Bed Check

The Hay-Adams hotel in Washington, D.C.

The lobby of the Hay Adams exudes old-fashioned charm.
The lobby of the Hay Adams exudes old-fashioned charm. (Hay Adams)
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By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 24, 2010; 4:14 PM

The Hay-Adams proclaims that it's the place "where nothing is overlooked but the White House."

Unfortunately, my sixth-floor room at the recently renovated hotel off Lafayette Square didn't overlook the White House at all. The view from my window was of an office building. And it was a great one: I could clearly see a woman shuffling around her office. But how could I complain when I was paying a promotional rate of only $249, down from the usual $425 minimum, for my night in these historic digs?

And nothing else seemed to be overlooked during my stay. When the doorman spotted me lugging my bag up the driveway, he immediately rushed over to help. The front desk clerk offered me a chocolate chip cookie while he processed my credit card. My room-service breakfast came with free bottled Fiji water.

And heaven forbid that I should have to make the trek to my room alone. An employee named Sean escorted me, hung my coat in the closet and pointed out what I needed to know about the room. (I particularly appreciated his warning that anything I pulled out of the mini-bar would immediately be charged to my room. I've stayed at places where I had to learn that the hard way.)

I would expect no less from one of Washington's most sophisticated hotels. Among its most famous past guests: Sinclair Lewis, Amelia Earhart, Ethel Barrymore and Charles Lindbergh. President Obama and his family stayed there before his inauguration.

The Hay-Adams was built in 1928, on the site of homes owned by John Hay, secretary of state under presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, and Henry Adams, a descendant of presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Legend has it that Henry's wife, Marian Hooper Adams, who committed suicide on the site in 1885, haunts the hallways. (If she does, I missed her.)

And what grand hallways they are. Everything about the Hay-Adams is elegant, from its Italian Renaissance facade to the lavish flower arrangements to the white and gold ceiling in the lobby. After its latest renovation, completed last month, the property also has new landscaping at the main entrance, new front doors, new elevator interiors (solid oak walls and marble floors) and a new concierge desk.

The rooms have been updated as well, with features such as in-room safes large enough for laptops and high-definition televisions nestled in armoires. There's now a Bose Wave music CD system with iPod capability in every room, along with a collection of CDs. (Unfortunately, I didn't feel like listening to Michael Buble or Whitney Houston.) A modernized business center and a new fitness center round out the renovations. And by January, Top of the Hay, the rooftop terrace, will reopen, but alas, only for private events.

What appealed to me most about my room, though, was the old-fashioned decor. There was something dignified about the tan-on-cream wallpaper, the crown molding and the high ceilings. I slept deeply beneath the goose down duvet on my queen-size bed. I only wish that my room had been bigger. The bathroom was so cramped that the towel rack was stationed directly above the toilet. And in a shower that small, I didn't understand the need for two showerheads.

If you ask me, the best part of the Hay-Adams is the basement bar, Off the Record. It's about as old-school Washington as you can get. Don't be surprised to spot a member of Congress sitting in one of the red banquettes. It's also billed as "the perfect place to be seen and not heard," though the diners two tables over from my friend and me seemed to be eavesdropping on our conversation. I wasn't so happy with their attention, but I did enjoy the attention we got from our waiter. Although the bar was packed, he made sure that our glasses remained full. At our table, nothing was overlooked.

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