During a time when Washington D.C. is mired in more controversy than perhaps ever before, you could have forgiven The Watergate hotel if it had used a recent rebrand to distance itself from a slightly patchy history.
Synonymous with scandal, the hotel closed a little over a decade ago, in 2007. But, upon reopening, rather than sweeping its 1970s transgressions under the shag pile carpet, this institution of impropriety has wholeheartedly embraced its shady past.
Today, the room keys read ‘No need to break in’, pencils dare you to steal them — we did — and the phone lines, in lieu of hold music, play Nixon speeches. Even the phone number itself, 617-1972, takes its inspiration from June 17, 1972, the day five men broke into the Watergate Complex and changed American history forever.
Room 214, the ‘Scandal Suite’, is aptly decorated with newspaper clippings and photos of the disgraced President, a bookcase full of John Le Carré spy novels and a copy of the Pentagon Papers. In the ensuite, a robe hangs from a hook, wryly embroidered with the words ‘Cover Up’.
Tackling its history head-on is a savvy, self-aware move from the hotel — and one that draws parallels with modern day D.C.
It’s no secret that the current occupant of the Oval Office is a divisive figure. And, inevitably, the city is changing. But, although anti-Trump graffiti is scrawled across road signs, everyone you’ll meet — from shopkeepers to bell boys — seem reluctant to discuss their political leanings.
It’s refreshing, far from what you’d expect, and forces you to look beyond the politics for which the city is globally known.
But that’s a blessing. Be it stuffing yourself on a food tour of U Street (carpedecfoodtours.com, from $73), taking in a show at the Kennedy Center (kennedy-center.org) or losing a day in the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (nmaahc.si.edu, free), there is much more to Washington than its politics.
The same can be said for The Watergate itself. The hotel may nod to its past — the 60s-inspired staff uniforms were designed by Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant — but it is firmly footed in the future.
Curved golden interiors offer a smooth caramel centre to the monolithic modern architecture of the outside and the rooftop bar, as well as becoming a D.C hotspot, also offers winning views of the Potomac River, Washington Monument and The Pentagon.
No wonder people wanted to break in.
The Watergate Hotel
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