Four Seasons Hotel, Washington, DC: A Hotel for
'Twas the week before Christmas, and the Four Seasons of
Washington, DC was aglow with the lights of Christmas trees. There
seemed a dozen of them, maybe more. Who counted? People walked down the
hotel lobby stopping at every one, transfixed. Each was unique, the
vision of a local florist or designer. One was threaded with coppery
balls, pine combs, and squares of silver and gold; another, hung with
opalescent globes, was pure white like a little tree in a snowy forest.
There was one studded with tiny lights and fuchsia bell-like ornaments,
yet another was trimmed with silvery stars. But the crowd pleaser, it
would seem, was wound through with tiny jewel-like ornaments. Clusters
of stuffed animals lay at the base, and miniature electric trains
circled the branches on a never-ending trip to never-never land.
It was altogether a story-book
welcome to the famed Washington property. Yet these
“hard-to-believe-it-isn’t-real” trees were more than holiday
decorations. For each would shortly be transferred to the homes of the
highest bidders at a silent auction that had been held a few weeks
earlier at the Four Seasons, part of a 700-person DC gala to benefit
Georgetown University's Children's Bone Marrow Research Center.
Christmas time at the Four Seasons
Hotel, Washington, DC was magical. But then again, any season would be
magical at this property. In a city renowned for historic sites, the
hotel is already a landmark, immediately identifiable at the foot of the
bridge where Pennsylvania Avenue runs into M Street, and the boulevard
of inaugural parades and nation-defining structures gives way to an
avenue of brick-paved sidewalks whose small shops, quiet restaurants,
and used-book stores evoke an America of an earlier day. Only twelve
blocks from the White House, the six-story, red-brick building of
irregular shape and angled roof lines is anchored in its picturesque
Georgetown setting. At the same time, it is a sentry on the doorstep of
the nation's capitol.
The hotel slopes downward to the
Chesapeake & Ohio Canal commissioned by George Washington to facilitate
shipping in the early days of the Republic. Rooms look out through huge
windows to the Canal or Rock Creek Park. Or they face interior
courtyards on either side of a glass-lined breezeway and atrium that
link the East and West Wings of the hotel. In one of the courts, an
arresting pair of Raymond Mason bas-reliefs embody the spirit of the
locale. At ground level against an exterior wall, a group of folk look
upwards; some are pointing to an opposite wall where amidst a swirl of
clouds, figures, horses, and muskets, the images of George Washington
and Pierre-Charles L’Enfant emerge, evoking the actual meeting of the
pair in a Georgetown tavern over the course of several days in March
1791 when the first president of the United States and the French
architect worked on designs for the site of the new nation's federal
Historic allusions notwithstanding,
this Four Seasons -- which is nearing its 30th birthday -- seems
sparkling new; it delivers all one would expect from the brand.
Everything looks good. Everything works well. You walk through the wide,
wood-paneled lobby that traverses the building from front to rear, the
gleaming floors studded with striking carpets of contemporary but
classic-looking design, the museum-quality paintings on the walls, the
sculpture on display -- part of a substantial collection of largely
mid-twentieth century American artists of such note as Mark Rothko, and
the reaction is "Wow!"
Rooms are spacious and bright,
having gone through a renovation that decreased their number while
increasing their size. There is the traditional West Wing with its
pastel shades and fabrics of silk and brocades and the contemporary East
Wing with streamlined furnishings in cool greens and mauves. All have
plasma television sets, luxurious dual bathrooms of limestone and marble
with toiletries by L’Occitaine, and the guarantee of a good night’s
sleep courtesy of a custom-designed Sealy mattress. The three-story
full-service spa, which envelops you in the aroma of eucalyptus from the
moment of entrance, provides a range of massages, personal trainers, and
the opportunity to reserve a lane in the lap pool and enjoy a private
swim beneath a sky-lit roof.
