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Monday, April 23, 2007

Thing 28: Historic Hotels II

It seems only appropriate that for Sarah's bachelorette party, we would visit some historic hotels. After all, Thing 18 was her suggestion.

So as Sarah bids farewell to single-ness, her sister and best friend organized an excursion to two bars in historic DC hotels, and what better way to travel than by limo?

When we initially got in the limo, amid the photographs and champagne and the trying out of all the various buttons and switches, our chauffeur had been instructed to simply drive us around DC for the first half hour for a view of the sights. The tint of the windows in our luxurious vehicle added a deeper hue to the color of the white marble monuments and the grey-purple night sky. We passed the Capitol dome, the Washington, the Lincoln, the Jefferson, the World War II memorial with its dancing fountains and the Lincoln lit behind it...everything looked so beautiful in luminous white and tinted gray. Also, it's fab to see people peer at your limo and try and guess if anyone famous is in there.

Our first historic hotel bar was the Town & Country at the Mayflower Hotel, on Connecticut Avenue. The Mayflower was built in 1925 by the same developer who brought us Brookland. At its opening, it was nicknamed the "Grande Dame of Washington" for its luxury and elaborate trimmings. At the time, the hotel contained more gold trim than any other building in Washington, save the Library of Congress. Over the years, the hotel has figured into presidential history -- FDR composed his "nothing to fear but fear itself" inaugural address as a guest at the Mayflower, and his successor, Harry Truman, lived at the hotel for 90 days as the White House underwent renovations.

The Mayflower's bar, the Town & Country, is famous for its crowd of Washington's powerful and elite, but also for its bartender of 30 years, Sam. Sam is famous for his perfect mixing of 101 kinds of martinis, and entertaining patrons with his magic tricks. Unfortunately, Sam wasn't there for our visit, but we went ahead and ordered his signature cocktail, the Sam I Am.

The Town & Country is dimly lit, with rich wood furniture and many quiet corners for discussing state secrets. Our Sam I Ams were delicious, a mix of gin, amaretto and cranberry juice, that tasted reminiscent of an orange julius. GFD was there, and he ordered a Peppar Martini. Garnished with a single chili, the cocktail had just enough heat to leave the lips with a pleasant tingle.

The clientele and the bartenders were all exceedingly nice, happy to wish Sarah well and buy her drinks. We drank our martinis and then headed back to the limo for our second destination: the Round Robin bar at the Willard Hotel.

The Willard, located on Pennsylvania Ave (across the street from Pershing Square, where GFD and I had started our day what now felt like a lifetime ago), was founded in 1850 when Henry Willard bought the property. The hotel is nicknamed the "residence of presidents," hosting every president since Franklin Pierce at an event, as an overnight guest, or in the cases of Lincoln and Coolidge, as an extended stay resident. Delegates met at the Willard in 1861 as part of a Peace Conference in an attempt to avoid a civil war. Wilson formulated his League of Nations during meetings at the hotel. Martin Luther King, Jr. composed his "I have a dream" speech in his room at the Willard in the days before the March on Washington.

But the Willard is most famous for its lobby. Legend has it the term "to lobby" started there, when those seeking favors of President Ulysses S. Grant would approach him as he relaxed in the lobby of the Willard. And what a lobby it is. Everything is exquisite and over the top. Marble floors, golden accented ceilings, hanging lights that allow for the proper level of warm light and cool shadow. Beautiful arrangements of fresh flowers adorn the tables and live palms sit in Chinese cloisonne pots. The walls are all a pale yellow with turquoise trim and white accents.

The Round Robin bar is small, with a circular bar in the center of the room, and a handful of tables lining the dark green papered walls. Ink-drawn portraits of the bar's more famous regulars hang on the walls -- Eleanor Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain. The specialty drink is the mint julep, that signature drink of southern gentility, which we all ordered. A pint's worth of mint, bourbon and ice is what we all received, and if the champagne and the Sam I Am hadn't put us in a celebratory mood already, well a pint of bourbon would have done the trick all on its own.

We installed ourselves into a nook of the historic lobby and drank our tremendous drinks, talked and joked and laughed. We made speeches, toasted Sarah, even sang a little.

And then, at 12:30, before our limo turned back into a pumpkin, we set our now-empty pints down and left the ornate and beautiful historic space in time for the limo to carry us home.