Last week I was invited to meet with some Hilton executives in Washington, DC, to discuss my likes and dislikes regarding the Hilton HHonors program. During this visit, they generously offered to put me up at the Washington Hilton near Dupont Circle and provided a ticket to the final Hilton @Play concert of 2015, headlined by Neon Trees.
I briefly lived in Dupont Circle for a few months during a summer internship, and I’ve returned to the area regularly to visit friends. It’s one of my favorite neighborhoods, convenient to museums and theaters to the south (via the Red Line) and to the bars and shops of Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan to the north (walkable). I could even walk to the zoo.
However, I had never set eyes on the Washington Hilton before. We always managed to skirt the edges by heading up 18th St NW or taking the metro to Woodley Park.
Given our interests at the time this was probably fair. The Washington Hilton is first and foremost a conference hotel. The huge lobby has two bars, a restaurant, an outdoor patio, and several areas to sit and work with the free WiFi. I still saw many tourists. It’s under a mile to the nearest metro station, and a concierge and tour desk were available to render assistance. One nice thing about business-oriented hotels is that they can be very affordable for tourists when they’re less full.
But one of the special features of the Washington Hilton is that it was designed with the intention of hosting large balls with the President in attendance. I detail that in a bit.
Arrival and Check-In
My ride to the hotel was significantly delayed due to the rush hour traffic and the national Christmas tree lighting celebrations. When we finally got there, it was about 5:30 and the lobby was bustling with a networking cocktail reception. Fortunately check-in was not too busy. I’d recently matched to Hilton HHonors Diamond status and waited in the priority queue with two other people.
I was given a corner room on the 10th floor and found that another couple had already occupied it. Nothing special going on — I just walked in on them watching television — but it is worth a dual reminder to knock before entering a new room and to throw the deadbolt once you’re inside. I found it more amusing than anything; the other couple might have been more annoyed.
The hotel is organized in two curving wings, very similar to some hotels in Las Vegas. As you’d expect this makes for a long walk to/from the elevators. I was given another corner room at the opposite end, but if I returned to this property I think I’d prefer an ordinary room near the elevator.
I could use the exercise anyway, and I got a nice view of the Mall and the swimming pool downstairs.
My room wasn’t unusually large, but I appreciated it for being functional and quiet — my two main requirements when traveling. The bathroom had a walk-in shower and the standard Peter Thomas Roth toiletries. The towels were plush. About the only issue was that the furnace blew air directly into the bathroom, so it was a bit windy stepping out of the shower.
The bed, however, was large and comfortable, and I didn’t have any trouble adjusting the thermostat or turning it off when it wasn’t needed. I also liked the large desk and fast WiFi. Remember that you can get free Internet access just by booking your room directly through Hilton, and Diamond members at this property get free premium Internet access.
Shortly after check-in, I got two visits from room service: one was a standard welcome amenity with fruit and some caramel dipping sauce. The other was a bottle of wine. I’m not sure which was which, but it seemed clear that one of these was to apologize for the room mix-up.
The club on the 10th floor was closed for most of my stay, and I know at least one person who asked about this was offered a few free drinks. As my stay was already covered by the hotel, I didn’t make a fuss about this or the mixed up room assignment. I did peek in on my last day when it opened and thought the spread looked pretty good. There was a staffed bar, which appeared to be complimentary, and a mix of hot and cold snacks (including empanadas). In the morning I saw a pretty broad continental spread with pastries, fruit, cereal, juices, and coffee.
My breakfast downstairs at the TDL restaurant was better. Each morning the staff encouraged me to try the buffet, and two out of three times I turned them down to order eggs and bacon off the menu. The menu is the better way to go. It’s about the same price, and I prefer having my meal brought to me. I really liked my breakfast, though, and would go here again assuming the lounge was not an option. I also had a burger at McClellan’s and liked that, too. Coffee fans will like the huge Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in the lobby.
If you want to venture out, there are some great restaurants within walking distance. Two of my best finds were Tryst, a coffee shop and bar in Adams Morgan, and Hank’s Oyster Bar, a seafood restaurant in the opposite direction.
Touring the Event Space
We had a tour of the hotel the day before the concert. As I mentioned, the hotel was built with the needs of the President in mind, and the architect consulted with the Capital Hilton during the design phase to learn what worked and what didn’t. The main ballroom is huge with capacity for roughly 3,000 guests. With no supporting columns in the middle of the space, everyone has a clear sightline.
A separate entrance to the meeting space downstairs, along with separate escalators, stairs, and elevators to reach other floors, help manage traffic flow. There were several events during our stay in addition to the Neon Trees concert, and I never noticed any area become difficult to navigate except the upstairs bar.
After the attempted assassination of President Reagan in 1981, a separate entrance for the President was built with doors on either side to enclose his car and provide safe passage to the hotel. The hallway is built with curving walls for added security and has thick walls of reinforced concrete. Other celebrities can use this entrance, too, but downstairs, the President has his own waiting room that no one else can visit. There’s also a space where he can meet with VIPs before walking out to the main event.
We were asked not to take pictures during this part of the tour, but I can show you the Seal of the President of the United States, which is covered up with a carpet when he’s not visiting.
Because of these additional features, the size of the space, and the hotel’s experience hosting large events, this has become the hotel of choice for many large events such as the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. It was certainly impressive. I’ll cover my own experience attending a concert in this space in tomorrow’s post.
I would consider staying at the Washington Hilton again given the right circumstances. It wouldn’t be my first choice as a tourist hotel given that there are many other contenders for that role — cheaper, more luxurious, or more convenient. But if you find a good deal, this hotel is not a bad choice either. I was able to get out and explore very easily. Despite the glitch at check-in (these things happen), quality and service were top notch, and as a business-oriented property I thought the Washington Hilton did its job very well.