Grand, historic, stylish ambiance is ideal for weekend of intrigue & discovery.
By Karen Rubin
The Hotel Monaco proved ideal in every way for our weekend of intrigue and discovery in Washington D.C. Our central purpose for this visit was to investigate the new International Spy Museum and this stellar attraction is just steps away from the Hotel Monaco’s front door. But what was entirely unexpected was how perfectly the atmosphere of the Hotel Monaco (which opened at about the same time as the museum) blended with our purpose, and how perfectly its location, putting us within walking distance of everything on our agenda, facilitated our trip.
On top of that, the gracious service, pampering amenities, and distinctive elements (like goldfish which became our pets for the weekend), made our stay at the Hotel Monaco so much more than mere accommodations. Our stay at the Hotel Monaco, which earned the prestigious AAA Four Diamond Award this year, was truly an experience in its own right.
The Hotel Monaco occupies an impressive National Historic Landmark structure, the former General Post Office. Dating from 1842, it was the first marble building in Washington DC. What was remarkable was how the parent company, Kimpton Boutique Hotels, has turned cold marble (albeit breathtakingly beautiful) and cavernous corridors and ceilings into this warm, colorful, retro ambiance, evocative of 1930s Art Deco (but on closer inspection, the colors, patterns and furniture style are modern). The hotel’s logo helps contribute to the 1930s feel, and the gracious service makes you feel you absolutely have been transported back to some other place and time. I fully expected to see Agatha Christie’s 1930s detective Hercule Poirot bob around a corner.
This is not just any landmark building. Constructed from 1839 and 1842, it was designed in part by the 19th century architect Robert Mills, who also designed the Washington Monument. It was considered one of the most stylistically advanced structures in Washington DC. Regarded as avant-garde for the time, Mills patterned the building after the first marble building in Rome, the Temple of Jupiter. The architects who created this building also designed the U.S. Treasury Department, and U.S. Patent Office (recalling that much of Washington D.C. had been burned by the British in 1812). The style was to fill entire blocks with colonnaded government office buildings, like stone temples. More than a decade later, Thomas Walter, one of the architects of the U.S. Capitol, created the design for an extension on the north side of the building, which was completed in 1869.
It was in this structure that the U.S. Postal Department began a number of innovative programs such as home mail, delivery across the country, registered mail, the Pony Express, and money orders. Over the years, other government services that occupied the building included the Tariff Commission, a variety of federal departments, agencies, bureaus and services.
The Hotel Monaco has many distinctive features that contribute to a most unusual and delightful stay. To begin with, it has a Guppy Love program: you can actually request a companion goldfish be delivered to your room for the duration of your stay… at no charge. We had two: Nebert came swimming around a model of the Capitol Building; the other fish, lapped the White House in his bowl. Put into the context of how frenetic and stressful the nation’s capital is for the legions of lobbyists, lawmakers, perhaps a spy or two who I suspect are among the Hotel’s clientele, you cannot imagine how restful and homey having these goldfish around were.
Indeed, considering how sophisticated and refined the Hotel Monaco is, it is remarkably pet-friendly (not to mention child-friendly), which also helps to make the hotel inviting and warm. Pet-friendly reaches new heights here: your pet receives a registration card upon arrival; once checked in, the hotel delivers food and water bowls, a bottle of Evian water, an information card with local veterinarians and pet sitting services, a map of great dog walks in the neighborhood and a special treat. The front desk even keeps a stock of complimentary disposable dog walking bags and room service menu offers food for pets.
People guests are also pampered. I love that the hotel serves complimentary coffee from 6:30-8:30 a.m., complimentary wine is served in a gracious lobby lounge from 5:30-6:30 p.m.
Other amenities that make for an exceptionally pleasant stay include the in-room coffee maker with Starbucks coffee; a newspaper is delivered to the room daily; there is maid service twice daily; linens, pillows and comforter are incredibly luxurious; there are plush terrycloth robes and Aveda bath products; a minibar and in-room safe; 24-hour room service; overnight shoeshine and laundry service available. A concierge is on staff to assist in making visitor arrangements.
Guests can also take advantage of a high-tech fitness center with individual plasma screens on the equipment, in a decent-sized room. For those who want an indoor pool, one is available at the nearby YMCA.
Here’s another unusual feature: among its 184 guest rooms and 16 suites are 20 “Monte Carlo Tall Rooms,” customized to best accommodate taller travelers. These spacious guestrooms include an extra-long (90 inches) king-sized bed, high ceilings and a raised showerhead (other amenities include complimentary high-speed Internet access, in-room refrigerators stocked with gourmet treats and bars that include a martini kit, CD stereo, and television with Nintendo and on-demand movies).
We stayed in one of the six Robert Mills Suites that honor the original architect of the Washington Monument, the US Department of Treasury Building, and the Hotel Monaco’s own historic Tarrif building. With corner locations, these graciously appointed suites feature vaulted 20-foot ceilings with stunningly ornate moldings and over 600 square feet of space. Suites include a private bedroom with king-sized bed, spa tub, and separate shower. The living area accommodates up to seven guests, a couch that converts to a queen-sized bed, a second television, and a DVD/CD player with surround sound.
