The View Is Awesome. The Lines Aren't.
By Fritz Hahn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 17, 2009
The buzz: It's all about the view.
And even if, like most Washingtonians, the city's monuments are little more than markers that measure your commute, the new W Hotel's Point of View Bar and Roof Terrace might give you a new outlook. From the 11th-floor balcony at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington is spread out before you. The Lincoln Memorial seems like it's set amid a forest, and from one of the low-slung lounge tables at the far end, you feel like you could reach out and touch the Washington Monument. The White House's East Wing is only a block away, and at sunset, it lights up like a gold-tinged jewel box. From almost any spot at the railing, you can watch planes take off from Reagan National Airport or see the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery and Old Town Alexandria.
Meanwhile, the bar serves Dark and Stormy rum cocktails, resplendent with fresh ginger, and tropical mai thais. Tasty mint juleps arrive in ice-cold metal cups.
The views aren't exactly new as this was once Hotel Washington's famed Sky Terrace. But if you remember the clunky metal chairs and food that was one step up from a Smithsonian cafeteria, the upscale new setting, with cushioned sofas and lounge chairs, will come as a shock.
"I did events here when it was Hotel Washington, and it was a different vibe: You brought Grandma and Grandpa up to see the view," said Susan Askew, a 33-year-old political fundraiser who was ordering drinks at the bar. Now, she said, the cocktails and the loungey setting have made it a much hipper destination. "D.C. has the demand for an upscale, not-22-year-old, bar like this. There are a lot of cool 30-somethings here," she said.
Despite the crowds and the new cool factor, she said she'd still recommend the bar's vistas to anyone. "The view can't be beat. There are great views in Washington, but for all the monuments and the White House, I don't think you can top it."
The scene: Since the doors opened last week, the W has been the biggest draw in town, for better and for worse.
During its grand opening and first weekend, long lines of people waiting to go up to the roof snaked through the lobby. One seven-person elevator runs from the lobby to P.O.V., and it's carefully guarded by staff members holding clipboards. Those with reservations go right up, while the people in line wait, hoping something opens up, though they can head to the Lobby Lounge's martini bar for a drink. This wait is naturally causing consternation among potential guests.
Aundria Cosby and Chelsea Pickens of Bowie said they'd RSVPed for July 8's grand opening on Facebook, but once they arrived, Cosby described the scene as "really chaotic." The pair finally made it to the roof, but once there, Pickens said it took 40 minutes to get a glass of wine. "They weren't prepared for the crowd," Pickens said, though she added that she'd still recommend the bar. "The atmosphere and the views are excellent, so I hate to be negative."
As we spoke, they got a call from a friend who was supposed to be meeting them on the roof; she was outside the hotel. The lobby had gotten so full that no one was being allowed inside unless they were a hotel guest.
That's the problem with hot new places: Everyone wants to go at once. With the capacity of the roof terrace capped at 104, it's tough to get in. (Sure, the hotel suggests that visitors can lounge in the 11th floor's dark marble cocktail bar or listen to DJs spin in the refitted lobby, full of comfortable couches, armchairs and hidden nooks, but the buzz thus far is all about the roof.)
Compounding the problem is that the W keeps a percentage of seats reserved for hotel guests, in case the couple in Room 715 decides to pop up for a nightcap. Even if the tables stay empty all night, the hotel keeps them roped off. The best bet is to make a reservation (202-661-2478) or just stop by early in the week or later in the evening, when the crowds aren't as thick. (The rooftop and lounge are open until 2 a.m. during the week and 3 a.m. on Saturday.)
Most agree the effort is worth it, though.
"I'm really glad the W finally got here," said Kamal Flucker, 31, who works in sales for Stars and Stripes newspaper and has visited the upscale hotel bars in New York and Miami. He couldn't wait to hit P.O.V.'s grand opening party. "The view is lovely; the White House is right there. The bar's enjoyable: pretty women, good conversation."
"This is probably one of the most impressive rooftop views I've ever experienced," said Stephanie Price, 25, who works across the street at Treasury. She and two friends had commandeered a table against the railing on the chaotic opening night . . . with a view of her workplace. "There aren't any great rooftops in D.C.," she lamented, so she plans on making the W a regular happy hour stop. "This is a great place to start off the evening."
On your plate: Expect more than the usual bar eats: spicy chicken samosas, a lush watermelon-and-goat-cheese salad and delicious tuna "crackers," with tuna flash-fried inside panko.
In your glass: The cocktail menu is crafted by Sasha Petraske, whose New York lounges Milk & Honey and Little Branch are credited with jump-starting the retro cocktail and neo-speakeasy trends. The inside and outside drink menus are different, so you'll find interesting drinks such as the St. Hilaire (champagne and elderflower liqueur) and an earthy pisco sour inside, and more summery beverages such as the pia colada (made with fizzy fresh pineapple juice) and the Strawberry Lemonade (fresh strawberries muddled with vodka and lemon juice) on the patio.
Price points: The great views don't come cheap: $15 for any of the (admittedly delicious) cocktails; the three dozen wines by the glass start at $9, and bottled beers are $6 and up. Food prices range from $9 for the samosas to $16 for the gourmet burger. Perhaps the prices are one way the hotel can guarantee a quicker turnover: Not many happy hour guests are going to linger for more than a few cocktails.