May 282014

One of these days I mean to post about our favorite places here on Capitol Hill. In the meantime, the New York Times did a pretty good job of it last weekend. A bit heavy on the high-end restaurants, and a few strange choices (there is nothing to see in Lincoln Park), but they did name three of the places we’ve eaten this week (Seventh Hill, Ted’s Bulletin, and Eastern Market) and a favorite lesser-known activity (US Botanic Garden), so I give them credit. You can find the original article here.

Sep 202012

These occasional reviews may not interest regular readers of the blog, but I rely heavily on hotel reviews when planning my own travels and try to occasionally return the favor for the folks out there on Google. We paid full (if shockingly low! see below) price for our stay, and the Fairmont staff did not know that I’m a blogger.

In a display of terrible timing, emergency renovations forced us out of our home during our daughter’s first week of preschool. We would have been more upset, except that it was an excuse for our second visit to the Fairmont DC. We love the Fairmont DC.

The Fairmont is located at 24th and M St. NW, a few blocks from George Washington University and within hiking distance (~ 1/2 mile) of Georgetown’s main drag in one direction and Dupont Circle in the other. The immediate neighbors include the Westin and Park Hyatt, plus a handful of office buildings like the WWF and American College of Cardiology. Despite the corporate neighborhood, we found the area surprisingly welcoming for our daughter and our dog. One block north is an elementary school with swingset and play structures. One block west is a dog park. (The streets near the school and dog park also have regular openings for street parking, but beware the strictly enforced 2-hour time limit on weekdays.)

The Fairmont’s lobby and seating areas are lovely and relaxed, with marble floors, golden fixtures, and seating arranged in intimate groupings with views of the courtyard garden. As night falls, the abundant natural sunlight is replaced by a profusion of twinkling fairy lights around the courtyard. There’s an evening piano player, and the wingback chairs are surprisingly cushy. There’s something about the relaxed and welcoming, yet oh-so-posh, atmosphere that makes you want to settle in with a Fairmont specialty cocktail and a friend for a chat. (I settled in for a Diet Coke and the crossword. That was nice too.)

Before our first stay, we worried about bringing a preschooler and a dog somewhere so fancy. But in fact, both were given the utmost welcome. The Fairmont chain is so pet-friendly that some locations have “ambassador” dogs that guests can borrow for walks. There are no additional pet fees – just a damage waiver to sign and a promise that Fido won’t be left alone in the room. They even gave us a bag of handmade dog treats courtesy of the Executive Chef. And our daughter was given the royal treatment from everyone we met, from the doormen to the desk manager.

The standard guest rooms are … standard hotel guest rooms. However, every aspect is beautifully designed and the materials themselves are equally beautiful. During our first stay, my husband and I jokingly catalogued our complaints: after careful study, we found some scuffs on the baseboard paint in the closet and noticed that the clothes-drying line in the bathroom was a bit dingy. That was the extent of it. Everything else was thoughtfully perfect, from the tiny reading lights beside the beds to the well-located hidden outlet strips.

The standard room offered the choice of a king or two double beds, a desk work area, armchair, and mini-bar alcove. The bathroom was basic but decorated with the same thoughtful touches (right down to the hammered-metal holder for the spare toilet paper roll). The bureau revealed a Keurig with Green Mountain Coffee and electric tea kettle with Fairmont tea.

Our second stay was in a Corner Suite, so it was fun to compare the room options. The suite was much larger, with a full sitting area and tons of windows. Otherwise, the furnishings and overall feel were similar.

The hotel sent up a bottle of wine and some chocolate-covered strawberries as a treat for our first night in the suite. The accompanying card had a quote from Edgar Allen Poe about enthusiasm, which seemed well chosen for the Fairmont. All of the staff members that we met had a cheery attitude that spoke of enthusiasm for their surroundings.

There is a health club with pool / hot tub / saunas on the hotel’s lower floor. We had varied experiences in the pool — one visit was all older professionals swimming laps and the other was overrun by small children. The health club was swanky, with extensive locker rooms and a fancy coffee machine in the sitting area. Unfortunately, the health club charges a $15 fee to hotel guests. President’s Club members have the fee waived.

