speaker of the House John McCormack, Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy and FDR’s vice president, John Nance Garner.
The Hotel Washington has been the site of some funny and bizarre political events. Elvis stayed there in 1970 when he penned a letter to President Nixon at the White House, saying in part: “I am staying at the Washington Hotel, Room 505-506-507. . . . I am registered under the name of Jon Burrows. I will be here for as long as long as it takes to get the credentials of a Federal Agent.” Nixon actually agreed to meet with Elvis in the Oval Office, but turned down his offer to be made “a Federal Agent at Large.”
Also, the Hotel Washington is where the annual White House turkey spends the night before it is — so far at least — pardoned by the president to live out its natural life. Now that the W is so modern and upscale, it is unclear if the 2009 Thanksgiving turkey will be allowed to stay in a fancy room or cluck through the lobby.
And I wonder how the elevator guards will check to see if the turkey is on “the list”? Would it be under “T” for turkey “P” for poultry?
Click below to watch a slideshow of photos (full-screen version here) that Emily Miller took at the W Hotel’s opening night party.
Follow Miller on Twitter @EmilyMillerDC