Bed Check: Funky rooms, funkier room service at Washington's Donovan House hotel

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 24, 2010

Here's the thing about Washington's Donovan House hotel: Unlike the many stodgy inns that dominate downtown, it's fun.

Not long ago, a friend and I swung like little kids in the two bubble-shaped chairs that hang from the ceiling in the lobby, and nobody said a word. One night last summer, some friends and I chatted up the bartender while having drinks at the rooftop pool bar. As we were leaving, he gave us a key that would let us into the pool, even though we weren't guests. We spent the next day sunbathing, swimming, drinking champagne and munching on sushi. It was bliss.

So I had high expectations for the 193-room Thompson Group hotel when my friend Daphne and I checked in recently for an overnight. We'd found a king superior room online for $135. Not bad for a downtown D.C. hotel, we thought.

But as soon as we walked into our fifth-floor room, we realized that it hadn't been designed for us. The bed was covered in a white comforter with two lavender stripes down each side. Very minimalist. Above it was a chocolate-colored leather wrap canopy with recessed lights. The bottles of C.O. Bigelow shampoo and conditioner were quite nice, but there was only bar soap (I like my shower gel). There was no body lotion (I like to hydrate my skin). And there was no bathtub, just a cocoon-shaped shower.

"Very masculine," Daphne said.

Nonetheless, we appreciated the sophistication of the design by Studio Gaia. What we didn't appreciate was how small the room was, despite the plethora of mirrors creating the illusion of more space.

The minibar almost made up for the room's size. It was stocked with Francis Ford Coppola wine, a mini-bottle of Veuve Clicquot, and Dean and DeLuca products.

After scoping out the room, Daphne and I hit the gym. There was a lot packed into the tiny space: four treadmills, two Stairmasters, a bike and weights. There were also used towels on the floor and no cups for the water cooler.

Later, we had a drink at Zentan, the hotel restaurant. Daphne asked the waiter how full the hotel gets in January. Not very, he said, suggesting that we ask for an upgrade, because other guests were getting them. Daphne went straight to the front desk and returned to say that upgrades were available for an extra $15. We went for it.

The view from our original room had been of a building and a courtyard. From our upgraded 10th-floor room, the National City Christian Church, which towers over Thomas Circle, was right in front of us. The room was almost twice as large as the first one, and the bathroom had a tub as well as a doorless cocoon-shaped shower. We were thrilled.

Until we ordered room service the next morning. The listed options for a continental breakfast included a bagel with cream cheese, assorted pastries, tomato and mozzarella, granola and yogurt, and coffee and juice. I couldn't figure out whether we had to select one or got them all.

"We can tailor it to your needs," said the person who took my order at 7:20 a.m. He said he'd give us each a hard-boiled egg (not even on the list), some pastries, coffee, juice and yogurt.

I asked about the bagel and cream cheese. "We don't usually give out bagels," he said.

"But it's on the list of options," I pointed out. He agreed to get us some. It would take 10 to 15 minutes, he told me.

Our order arrived an hour later, after I called twice to complain. The employee who delivered it said that we wouldn't be charged. He left before I noticed that there were no cups or sugar for our coffee, no cream cheese for our cold bagels, no salt for our eggs and no spoons for our yogurt.

I called again to ask for the missing items. Daphne ate what she could and left for work. I stayed behind, diving into my yogurt with a fork.

Details: Donovan House

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