We also enjoyed fancy buffet breakfasts at Juniper during each stay. The food was perfectly prepared but very pricey. Sunday brunch was $48/person; weekday breakfast around $27. We took advantage of free dining credits from our Fairmont credit card. For less expensive options, I’d recommend the nearby Bread and Chocolate cafe (2301 M St.) or Trader Joe’s (1101 25th St.) for self-catering. If you do try Juniper, be sure to sample anything honey-based. The Fairmont has its own hive of honeybees on the roof.

So what does it cost for all this luxury? You might be surprised! Rates vary greatly according to occupancy and the existence of any specials. Regular rates can top $500/night for a standard room. But our first visit was on a $149/night special. Our most recent visit, during a week when DC was completely empty, saw rates fall to $103/night. My husband has the Fairmont credit card, which comes with perks like a complimentary upgrade certificate. He called in his upgrade and nabbed a 700-sf Corner Suite. For $103 night. And we were treated just as royally as if we’d paid the $700+/night regular price. We checked everything on before we thought to check the Fairmont site, and this rate was actually cheaper than chains like the Holiday Inn. I can’t guarantee that you’ll find a bargain for your travel dates, but the Fairmont is definitely worth checking!

Also, if you’re a Fairmont fan, I highly, highly recommend signing up for the President’s Club. It’s free, and at least in DC, membership gets you free health club access, free wireless Internet, and free newspapers in the morning. Totally worth a few minutes to fill out the form. We also love our Fairmont Visa credit card, which carries a $95 annual fee but doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees and comes with a handful of valuable bonuses like 2 free nights at any Fairmont property in the world.

Dec 102010

What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010?

Last month, Mr. T and I went to an amazing party sponsored by the National Defense University in honor of Defense Secretary Robert Gates. It gave me newfound respect for Secretary Gates, and it left me pondering the nature of patriotism and the sacrifices of our men and women in the military.

But I’m tired. I’m just not up to musings on the nature of citizenship at the moment, and I suspect you’re even less in the mood for reading my half-baked patriotic platitudes.

So, instead, how ‘bout I share some photos from Mr. T’s 10-year law school reunion? The dinner was pretty dull. But the setting in the Smithsonian American Art Museum was awesome! End result = we took a lot of pictures. Here are a few:

Mr. T and I posed with a random statue

I had never been to the museum’s 3rd floor — turns out I was missing some cool modern art and a peaceful sitting area for future visits

Mr. T with his friend Steph (a law professor, environmentalist, and all-around genius). What is IT? We don’t know, but we promise we left it alone!

Dinner was held in the Museum’s dramatic glass-canopied Courtyard

And enhanced by some crazy/cool mood lighting

Our camera has built-in “art filters,” including one for “grainy black-and-white film.” We had fun playing around with the filters (did I mention dinner was boring?) and were still at it as they cleaned up and kicked us out at the end of the night!
What was your most memorable event in 2010?
Jan 202009

This week marks an exciting time to be a proud resident of DC.  But it’s strange to be surrounded by historic events when you’re not allowed out of your house!  Most of my exposure to this weekend’s Inaugural events has come from TV and the Web, just like for everybody else.

I do get the occasional man-on-the-street update from Mr. T.  He returned from walking Zoe late last night with tales of National Guard members guarding our block.  Earlier, he reported lots of frantic people trying to catch cabs in the cold.  Revelers pass our front door loudly at all hours (we have a convenient-but-not-quiet location between the building’s front door and elevator), including a few hearty souls who left at 4:00 this morning to reserve a spot for the day’s festivities.

Although we live a mere 5 blocks from the Capitol, Mr. T and I watched the swearing-in on TV.  We did hear the cannon salute, and the Bush helicopter leaving after the ceremony.  So there’s that.  (Now the sounds outside are almost entirely emergency vehicle sirens.  Mr. T’s theory is that today’s estimated 2 million visitors are starting to succumb to exhaustion and cold.)

The Capitol looked fantastically red-white-and-blue this morning.  But I figure we’ve all seen the same photos, so here are a few from Inaugurations past.  Here’s hoping that when we look back on archive photos of this Inauguration, some 30 or 40 years hence, we will remember today as the start of a flourishing period in this Nation’s history.

