Washington DC Hotel Gem Has Your Perfect Location And Is Better Than Ever
For its meager population, the nation’s capital has an impressive array of great hotels. The reason for this is tourism and business/diplomatic travel, but oddly, most of newer and best luxury hotels (Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton Georgetown, Rosewood, etc.) are in Georgetown, and not especially convenient to most of the things people visit DC for, which is the monuments, museums, Capitol, White House, Mint, National Mall, and downtown businesses.
I used to live in DC, and have stayed at most of the top hotels, and in terms of location my pick would be the DuPont Circle area, which is walking distance to many of the top tourist attractions, in the heart of the business district, walkable to the vibrant Foggy Bottom/George Washington University neighborhood, and also extremely convenient to Georgetown, thanks to the unique Circulator, a special modern bus that runs back and forth very regularly and quickly between DuPont Circle and M Street in Georgetown, separate from the city’s other public buses, pleasant, very convenient, and just one dollar to ride. There is also a Metro station, putting the rest of the city within easy reach.
In this area it is hard to beat the DuPont Circle Hotel, an understated choice that doesn’t look like much from the innocuous outside but is packed with charms – and was totally refurbished just before the global COVID-19 pandemic.
I picked the hotel on my latest visit to the city, for two reasons, the location and because it is part of Ireland’s family-owned Doyle Collection, and I have happily stayed at some of their other properties (eight luxury urban hotels and country resorts in London, Dublin, Cork, and the Irish and English countryside) and thoroughly enjoyed them. The company combines a bit of European flair with first rate accommodations, food and service, and a family-pride driven penchant for reinvestment that is often all too absent in the increasingly profit margin driven world of big chain hotels. While some top hotel brands are cutting things like room service, maid service and live desk staff, The DuPont Circle Hotel is still very much about the human touch, and still doing turn down service, complete with custom chocolates.
The DuPont Circle Hotel is the brand’s only U.S. property and feels like the kind of place, where, as in London, the GM meets returning guests personally (the have a LOT of repeat clients) and the doormen recognize you when you come and go. Fittingly the hotel is just blocks from the Irish Embassy and Ambassador’s residence, and visiting dignitaries – including the country’s Prime Minister – stay here and call the hotel their home away from the Emerald Isle. Michigan-based travel journalist and award-winning radio host Michal Patrick Shiels broadcast his show live from the hotel for several days earlier this year, entertaining members of Congress there, and later wrote for Gannett newspapers, “Entering the Dupont Circle Hotel feels like being welcomed into an upscale club – a stylish but comfortable one at which you are the most important member.”
All guests enjoy the VIP feel, but mere mortals can also take it up a notch, as the hotel is a preferred member of the luxury Virtuoso travel consortium, meaning that if you book through a Virtuoso affiliated advisor (aka travel agent, and most of the best are Virtuoso -affiliated), you get lots of extras like late/early check-in, room upgrades, breakfast, etc.
The redone rooms are like new, spacious and very comfortable, with luxury bathrooms including heated marble floors and towel racks and a staggering array of amenities: top shelf Malen + Goetz bath products, replicated across the tubs, shower and sinks, plus the extras you only get at the best hotels, from shaving kits to toothpaste and mouthwash. Rooms have extremely comfortable beds, down comforters and high thread count European linens and Nespresso machines. One hidden from the eye part of the renovation was replacement of the HVAC system, and the thermostat precisely and comfortably cools (or heats the room), something that I have found oddly lacking at so many hotels around the world, where the temperature on the display rarely matches real life. The hotel has a small but well-equipped 24-hour fitness center, and I visited every day without ever seeing another guest. It is also dog friendly, a big plus. Top floor suites have large open heated private balconies overlooking the neighborhood, and add jetted tubs. The ninth floor has its own controlled elevator access and can be taken as a private buy out for the Presidential and twelve other penthouse suites.
One big highlight is the hotel bar, another its restaurant. I have a friend who works in finance nearby and he tells me that the Doyle, the hotel’s lobby bar, has become the gold standard for after work cocktails in his sphere, and they serve a long list of well-thought-out craft cocktails in addition to an array of draught beers and wines by the glass. It’s an upscale but welcoming watering hole with a lot of semi-private circular table seating, perfect for small groups and date nights. A Chicago Tribune critic wrote, “I was enchanted by the bar, a throwback to the classic cocktail lounge of the 1940s and ’50s with dim lighting, discreet seating and soft music that provides a backdrop for conversation rather than drowning it out with ear-shattering music as so many of today’s bars do. With atmosphere to spare plus classic cocktails (you can even sign up for a mixology class with the bartenders), it’s no wonder The Pembroke has become a sort of clubhouse for the Dupont Circle set.”
When the Pembroke restaurant opened as part of the big redo, it showed off a $5 million name-brand interior designer investment, and the city’s food critics immediately acclaimed it as a big and much needed addition to the neighborhood, with the most influential of all, longtime Washington Post critic Tom Sietsa giving it 2.5 stars (Good/Excellent) and describing it as “cut from a different cloth” than anything nearby, calling the look “a space where coral couches and floor-to-ceiling windows help raise the bar for eating and drinking in the neighborhood.” Eater.com put it as Number One on its list of places in the city for a “Quiet, Intimate Dinner,” and called it a “stylish and gorgeous new restaurant in the Dupont Circle Hotel. You can find handmade pastas, a fantastic lamb tagine, and a snapper with red curry along with fresh salads, crudos and more. To splurge, go with the Chateaubriand for two.”
It describes itself as “contemporary American fare with global influences,” but I got more of a European with global influences vibe, mixing Pacific Rim, North African, Italian, French and American, tied together with a British Isles feel. A friend in from London had dinner with me and felt right at home, saying it reminded him of the better eateries in the UK capitol. The menu included lots of raw Asian seafood options, Mediterranean dishes like grilled octopus, fancier pastas, and a European classic you don’t see enough here, a well-executed veal chop Milanese, pounded very thin and topped with flavorful baby lettuces. Dover sole – the real prized thing, not the more common ersatz version found on so many menus – is a signature of the Doyle Collection and showcased across the varied eateries. It’s a stylish restaurant with excellent service – pretty rare these days – and a comprehensive wine list by the bottle and glass. I thoroughly enjoyed the Pembroke and would recommend it even if you stay somewhere else. Not surprisingly, given the Irish roots, they also serve an excellent breakfast, with standout corned beef hash and several signature benedicts, and the hotel offers some European-style bed and breakfast packages. They also take advantage of the city’s fair weather with outdoor terrace seating from spring to fall, especially popular these days but always a nice option. There is also a small coffee and pastry mini-café in the lobby, a nice departure from the myriad Starbucks nearby.
Most recently, in May 2022 the Doyle Collection received Gold Status across all of its properties from one of the best-established sustainability assessments in the travel industry, Green Tourism (founded 1997). Green Tourism assists businesses in reducing their environmental impact through United Nations -backed sustainability standards, which are based on three fundamental pillars (People, Places and Our Planet) and evaluate 70 indicators across 15 sustainability goals (such as carbon, waste, water, biodiversity, local produce and products, ethical purchasing, health and wellbeing, equality and inclusivity, culture and heritage, active travel and community giving, etc.). This is especially relevant today because a number of recent surveys have shown that consumers are demanding far more from the tourism industry in terms of sustainability, and giving preference to hotels that do a good job at it.
Washington DC is an international city, and the DuPont Circle Hotel is a perfect match, with facilities up to snuff with the best American luxury hotels and a touch of European flair in the food and service, and is a perfect perch, whether exploring the capitol as a tourist or visiting on business.