Washington’s high life

Washington’s high life

A $950 cognac, furs and more, plus scenes from our cover shoot

Published on December 8, 2016

Top: Supermodel Veronica Webb poses during the cover shoot for the magazine's Luxury Issue. (Curtis Eberhardt)
Above: At the Columbia Room in Northwest Washington, an ounce of an 1811 Napoleon cognac — from one of the most renowned cognac vintages in history — costs a hefty $950. It’s the most expensive of almost two dozen vintage spirits priced by the ounce. (Dixie D. Vereen)

For your average barfly, the Columbia Room’s prix fixe Tasting Room cocktail menu — which starts at $79 for three cocktails paired with small bites in the meticulous Blagden Alley lounge — is a splurge. But even the Columbia Room’s priciest “experiences,” which incorporate champagne and osetra caviar, are far cheaper than the cost of a single ounce of cognac in the bar’s Spirits Library.

Okay, it’s not just any cognac: It’s an 1811 Napoleon cognac, from one of the most renowned cognac vintages in history, which is why its price tag is a hefty $950, the most expensive of almost two dozen vintage spirits priced by the ounce.

For Columbia Room founder Derek Brown,  a library of historical spirits is like a  cellar of vintage wines. “You’re not just buying something old, you’re buying something indicative of a different era, something very rare,” he says.

The Columbia Room’s selection was acquired with the help of local spirits collector Brian Robinson. “We’re all looking for something unique that tells a story,” Brown says. That includes tracking down bottles of Maryland rye, a style of whiskey that’s almost disappeared.

Only two bottles have been finished since the Columbia Room’s opening, Brown says — vintage Fernet and Chartreuse, which are favorites with off-duty bartenders.

If Brown has one complaint about the collection, it’s this: “Everybody’s sipping everything neat. There’s no adventure! I can’t wait for the person who comes in and says, ‘I want a $2,500 Sazerac.’ We can make it.” He pauses. “It’ll have to be a good-looking ice cube.”

— Fritz Hahn

Video #1 subheadline

At Liljenquist & Beckstead Jewelers in Tysons Galleria, high-end timepieces, from top: Jaeger-Le Coultre’s Reverso One Duetto Moon in pink gold ($23,800), the Hublot Big Bang Jeans Steel Diamonds watch ($18,300) and the men’s watch IWC Le Petit Prince Chronograph ($5,400). (Bill O'Leary)

The Swiss watch industry has had a tough year with  the retreat of Chinese luxury consumers. But for those who hanker for the artisanal, handmade timepieces will always hold a special appeal. Only a Rolex Oyster can claim to have proved its mettle as the world’s first waterproof watch after Mercedes Gleitze wore one while swimming across the English Channel in 1927.

To get a sense of what Washingtonians are coveting for their wrists this holiday season, we asked buyers at McLean, Va.-based Liljenquist & Beckstead Jewelers what timepieces they anticipate will soon be flying out of their stores.

Practical, put-together women will appreciate the elegance and versatility of Jaeger-Le Coultre’s Reverso One Duetto Moon in pink gold ($23,800, Tysons Galleria). It has two sides: one with a white face and black Arabic numerals, the other with a crescent moon against a shimmering  background. For those whose style is more Beyoncé than Laura Bush, there’s the Hublot Big Bang Jeans Steel Diamonds watch ($18,300, Tysons Galleria). Stainless steel and diamonds offer an opulent contrast to the carefully scuffed denim strap.

For men, there’s the  IWC Le Petit Prince Chronograph ($5,400, Tysons Galleria). It features a brown calfskin strap and a midnight blue face surrounded by stainless steel.

— Annys Shin

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Martha Slagle, vice president and general manager of Neiman Marcus in Friendship Heights, with red, white and blue furs for inauguration week. (April Greer)

Every four years, Martha Slagle prepares for a post-election ritual that happens regardless of who won the White House: the inauguration week fur rush.

As vice president and general manager of Neiman Marcus at Mazza Gallerie in Friendship Heights, Slagle makes sure to stock at least 300 or so fur coats, just in case. This year, the store has added red, white and blue furs to the mix for customers who are feeling extra patriotic.

Washington summers are notoriously hot and miserable, so some out-of-towners are shocked, shocked to discover that January can be freezing. “People arrive for the inauguration and don’t realize how cold it is,” says Slagle. “And they don’t realize a lot of events are outside.”

Her phones start ringing once guests and performers realize that, despite their VIP status, their cozy limo isn’t allowed past the security barricades and they have to walk to receptions, balls and concerts — and sit outside for hours during the swearing-in ceremony.

Some opt for the understated furs — say, a reversible shearling or a classic mink — which run about $10,000. But some throw caution and budget to the wind and spring for a sable, which sells for more than $50,000.

“We like those last-minute purchases,” Slagle says.

Slagle doesn’t get much sleep during inauguration week. As a veteran of six inaugurations, she’s ready for the well-heeled partygoer who suddenly needs a designer evening gown, tuxedo or a full-length fur, which can be found at both the store itself and in pop-up boutiques in luxury hotels around town.

One year, a staffer called in a panic seeking a makeup artist for the soon-to-be first lady; another time she ordered a pair of custom-made shoes — dyed the perfect color — for the same VIP customer just days before the swearing-in ceremony.

Grateful customers have coined a nickname for her: “Martha 911.”

— Roxanne Roberts

Video #3 subheadline

A Mano owner Adam Mahr says he aims to carry “what I would want to give personally to someone as a gift.” (April Greer)

In an ivy-covered 19th-century Georgetown house, Adam Mahr sells luxury goods to people who really don’t need a thing.

“My typical customer walks in and says, ‘I need a gift for someone who has everything,’ ” says Mahr, owner of the shop A Mano, known for elegant tableware and home accessories. “I tell them I will help them find the perfect gift.”

His shop is made up of two small houses joined by a brick courtyard, a property once the residence of the late Julia Child and husband Paul. Mahr opened it in 1994 to sell Italian ceramics, something he fell in love with on a European sojourn. Hence the name A Mano, which means “by hand” in Italian and Spanish. Over the years, he developed a loyal, well-heeled customer base and added William Yeoward English crystal, high-thread-count linens, purses and chocolate truffles. If you stop in, you might run into the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Renée Fleming or Ellen DeGeneres browsing the treasure-filled warren of rooms.

Mahr says that after the 2008 recession, luxury was gone for a long time. Now it’s back.

“We are still here because my sense of luxury was never the old-fashioned meaning —  that if it’s expensive, it’s a luxury item. For me, luxury is always about the shopping experience,” Mahr says. “People have to make a connection with an item. The experience has to appeal to all your senses. We have Pink Martini-ish music playing in the background, the scent of burning candles.” His gift boxes are tied with silk or grosgrain ribbon. He and his staff (ages 22 to 70) know the inside story on all the merchandise — the $250 mink slippers and $36 feather napkin rings. Mahr, 57, says his philosophy is, “I want to carry what I would want to give personally to someone as a gift.”

Real luxury, he says, is taking the time to search for a present that makes a personal connection to the recipient. What are their interests? What places have you gone together?

“It’s not the price tag or the designer label,” Mahr says. “The gift should represent the meaningful bond between the one who purchased it and one who gets it. That’s a luxurious gift.”

— Jura Koncius