I was late, by almost two hours. And if I were staying at a hotel, staffed 24/7, it wouldn’t have mattered. But as I approached the Akwaaba Bed and Breakfast in Dupont Circle on a recent January weekend, I remembered: B&Bs are not hotels.
Sometimes that’s for the better (when a place and its owner charm you in a way that a hotel never could), and sometimes it’s for the worse (when the inn’s quirky character and friendliness come at the expense of convenience or efficiency). Hotels are from Mars; B&Bs are from Venus.
The door to the handsome 1890s townhouse on 16th Street NW was locked, but a note instructed me to call a New York number. On the other end, Erica, who manages Akwaaba’s home office in Brooklyn, explained that the owner’s college-age daughter, Glynn, who was managing the Washington place that day, had had to get to class at Howard University. She gave me the key code to get in, told me how to find my room, offered nearby restaurant suggestions and said that Glynn would be back to host the nightly wine hour early that evening.
I wasn’t the only guest that night, but the others must have been out, because the place was stone silent. All the better for my immediate plan: a nap. I dropped my bags in my room, the Romance Suite, and fell asleep, hard, in the four-poster canopy bed. The Akwaaba could set anybody at ease, even someone whose aesthetic might not exactly match that of the room’s Pottery Barn-meets-bordello style.
I awoke to a toasty/cheesy smell, but it must have been concocted by ghosts, because when I ambled downstairs, I was still alone. It wasn’t until I returned from running some errands that I finally saw another soul: a Frenchwoman here from Bahrain for a conference, awaiting her shuttle and leaving that night. I also found the chardonnay, nuts, fruit, meatballs and spanakopita left out by those ghosts, who of course turned out to be Glynn, the cheerful daughter of owner Monique Greenwood.
Greenwood, a former editor in chief of Essence magazine, went into the B&B business 16 years ago, and her three-and-counting inns have Afrocentric touches here and there. At the Washington property, most of the rooms are named for such authors as Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and Walter Mosley, and the shelves hold volumes of their works for guests to browse through. I’d chosen the Romance Suite because the room named for Hughes, one of my favorites, was taken, and because I thought that the two-person shower might be a nice amenity since I was visiting a special someone. As it turned out, that shower could use some updating. And the room’s shades were a couple of inches short. Romance was saved by velvet drapes.
After poking around the inn and into rooms whose doors stood wide open, making them ripe for snooping, I knew that next time, I’d try to snag one of the other eight rooms whose decor relies less on crimson, fringe and rose petals. (The top-floor Inspiration Room looks particularly inviting.)
No matter which room you choose, you’ll have access to Akwaaba’s considerable hospitality, which is in full force in the mornings. I’m not at my best pre-caffeine, so I usually dread the second B in B&B. Besides the requirement of conversation, there’s the gut-busting food that must be out of some dated innkeeper handbook: cream-cheese-stuffed caramelized French toast and the like.
Akwaaba has apparently thrown out the handbook, thankfully. Greenwood herself was in the house in the morning, having taken over from her daughter; she manages the place every January and February when her on-site manager vacations in Florida. And she served me whole-wheat blueberry pancakes with eggs and turkey bacon, hearty and delicious but also relatively healthful — a preview of the style of cooking she’s planning to feature at the spa she’s opening in Pennsylvania this year. Better yet, she was perfectly charming: intuitive about my need for a constant flow of coffee and gently conversational as I gradually came to life. When another guest joined us — a part-time farmer from Kenya, here for the same conference as the Frenchwoman — the talk turned to sustainable agriculture and a comparison of garden pests in the Mid-Atlantic, southern Maine (where I’m living this year) and Africa. (No contest; he has monkeys to contend with.)
Soon enough, I realized that there was one burning question I’d neglected to ask Greenwood: What does the word “Akwaaba” translate to in English, anyway? It’s from a language spoken in Ghana, she replied. “And it means welcome.”
Given my experience, I should have known.
Akwaaba Bed and Breakfast
1708 16th St. NW
Rooms $145-$285, depending on season and events in town.