The iconic site of the 1972 Watergate Scandal has had a multi-million dollar luxury revamp
Hotel Insider: The Watergate Hotel, Washington DC
I’ve booked a transfer to the hotel from Dulles International Airport, so there’s a driver waiting for me at the baggage carousel. The car is a Cadillac Escalade and because it’s a “snow day”, most of the city seems to have taken the day off so the roads are empty and the trip takes less than half an hour. The Watergate Hotel is part of the legendary Watergate Complex, a group of five buildings built and opened in the 1960s and famous for the 1972 burglary of the Democratic National Committee, which was based there, and the subsequent resignation of president Richard Nixon. Now owned by Euro Capital Properties, a real estate developer and hospitality management company based in New York, the hotel has had a US $200 million (Dh734.5m) renovation after falling into disrepair. The hotel entrance and lobby are both slick and down-to-earth, and manned by personable staff wearing distinctive uniforms designed by the costume designer from Mad Men.
The complex, designed by Italian architect Luigi Moretti, occupies a large site beside the Potomac River, south of Georgetown, and is next to the Saudi Arabian Embassy and the huge John F Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts. You can walk north along the river to Georgetown in about five minutes, but most of the other sites require a car. The Lincoln Memorial at the far western end of the National Mall would be 20 minutes on foot. The best thing about the location is that with its position on the river and view over Georgetown, the city feels like the small town it once was.
The hotel is busy but relaxing – the design gives it a sense of fun despite the city’s seriousness. It’s popular with business and leisure guests, mostly from across the United States. When I visit, there’s a great atmosphere as a number of rooms have been booked by protesters on the recent March for Our Lives event. While the hotel has 336 rooms, it feels much smaller and more like a boutique hotel.
History buffs pay about double the normal rate to rent room 214, from where E Howard Hunt and G Gordon Liddy, who led the Watergate break-in team, stationed themselves on June 17, 1972. From inside the room you can see why – it’s only metres away from the adjacent office block. The refurb of the lobby and restaurant has been done by Ron Arad Architects, with luxury furnishings by Italian brand Moroso, in consultation with Lyn Paolo, the costume designer for the television series Scandal, and uses a lot of red offset with slick black and brass and silver embellishments.
My room is on the 7th floor, with a view over the river and Georgetown. There’s an external balcony area, although it’s sealed off and I can’t access it from my room or open a window (some other rooms have usable balconies). Fortunately, the air con is responsive and the natural light and effective double glazing make the space very soothing.
The room is a restful blend of white, grey and camel tones and the bathroom is well-designed and feels luxurious, although there’s a shower, instead of a bath. The robes are particularly high quality, but I have to call down for slippers.
Calls to reception are answered and actioned promptly and service in the restaurant is attentive.
The hotel has one main restaurant, Kingbird, which is on the ground floor with one side overlooking the river. It transforms at night when its giant, swirling, designer-lighting features are lit up. The menu describes itself as “American with a French twist” and is quite decadent, including steak tartare ($18; Dh65), foie gras ($18; Dh65) and caramelised scallops ($22; Dh80) as starters and moule frites ($28; Dh103), pan-roasted trout ($32; Dh117) and Maine lobster risotto ($40; Dh147). The buffet continental breakfast is good for $22 (Dh80), including fresh fruit, Greek yoghurt, granola and bagels, although the cappucinnos are disappointing and cost $6 (Dh22) each.
Food is also served in the lounge and at the spectacular rooftop terrace, Top of the Gate, which offers good pizzas and other snacks with 360-degree views of the city.
The tranquil spa area on the lower ground floor has an excellent gym, pool, hot tub and sauna, and is free for guests to use. The views from my window, from where I could watch rowers getting in and out of the water at the rowing club over the road.
Perhaps thinking I still wanted it, housekeeping left items of food from the previous day as they cleaned the room. The hallway outside my room was dirty and needed vacuuming more often. The walls between the rooms are also rather thin, and I could hear my next-door neighbours having a loud conversation in Spanish.
An exciting and surprisingly comfortable and place to stay.
The bottom line
Double rooms at The Watergate Hotel cost from $257 (Dh943) per night including taxes.