Beautifully appointed Majestic Suites, located on the fourth floor, can be converted into one- or two-bedroom suites. Majestic Suites each feature a dining table for six guests and sitting area for six. Other features include a full bathroom, couch that converts to a queen-sized bed, CD stereo, Nintendo and on-demand movies, and complimentary high-speed Internet access. With the connecting bedrooms – which offer king-sized beds in each and a spa tub in at least one (bath salts provided) – these spacious Majestic Suites accommodate up to 20 guests for a reception.
The guestrooms feature the original vaulted ceilings at extreme heights of 12 feet and more. What could be an institutional look has been softened and warmed with an eclectic mix of neoclassic and modern furnishings. In a playful nod to the nation’s capital, a bust of Thomas Jefferson can be found overlooking each guestroom (he is the patriarch of American architecture and was a good friend of Robert Mills).
The décor is an absolute triumph. Beverly Hills designer Cheryl Rowley has created an exceptional interior design that complements the building’s original architectural flourishes while infusing it with modern comfort, and a somewhat whimsical, yet high style that can only be called “beguiling.” The décor succeeds in its aim to evoke the romance of travel and worldly sophistication in a plush, yet comforting environment-like the visually stunning, beautifully furnished grand living rooms with fireplace and multiple conversation areas. Registration desks are playfully modeled after a classic steamer trunk. Classic lines and designs mingle with a whimsical, urbane style. The colors are vibrant and rich–like giant red lanterns that hang like chandeliers. Furnishings are soft and velvety, plump, tucked and tasseled (even the room numbers have tassels hanging). Original art incorporates themes of travel, time, music and literature. Everywhere you look, there is something to catch, and play, with your eye.
The hotel offers a bustling, 174-seat restaurant and bar, aptly named Poste-Moderne Brasserie, located adjacent to the hotel in the historic courtyard (you reach it through a historic carriageway portal on 8th street). It features a striking exhibition kitchen, and in warm weather, outdoor seating in the courtyard.
The hotel’s Paris Ballroom was originally a library created by the Post Office General. Among other distinguished rooms, the Athens Room’s expansive windows provide vistas of the courtyard and the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, directly across the street (though presently closed for renovations).
Indeed, the Hotel Monaco proved superbly located. What I loved, particularly, was that the hotel was walking distance to everything we wanted to visit on this whirlwind weekend.
Arriving in the late afternoon, we were still able to visit the National Archives, a mere few blocks walk (past the Navy Memorial). It is a short walk to the Mall and the Smithsonian Museums: including the National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of American History, National Air and Space Museum, the ice skating rink and carousel, Washington Monument, the FBI Building (now closed for renovation, it used to offer a marvelous exhibit and tour) even the White House and Capitol Hill was within walking distance (enroute, you will be able to visit the Newsmuseum, under construction).
Walk in another direction and you are cattycorner from the MCI Center (like Madison Square Garden); a couple of blocks from Chinatown, and a short walk to the Convention Center (where we happened upon a health and fitness expo), and a score of pleasant restaurants (we loved the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant just across the street from the International Spy Museum).
Hotel Monaco is six metro stops from Ronald Reagan National Airport, just seven walking blocks from Union Station.
And of course, the Hotel Monaco is just steps away from the International Spy Museum, which figures into its International Spy Museum package, which includes deluxe accommodations for two, two adult tickets to the museum, and a spy amenity (from $189). A Family Affair Package includes deluxe accommodations for two; pay-for-view movie; $10 mini bar credit (from $169); a Monuments By Moonlight Package (capitalizing on the romantic allure), provides deluxe accommodations for two, private evening tour of Washington DC monuments, complimentary bottle of champagne, his and hers cashmere scarves (from $419). Special Delivery Package features accommodations, room service continental breakfast for two, complimentary parking (from $179). All guests also receive complimentary morning coffee service and complimentary evening wine hour.
Hotel Monaco is a member of Kimpton Boutique Hotels, almost all of which are housed in historic structures. In Washington DC, these include the Hotel George, Hotel Helix, Hotel Madera, Hotel Route and Topaz Hotel, and boutique hotels in Aspen, Boston, Cambridge, Chicago, Denver, New Orleans, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle, Silicon Valley and Vancouver B.C. Other four-star Hotel Monacos that are part of the Kimpton Group are located in New Orleans, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Denver and Salt Lake City Kimpton offers a Loyalty Rate-that is, substantial discounts-when you have visited one of the hotels. For information on how to join, visit www.kimptongroup.com, or call 800-KIMPTON.
For more information, contact the Hotel Monaco, 700 F Street, NW, Washington DC 20004, 877-202-5411, 202-628-7177; www.monaco-dc.com.
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