This time of year finds bars festooned with garlands and lights, bars covered with kitschy decorations and bars serving seasonal tiki drinks. But no happy-hour experience in Washington immerses you in the holiday spirit like the Willard Intercontinental Hotel’s free holiday caroling performances, which happen nightly.
The grand old hotel lobby is decorated with wreaths, bows and a colorful tree that nearly touches the 22-foot ceiling. Earlier this week, guests, families and workers from nearby offices gathered around the lounge-like Lincoln Library to hear the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington harmonize and beatbox their way through “All I Want For Christmas is You,” “Jingle Bell Rock” and a brilliant version of Toto’s “Africa.” The sparkling lights, and the sparkling wine served in the historic Round Robin Bar, made the mood even brighter.
For 17 years, the Willard has invited local choral groups to sing in its ornate marble lobby. It’s become one of the most versatile holiday destinations in town: The classy decorations and the beautiful music make it a good place to take parents or visiting relatives, and the downtown location, 5:30 p.m. start time and Round Robin scene make it a natural gathering spot for friends after work or a date before dinner. If you want to sneak away to perch on chairs in the lobby and chat for a few minutes, or go to the bar between songs, that’s fine, too. (Just be warned that the lobby can be noisy, so you can’t always hear the tunes if you’re seated far away. A limited number of chairs are available directly in front of singers.) During breaks in the music, you can pose for photos in front of the decorations and check out the trees, bedecked with official White House Christmas ornaments.
As impressive as the setting are the variety of musical styles on the calendar: the gospel and African American spirituals from Heritage Signature Chorale (Dec. 9); intricate a cappella arrangements from Vox Pop (Dec. 20); and school groups, such as the Georgetown Visitation Chorus (Dec. 16) and the Arlington Children’s Chorus (Dec. 11).
Although the performances are free, the drinks are not cheap: Seasonal house cocktails cost $16, and a glass of prosecco is $12. But between the music, the decorations and the glowing vibe, the Willard’s lobby is a place to relax and linger.
The Willard Hotel Lobby, 1401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Performances daily though Dec. 23 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., with an intermission from 6:15 to 6:45 p.m. Free.