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Reminiscing About the Newly Reopened Willard InterContinental, Washington, D.C.

by Irvina Lew

Jul 16, 2020

Photo: James Andrews | Dreamstime.com

Destinations / North America

Parents often choose to introduce their children to the nation’s capital in spring, when the beautiful cherry blossoms are in bloom. However, the iconic Willard InterContinental, on Pennsylvania Avenue, always impresses, including when I was last there before Thanksgiving. I stepped out of a taxi, just as the staff was gingerly carrying two caged birds up the steps to the lobby. My arrival coincided with an annual, decades-long tradition: The birds are welcomed in the extravagant lobby under glistening chandeliers and a painted and coffered ceiling and near marble — or faux marble — columns and high, arched doorways. They are carefully released to pose for pictures, some with VIP children. Then, they lodge in a special foyer of a Willard suite, which underwent animal readiness, before the next day’s naming ceremony (Bread & Butter) and the ultimate White House pardon, on Tuesday before Thanksgiving.


Steps up from the lobby, in Peacock Alley, live harp music was serenading the daily High Tea, every table was occupied and graciously set with high, three-tiered tea towers. Executive Pastry Chef Jason Jimenez stood by, checking the canapes, sandwiches, scones and pastries were well-received. (They sure appealed to me, but the tea was fully booked.) Jimenez generously posed for pictures with guests and showed us his annual holiday gingerbread creation.


The 2019 holiday season showcased the Jefferson Memorial, including D.C.’s iconic cherry blossom trees around the Tidal Basin, where live betta fish swim. The 8.5-by-5-feet display features more than 15 pounds of modeling chocolate and 200 gumpaste flowers. It represents his team’s 600-hour effort to promote the Giving Back Campaign and partnership with the Trust for Historical Preservation and the Trust for the National Mall.


The city-wide National Cherry Blossom Festival is another opportunity for the hotel to pay homage to the Tidal Basin, named one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In spring, the seasonal décor in the lobby and Peacock Alley highlights pink cherry blossoms in bloom, cherry blossom-curated cocktails, food and programming. The décor, programming, music and cuisine also pay homage to the hotel’s storied history with Japan, because it hosted the first-ever Japanese delegation in 1860.


The 335-room iconic AAA four diamond luxury hotel and Historic Hotels of America affiliate, actually dates back more than two centuries, to its 1818 debut. It’s been a Washington landmark hotel that has welcomed every U.S. president since Franklin Pierce, in 1853, and hosted guests from Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., to Michelle Obama’s relatives. (The History Gallery chronicles the hotel’s past with photographic illustrations.)


The regal, old world décor predominates in traditionally appointed guestrooms with Nespresso coffeemakers, minibars, iPod stereos and bathrobes. There are amenities families appreciate. The most significant is access to the Kids’ Concierge Brian Thomasson, who offers a selection of memorable amenities and activities. Families appreciate availability of babysitting services; room service 24/7; handicap accessibility and a welcoming pet policy. The family package includes a sweet or savory amenity upon arrival, $75 food & beverage credit, complimentary internet and parking daily for one vehicle and a children’s program.


The hotel also offers a well-equipped fitness center, a gift shop and jewelry store. The Mynd Spa, with a sauna and steam room, offers massage therapy, body treatments, skincare, nail care, waxing and hair salon. Business travelers will find a business center with computer stations and printers and meeting, ballroom and event space.


Back to November, we had drinks amid the oak-paneled walls and circular bar within the historic Round Robin Bar, which made its debut in 1847 and which Conde Nast Traveler dubbed the “Oval Office of bars.” Later, we moved to the dining room at Café du Parc — an all-day French-style restaurant with a notable clientele — where I was happy with a lobster roll.


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