How are you marking today’s historic events?
Oct 222008

As a former New Yorker, my heart will always belong to Grand Central Station and itslovely astronomical ceiling.  (I used to own an umbrella with an image of the ceiling; I loved it THAT much.)

But DC’s Union Station wins an easy second place. And it turns 100 this year — not bad!

Union Station was the largest train station in the world when it opened in 1908 — a time when nearly everyone traveled by train, so it was likely the first thing a visitor would see when entering Washington, DC.  The monumental Beaux Arts design covered more ground than any other building in the United States, featuring grand open spaces befitting the station’s role as gateway to the Nation’s Capital.

Union Station has always served as a hub of commerce as well as transportation — besides the usal stores and restaurants, the station has featured services as varied as Turkish baths, an ice house, hotel, mortuary, bowling alley, and YMCA.

(Image source one, two)

Sadly, the once-great building fell into such disrepair by the late 1970s that part of the roof collapsed and toadstools grew inside the station.  The station was closed in 1981 and in danger of being razed. Instead, a public-private partnership restored the building to its former glory and redeveloped the station as a bustling hub of shops and restaurants.  Between its transportation functions (Metro, Amtrak, and local commuter lines), the variety of commercial services (including even a movie theater and a post office), and the tourists who drop in just to see the building, Union Station now enjoys 32 million visitors a year.

As with all historic train stations, I love to imagine the days when train travel held a bit of magic, the entrance hall served as a bustling waiting room with endless rows of benches, and you might easily spot a dignitary or celebrity traveling in and out of town….

And when I paused to freshen up after my trip?  I would have looked like this:

(Image source one, two)
Apr 302008

While planning our wedding, I loved the idea of staying at a nice hotel the night before the wedding (by myself) and on the wedding night (joined by Mr. T).  Unfortunately, we couldn’t spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars for the privilege.  Originally, my plan was to bid on Priceline a few days beforehand and see what came up.  But then my favorite travel discount site, Travelzoo, shared the great news that a new Hotel Monaco had opened in Alexandria, just 3 blocks from our ceremony site, and they were having a $99/night special.

And it turns out, staying there was a fantastic decision — they made the wedding weekend an absolute dream!


(Taking a pre-ceremony break on the world’s most comfortable bed) 

First, when I returned from the rehearsal dinner and afterparty the night before — absolutely exhausted from socializing and 40+ hours without sleep — I found the most AMAZING thing waiting for me on the hotel room desk.


There was a card whose front said “For your last night as … Ms. Maidenname”, and inside it explained that the gifts were something old (an old quote on a bookmark), something new (a book called Autobiography of a Fat Bride, by Laurie Notaro, which turned out to be hilarious!), something borrowed (a pack of cards), and something blue (a blue journal).  Plus a couple of super-tasty heart-shaped chocolates.  It was the most unexpected and most charming thing I’d ever seen!!  [And here’s an Internet shout-out to wonderful, wonderful Joanna at the front desk, who put it all together and wrote the card….]

The second night, there was wine and cheese (next to my bottle of wedding perfume):


We felt genuinely welcomed by everyone at the Hotel.  They put a note about our wedding on their computer system, so everyone we spoke to knew about the Big Event and congratulated us repeatedly.  And of course, once we starting walking around in wedding finery, there was no keeping secrets!  Everyone from the other guests to the valets to a housekeeper passing through the lobby stopped us to offer the warmest of wishes.

We took advantage of the beautifully decorated lobby for a quick pre-ceremony photo session.  Here, I was cracking up because a tiny elderly lady in a tweed hat was peering shamelessly through the windows from the sidewalk outside:


For anyone planning a visit to Alexandria, VA (or to DC itself — Alexandria is very close, extremely charming, and joined by Metro), I can’t recommend the Hotel Monaco highly enough.  It was a special experience for us because of our wedding, but even as a normal hotel stay it ranked very highly.  We spent ages at the day-after brunch raving about the hotel with other wedding guests who stayed there — the beds! the decor! the location! — and all agreed it was a genuine treat.


(The bathroom wallpaper was the coolest.)
(1st and last 2 photos by Punam Bean)

Oh, and P.S.: The last morning of our stay was Easter.  They put a chocolate egg on our bed the night before, and hid Easter eggs all around the lobby the next morning.  How cute is this?


Where will you spend your wedding night?  Splurge or budget??