The buzz: The owners of the Jefferson Hotel spent two years updating the 16th Street property, which reopened in August, and one of the major changes involved its bar. The clubby old lounge has disappeared, and an expansive new one, called Quill, has taken its place.
Some of Quill is exactly what you would expect from a hotel in which rooms go for hundreds of dollars a night: It's warm and dimly lit. Portraits of presidents hang on oak-paneled walls. In one softly carpeted room, 18th-century maps follow Thomas Jefferson's travels through France and Italy's wine regions. A pianist tinkles "Georgia on My Mind" and other standards nightly from 9 to 11.
But there are surprises, such as the enormous custom-built glass bar, which glows orange in the center of the space, lending a futuristic touch to a room that could so easily have been stuffy.
On your way from the lobby, you'll pass "The Book Room," a cozy area with bookshelves, sofas and a fireplace. This is actually part of Quill, and an antique telephone allows you to place orders at the bar.
Quill is full of nooks and crannies, including a plush yellow booth tucked into an alcove. Need some privacy? Let the heavy curtains shield you from view. And around the corner from the main bar, two drawing-room-size "cabinets" with couches and comfortable chairs can be closed off with sliding doors. They're available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The scene: Take a seat, and bowls of roasted nuts, marinated Sicilian olives and macerated white asparagus and string beans arrive in front of you before you order drinks.
At the bar, Peggy Ballin, a D.C. public school teacher, chatted with her sister Christine Stroup, who was visiting from Connecticut. "I think it's very beautiful and classy, but it's also low-key," Ballin said. "And they make a fab cosmo!" She raved about the little touches, such as the cloth cocktail napkins provided to dab the corners of your mouth after taking a sip.
Stroup said the staff had charmed her on her first visit. "Sometimes, when a place is this sophisticated, it's not as welcoming or gracious. That's not the case here."
Alex Holzer was recruited from the three-star La Pergola restaurant in Rome to run the cocktail program. His specialties are long on fresh fruits and spices: The sparkling Papaya, Pepper and Prosecco gets its color and sweet flavor from red papaya flesh, mixed with lemon and orange, sprinkled with white pepper and topped with prosecco. He also infuses his own rums and vodkas for cocktails. (Be warned, though: The drinks can have a sweet edge to them.)
"It reminds me of Claridge's in London," said Joseph Keating, a lawyer having a martini at the bar with friends. "The way they make the cocktails -- the art and the show."
On your plate: Quill has a selection of tapas, including crostini and olives, fancy kobe beef brochettes and foie gras "bon bons," as well as high-end sandwiches, including a $23 dry-aged sirloin burger.
Price points: This is not a cheap-date option: The house cocktails are $15 each, while standards (a cosmo, sidecar, Manhattan, etc.) are $13. Glasses of wine start at $7 and are mostly in the $9-to-$13 range, but you can also have a glass of 1780 Borges Madeira Bual for $225.
-- Fritz Hahn (Oct. 2, 2009)