Beauty That’s More Than Skin Deep
While striving for objectivity, let me begin by offering that The Willard ranks among my favourite hotels. It’s with good reason that the elegant Willard, which serves as a living, breathing history lesson, is known as the Crown Jewel of Pennsylvania Avenue. Yes, that Pennsylvania Avenue, where you’re only a block from the White House.
Stepping into the beautiful lobby is akin to stepping back into a kinder, gentler time, but don’t be lulled into thinking that The Willard is anything less than a superior luxury hotel that is home to both contemporary efficiencies and gracious management and staff.
I know this firsthand, because our first stay was slightly marred; we arrived early and so, with our room not yet prepared, we left our luggage with the bellmen and went out for a bit of lunch. On arriving in our room, we were touched to find a special plate of fruit and cake marking my birthday, but disconcerted to find that our camera case had not made its way to our room with the rest of our belongings.
We received personal attention from both the hotel manager and their head of security while endeavouring to resolve the situation. Beyond satisfaction that the hotel’s people demonstrated integrity and responsiveness while they were in the midst of attending to the needs of a White House staff meeting, this story had a happy ending. We heard, almost a day after arrival, from the cab driver who’d taken us to The Willard; it turned out that the camera case had been inadvertently left in the trunk of our cab.
On my more recent stay, a quick stop to see the Concierge to ask about postal stamps unfolded into a lovely, extremely helpful conversation about some DC locales I planned to see, and extensive insights into wine and wineries. Housekeeping staff could not have been more prompt, or helpful, in attending to this guest’s requests.
Getting Around DC
We relied on cabs to a certain extent on our first visit to DC, but soon realised just how walkable this city is. Using a combination of your own two feet and the Metro system, you’ll find that you can readily make your way to Georgetown, Old Town Alexandria, Fashion Center at Pentagon City, and a myriad of galleries and cultural, historic and shopping locales.
While You’re There
Off Peacock Alley, at the rear of the hotel, you’ll find a vestibule showcasing the hotel’s history and some of its better known guests; that diverse list includes Buffalo Bill, Charles Dickens, David Loyd George, Mark Twain and Walt Whitman, among others. Almost every American president since Franklin Pierece in 1853 has stayed at the Willard and, in 1963, Martin Luther King completed his I Have A Dream speech while staying here.
From the hotel, you’re within easy walking distance of the Smithsonian Museums, which are free of charge and where you really can’t see it all in a single stay. You can also hoof it to the National Theater, and to Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site; while there, we were able to head upstairs from the museum to the actual theatre, which has been beautifully refurbished, and the infamous box seat.
First appearances may lead some to conclude that The Willard is beyond their budget for business travel, but think again. On my last visit to DC, I saved my organisation money by opting out of a large block reservation made by conference organisers at another hotel and booking myself into The Willard. Even taking into account the cost of cabbing it “home” following some sessions that ran into evening, the Willard was still more economical than the site booked by hundreds of fellow delegates.
Business travellers will feel welcome and comfortable here. Elevator access is room card-controlled and you’ll have your choice of a number of international newspapers delivered to your door; you can rely on high speed Wi Fi access as well as currency exchange, business centre, fitness centre and spa.
During our first stay in 2012, we enjoyed a lovely and spacious room on a floor that had just reopened after a thorough refurbishment. On my return visit last year, room standards were consistent and staff continued to provide stellar service.
Amenities and Restaurants
The Willard is well equipped with amenities to ensure a lovely stay, even if you’d like to bring a pet. Meeting a contact for a pre-business breakfast on my last stay, we enjoyed a light and healthy breakfast at Café du Parc. If you’re looking for a round of beverages in a cozy setting later on in the day, you may want to make your way to the Round Robin Bar.
The Willard is engaged in a Responsible Business program, and is the sole urban historic hotel to have been acknowledged with Conde Naste’s 2008 World Savers Award. It’s also been awarded the International Hotel & Restaurant Association’s Environmental Award for Sustainability.
The Willard’s guest rooms range in size from 450 to 2,300 square feet, and so you can appreciate that rates vary from $299 to $4,100 nightly before the 14.55 percent Occupancy tax. As above, The Willard is part of the InterContinental Group (IHG) and, with benefit of an IHG membership, you can accrue or purchase points that may be redeemed for your stay.