It’s true that Washington, D.C. has a reputation for being political. It is, after all, our country’s capital. But what rustles under the sheath of lobbying, congressional hearings, and policy making is a dynamic lifestyle rumble—one that can be heard from an array of hotels, bars, restaurants, and nightlife hotspots.
If you get tips from the locals, they’ll tell you that Blagden Alley is packed with some of their favorite places, like Tiger Fork, Calico, Columbia Room, and The Dabney. They’ll say that they love the curated treats at Union Market and Eastern Market, waterfront views and bites at The Wharf, and must-haves at spots like Ben’s Chili Bowl, Ted’s Bulletin, and DCity Smokehouse.
And now, they’ll tell you to hit the Conrad Washington, DC hotel—for its hospitality, gastronomy, and mixology offerings, no doubt, but for its art collection, striking interior design, and expansive rooftop views, too.
On April 9, we gathered with over 400 city officials and hospitality leaders to welcome the stunning new Hilton-owned hotel to the dynamic City Center neighborhood. The first Herzog & de Meuron building in D.C., the hotel’s breathtaking façade first strikes with its gleaming exterior. Inside, guests are immediately greeted with elegant marble floors leading you toward the lobby.
There, per special requests by the architects, is a space designed in the shape of their home country—Switzerland. The curvy meeting point, arguably the heartbeat of the hotel, frames the art piece that hangs above: a gargantuan, can’t-miss moon phase light fixture that changes throughout the day. Surrounding its parameters, hanging from the exceptionally high ceilings, is a 10,000-pound chain mesh curtain.
“I have such a great deal of respect for Herzog & de Meuron, and they are extremely thoughtful, so they were great to work with,” said Lauren Rottet, Founding Principal and President of Rottet Studio, who designed the interior. “I wanted the interior to feel a little warmer than the building, so you almost wouldn’t know where they stopped and we started, so I got in their heads a lot. Behind the scenes, we talked and collaborated a lot. But our role and our charge was really to stay in the contemporary vein, and be warm, inviting, and comfortable. Immediately, we chose oak wood and white marble. White marble relates back to the more modern D.C.—the grand buildings, our nation’s capital, the stateliness—and the wood relates back to the ancient, early days of America.”
As you make your way to the elevators—leading you to ten floors of 360 guest rooms and suites, ballrooms, business rooms, bars and restaurants, two outdoor terraces, and more—it’s not easy to pass by a blank canvas. The hotel’s private art collection, full of over 30 (mostly commissioned) pieces, awakens the space with site-specific works like a calming wrap-around canvas piece by New York-based artist Landon Metz. While stopping to admire the creativity, we were introduced to the curator, Judith Tatar from Tatar Art Projects.
“The narrative that we wove was based on three curatorial themes,” said Tartar. “One, a reaction to what’s going on in Washington. That you can be affective quietly, and not be coercive, and that the artwork would draw you in and be something that you investigate. It could be unexpected in terms of the textile or materials used. So, you’ve got self-power. Second, urban architecture and symmetry of the city itself, and how it connects back to the way Versailles was laid out. So, urban symmetry. Lastly, you have a very important art movement that started here in Washington in 1950s and ‘60s called the Washington Color School. So, everyone we worked with was somehow connected to one of those three narratives. Landon Metz, for instance was inspired by Morris Lewis, one of the founders of the Color School.”
On our way to explore the building’s amenities, we noticed on the third floor that the perimeter was held up by large zig-zag trusses, allowing for the ballrooms to exist without columns. The smart, dynamic design also delicately juxtaposed that room’s lighting sculpture—Falling Flowers, crafted by a Czech glass maker—that hung from a circular mirrored ceiling.
From there, we stopped by Estuary—the famed new restaurant by the Voltaggio brothers, Michael and Bryan—for a reimagined seafood snack. The menu, featuring sourced ingredients from the Chesapeake Bay, was full of distinct flavors and unique textures. We tried bites of the lamb pastrami, the tuna tartare, and the Maryland crab roll, and topped it all off by a must-have dessert: Cookies and Cream, a dish made of caramelized white chocolate, chocolate pudding, and crème fraiche rocks.
Upstairs, we took a peek at the Sakura Club—an exclusive offering for visitors staying on the tenth floor. The elegant space features an open kitchen, buffet-style bites, whisky tastings, a freezer stocked with desserts, and an all-day menu that constantly changes to draw inspiration from various countries’ cuisines. Inside and enjoying ramen from that day’s Japan-focused selection, we found Martin Rinck, the Executive Vice President and Global Head of the Luxury and Lifestyle Group at Hilton.
“This new property is without a shadow of a doubt the new gold standard for what the Conrad brand stands for—not just in the United States, but internationally. Having worked over ten years in the Asia Pacific, opening a few over there, I have to say this is absolutely on par with what the Conrad has over there,” said Rinck. “My favorite? That’s hard… I love The Sakura Club because I love to eat, and I love the zen-like design and the Japanese influence. But let’s for Summit this afternoon.”
As the sun fell, tucking behind the buildings, we made our way up to the rooftop bar, Summit, which opened for the first time that night. The wrap-around rooftop space, outfitted with sweeping views from every direction and dotted with elegant outdoor furniture and foliage, featured a large candle-lit bar, high and low top tables, and cozy, low-seat nooks. As lightly, lively music played, we enjoyed sips of rosé, took photos as mementos, and toasted to the new property. It’s true that there’s a new D.C. on the horizon, and it’s awakened with the debut of the Conrad Washington, DC.