Red floors. Red walls. Red chairs, red lamps, red curtains. Red wax lips nestled among the booze bottles and the nuts in the minibar. Sheets trimmed in red. Staff members wearing red ties.
If there’s a hotel in Washington that more completely lives up to its name than Hotel Rouge, I can’t think of it. Part of the Kimpton chain, the Rouge, which opened in 2001 and underwent a renovation last year, strikes a playful, sexy tone that’s refreshingly out of character with its surroundings. While nearby Scott Circle plays host to the stern statues of Gen. Winfield Scott, statesman Daniel Webster and physician Samuel Hahnemann, a line of Venuses flanks the front of Rouge like so many showgirls, promising that a break from all the seriousness of the capital resides inside.
Before I moved to southern Maine for the year, I walked by the hotel virtually every day on the way to or from work, yet I’d never stepped through the lobby doors. So when I came back for a visit this winter and needed an affordable perch in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, I couldn’t resist the Rouge.
My room was done up in . . . guess what color? Not 100 percent red, but black, white and gray, too. At 450 square feet, it was more than half the size of my entire apartment a few blocks away, with one other important distinction: Even though it was on the hotel’s busy 16th Street NW side, I could hardly hear any traffic. You gotta love soundproof windows.
One morning, though, I quickly discovered that although my room’s windows were airtight, the doors to the hallway were anything but. Even though I’d put out the “Do Not Disturb” sign, I was startled awake by a knock and that familiar trill of “Housekeeping!” Turns out that the housekeeper wasn’t ignoring my sign; she was knocking on the door to another room.
I was annoyed, but it was nothing that some earplugs, another hour in bed and some strong room service coffee couldn’t fix. In the mood for virtuous food to make up for the previous night’s indulgences, I tried a “healthy omelette,” made with one egg yolk and three whites, stuffed with veggies and low-fat cheese, and it revived me for another day of museumgoing and socializing.
The place comes with all the Kimpton trademarks: a welcoming pet program, environmental consciousness, bubbly but efficient service (especially helpful when you forget a razor and a toothbrush) and such touches as leopard-print robes, a fitness center, kid-friendly rooms with bunk beds and Xbox games, and an afternoon wine hour in the lobby. After a busy day of sightseeing, I considered working out in the fitness room, but one look at the five aerobic machines crammed into space for two (one of them blocking the water fountain) gave me claustrophobia. So I checked out the wine hour instead.
The Hair With Tippi Tour — a workshop led by celebrity hairstylist Tippi Shorter — was in the house, so the small lobby quickly filled with stylish attendees who were soon gobbling up cold sweet potato tots and gummy pizza and pouring glasses of Canyon Road cabernet and pinot grigio. It was all pleasant and lively enough, until the front door would blow open and a cold gust would blow in, sending shivers down spines. In the summertime, I imagine, the opposite temperature exchange must occur, none too pleasantly.
I sat on one of the black leather couches under a huge, striking collage of a woman’s face (black and white except for a splash of guess-what-color on her lips, eyes and nails), sipped my wine and contemplated a redesign. I’d knock down a wall or two to open up the lobby and, more importantly, double up the doors to keep more of the outside weather where it belongs.
Those Venus statues can handle any climate, after all.
1315 16th St. NW
Rooms in May start at $209, or $188 with AAA membership.
Yonan is on leave from The Washington Post to work on book projects in southern Maine. Reach him through his Web site, www.joeyonan.com.