Dome Magazine readers likely frequent Washington D.C., which has been pejoratively labeled “The Swamp,” by the current White House occupant who, despite his Wharton degree, likely never considered that the nation’s capital is, in fact, built on tidal flats along the Tiber Creek which made the humid area a marshy affair in the past.
First time visitors arriving via Delta Airlines might be surprised to see how stylish and bright Reagan National Airport’s newer terminal is, with its soaring yellow arched girders, after their flight glides in over the Potomac River. D.C.’s recognizable iconic monuments and the Capitol dome itself are easily visible from the aircraft and even the airport, which is close enough to the city center to be a $16 UBER ride and even cheaper via the smooth and simple Metrorail train system.
My last “MPS goes to Washington” whirlwind happened to be the weekend after the Washington Nationals had become World Series winners and celebrated with a Saturday afternoon parade down what would become a confetti-covered Constitution Avenue.
Walking across the bridge into Georgetown later that afternoon I heard and felt the rumble of the Marine One helicopter before I spotted it speeding just above the tree-line overhead taking President Trump from the South Lawn out to his flight to Manhattan to catch a mixed martial arts fight that night. It wasn’t my first celebrity sighting in Georgetown. I once chatted up MSNBC’s “Hardball” host Chris Matthews in Clyde’s while he munched at lunch on a chunk of cake. He told me his mother’s maiden name was Shiels.
Most don’t come and go from the White House via chopper but are relegated to taking pictures and walking around the security perimeter – which seems to grow wider and wider each time I visit. During my visit I noticed the front entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue was especially obscured by a white wall (dare I call it a “border wall”) shielding the construction of heightened iron fencing. (There have been incidents of people jumping or climbing the fence.) The white wall is emblazoned with the words “White House” and explains the work is securing the president, but it’s a bummer for those trying to get photos of themselves at 1600. Pictures taken of the back side of the White House are equally recognizable and iconic – they just need to be taken from much farther away – all the way over where the National Christmas Tree is perched.
Beyond that, across the grassy oval known as “the Ellipse” is the 500-foot-tall stone obelisk known as the Washington Monument, which I visited and ascended for the first time. Mind you it was All Souls Day in early November, so crowds were not like they’d be in spring and summer, but by arriving when the ticket office opened at 8:30 a.m., I was able to secure timed tickets to ride up the elevator for 9:30 a.m. (Within half-an-hour all walk-up tickets for the rest of the day were gone.) Visitors can reserve tickets online ahead of time via the National Parks website – and all tickets are always free. Once atop, the views out the little windows in all four directions are splendid. But if you don’t go up the elevator to the top be sure to walk up to the park at the base of the Washington Monument, which is open to anyone, because the monument is perched atop a hill so the 360-degree views are panoramic. You can see the Capitol Building; the White House, and the Lincoln, Jefferson, and World War II Memorials from the base, as well as the reflecting pond and all of the museums and buildings on the National Mall.
The biggest surprise of this visit was the discovery of the Dupont Circle Hotel which recently completed a multimillion dollar investment program to enhance its 347 rooms and penthouse suites. The hotel now seeps with serious style.
“Am I allowed to pull in here?” my Uber driver asked upon pulling up to the valet circle on New Hampshire Ave. NW between Dupont Circle and the Jamaican Embassy. Indeed the building exudes elegance more often seen in exclusive residential properties than in hotels – and the doormen amplify the kind of “welcome home” one would find on New York’s Upper East Side and, once they meet you, call you by name for the remainder of your stay. Be ready for another question after they inquire whether they can get you a bottle of water.
“Cold or room temperature?” they ask.
“I am proud of our team,” said general manager Joel Freyberg. “My ownership, the Doyle Collection, wants the hotel to be an extension of the private homes and the nearby embassies.”
The Dublin-based Doyle collection therefore exhibits renowned Irish hospitality.
“My owner is very, very sophisticated so it’s not a shamrock on every table. But there is always that touch of Irish hospitality which goes back for years and generations: the warmth and ability to go above and beyond is part of our DNA,” said Freyberg.
I noticed an example on the craft cocktail menu in The Pembroke, the bright brasserie bar and restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows and outdoor terraces. It was the “Irish Sazerac”: Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey, Cardamaro Peychauds, and coffee pecan bitters.
“We have people come for cocktails. We have a lot of political visits here. You’ll go to the bar and you’ll see two people huddled in a corner and it could be several congressmen having a nice meeting discussing foreign affairs or works in progress,” said Freyberg. There are curved couches and crannies perfect for caucusing or canoodling in Doyle, a Mad Men-style library lounge that is like an art deco den.
“At home” at the Dupont Circle Hotel means a bathroom Jacuzzi tub with a skyline view and retractable shade, in-wall television and towel heater. The suites also have Nespresso machines and mini-bars with complimentary soft drinks, Vitamin Water, juices and Acqua Panna. The chocolates are left on the pillow after turn-down service in a tiny box that looks like a little classic suitcase.
I asked Freyberg if, in conversations in the lobby and in meeting spaces throughout the hotel, whether the “I word” was being mentioned with frequency.
“Washingtonians are private people in a very private city. Is the impeachment on everyone’s mind? Absolutely. Do they speak it openly and candidly? No. We keep everything really very tight-lipped,” he answered. “It is a topic of conversation whether you’re on one side or the other. It does come up in conversation. But we keep our political beliefs to ourselves and hope for the best.”
Freyberg admitted when he travels to Europe he queries the locals.
“The first thing I do when I get into a cab in London is ask if it’s true they talk about the political situation here in the States. They are. In France it’s the same.”
Back in D.C. people are now talking about the Dupont Circle area, but in a new way.
“Dupont Circle used to be pretty nasty stretch of town. Not anymore – now it’s the place to be,” said U.S. Congressman Fred Upton, a Republican from Michigan who has held office since 1987.
Freyberg said Dupont Circle Hotel is happy to help make Dupont Circle great again.
“I have been reading a book called ‘The History of Dupont Circle – the Center of High Society in the Capital.’ Dupont Circle back in its day was really the epicenter of Washington D.C. My goal is to bring it back to its former glory and at the hotel we are doing that day in and day out. We take that work very seriously.” he explained. “It’s just like any major city. I am a native New Yorker, and I remember when the Upper East Side was the place to be. Then it relocated down to Soho and to Tribeca and then to the East Village and now Nomad. It was, at one time, Dupont. We’re just brining it back home.”
Home, for Freyberg, was New York before he took the assignment to lead the Dupont Circle Hotel.
“Being from New York I never took Washington D.C. very seriously. I always thought of it as a place for business and Congress of course and politics. But now that I’ve relocated here and I am becoming more and more a Washingtonian every day,” he said. “I notice the architecture is beautiful. It’s the most European city in the country – I strongly say that. And the museums all being complimentary is outstanding. It’s a beautiful walking city. And it’s below the Mason-Dixon Line so it’s not as cold. You really can enjoy the festivities outside. And Washington has become a true dining destination.”
Freyberg said the Dupont Circle Hotel is centrally located and convenient. There is a Metrorail station a half-block away if you want to take the subway to the National Mall or back to Reagan International Airport.
Michael Patrick Shiels hosts a capital-based, award-winning, syndicated morning radio program broadcast across Michigan. For a list of affiliate stations or podcasts see MiBigShow.com. He may be contacted at [email protected]