They'll Leave A Lot of Lights On for You

Monday, October 15, 2007

The old Holiday Inn in Bethesda has turned hip. After an ownership change and a $23 million makeover, the hotel -- now called the Doubletree Hotel & Executive Meeting Center -- has thrown out its stuffy oriental rugs and put in Wii game consoles, wine and sushi bars, and Zen-inspired candles. Lots of candles.

Each night, staff members light up 500 candles in the lobby and restaurant area, called the great room, to "celebrate the perfect day and welcome the beginning of a mysterious night," said Michael McMahon, the hotel's general manager. (But hold off calling the fire department, squad Most of the candles lining the staircase and walls are electric.)

Mood lighting is the latest fancy touch added to the Doubletree by its owners, Thayer Lodging Group, the Annapolis hotel company co-founded by longtime Washington investor Frederic V. Malek. Over the summer, Thayer installed a purification system in the hotel's meeting rooms to help keep air fresher and cleaner with an eye toward drawing more business customers.

"We're focused on giving a healthy and relaxing alternative," said Tim Jones, executive director of Thayer Lodging, which bought the hotel on Wisconsin Avenue in 2005 and converted it into a Doubletree in February 2006.

A recent grand opening for the great room was marked by a dramatic candle-lighting. Waiters marched through the lobby with trays full of votive candles while hotel officials and local executives chipped at huge blocks of pungent cheese, sipped wine and tried out the game room.

Sitting at tall cushioned booths with overstuffed pillows, diners at the OZ restaurant could choose from a menu of items all less than 490 calories -- from the 4-ounce lamb T-bone with smokehouse bacon to the espresso-rubbed 5-ounce filet mignon with parsnip puree and honey balsamic glaze.

For guests Kandy and Mike Hicks, from Fenwick, W.Va., the techno dance music in the background was a bit too loud and the OZ was too dark. But they were back for a second night for dinner. "The prime rib is great and you get a big piece," said Kandy, a retiree, who added: "The lights are pretty, too."

-- Cecilia Kang


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