With more than two employees for
every guest (a ratio rare in American hotels), personal attention is a
given. But beyond the number is the attitude. Every bellman, server,
housekeeper, concierge, and receptionist encountered greets you warmly
and is at the ready to be of help. "We look for the right kind of
personality," Anshul Kaul, Director of Restaurants, told us, "the
willingness to engage, the warmth, the charisma."
|A few who make
things work at the Four Seasons (clockwise from top left):
Anshul Kaul, Director of Restaurants; Jennifer Okun,
Assistant Spa Manager; Michael Katigbak, Corporate Sales
Manager; Hemant Chauhan, Assistant F&B Manager
Restaurants are a major part of the
Four Seasons DC experience. There is the huge, open living room of the
Garden Terrace where in comfortable sofas and deep upholstered chairs,
light meals are available any time of the day and an Afternoon Tea
elaborate enough to meet the standards of British royalty is staged each
A broad curving stairway beside the
Garden Terrace sweeps down to the lower level and the hotel's
gastronomic dining room, Seasons, whose southern feel is enhanced by
graceful potted palms. Floor-to-ceiling windows look out to an expansive
patio on the banks of the C & O Canal which is open for al fresco dining
during Washington's long mild seasons.
Dinner at Seasons is an elegant
affair impeccably served on white and gold dishes. The cuisine combines
standard American fare like prime rib steak with more exotic fare like a
circle of tuna tartar on a plate set into a larger bowl filled with
small dark stones, topped with red caviar, fried shallots, and what
looked like black pepper but is actually a type of onion seed frequently
used in Indian cooking in an emulsion of tapioca texture made of lime
flavorful Muscovy duck breast, sliced in triangles, lay atop a bed of
risotto. It came with a flower-shaped puff pastry lined with fennel and
endive. Hemant Chauhan, who is Assistant Food and Beverage Manager and
also a sommelier, suggested a glass of Burgundy Baume to go with the
duck which "has a bit of tanginess but not too much, while the Pinot
Noir has a bit of tanginess and just the right amount of tannins to pick
up the flavor of the duck," he said. "It's strong, gives a little jolt."
expansive wine list offers a wide selection of wines available by the
glass or half bottle allowing one to experiment a bit, have the
opportunity to enjoy several different wines during the course of a meal
which we did, sampling a full-bodied Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
recommended by Hemant as well.
and Anshul are from India. Our server at Seasons was from Morocco, and
during the course of our stay, we met Four Seasons employees from the
Philippines, Eritrea, Ethiopia, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Spain, and
Italy. One of the hotel's three chefs is -- predictably enough --
French, but the one we got to talk to is a fellow from Philadelphia and
a long-suffering Phillies fan. Mike Abt is young, informal, and
enthusiastic about his profession which he committed to at the age of 14
when he decided he liked cooking and apprenticed himself to a chef.
His credo is “to make things that are a little bit different that are
fun for my cooks and for the guests.
|"One of the things we are doing
is experimenting in making pearls that look like caviar," he
told us. "We make carrot or celery juice and add sodium and
some other chemicals that turn the liquid into little drops.
They solidify and look very much like caviar. There's a little
skin on the outside. You put it in your mouth, rub it against
the roof of your tongue, and it pops -- a burst of flavor. Last
summer we did it with tomato gazpacho. It had all the flavor of
gazpacho -- the garlic, the spices, the tomato-like taste."
He continued, "We like to mix the traditional
with the contemporary, do things guests can relate to but in an
innovative way like serving lentil soup with poached egg. And
we always have vegetarian and even vegan dishes. Today there is
butter squash puree with rice, and lasagna with mushrooms,
tomatoes, eggplant, and spices which we layer with a French
The fellow from Philadelphia: Chef Mike Abt
"Also there's a new direction in the
dining operation aimed at reducing our global footsteps. We want to rely
on local products, get our produce and eggs from farmers in the Potomac
Valley and West Virginia, our fish from the Chesapeake Bay waters.
"We keep changing. We are heading in
the direction of organic foods wherever possible. Internally we are very
conscious of focusing on the 'Green Initiative.'"
The "Green Initiative," we came to
see, is a subtle commitment at this Four Seasons. It appears in many
efforts, from the little rubber frog in every room which guests can use
to indicate sheets need not be changed (a playful nudge to "do the right
thing" -- but only if you're so inclined) to an extensive policy of
recycling and composting.
"We are trying to participate in as
many environmentally-sound practices as possible," Michael Katigbak, the
Philippine-born corporate sales manager, told us. "We are serious about
recycling, diligent in separating food waste from other materials. It’s
a practice that had paid dividends quite quickly. Recently we planted a
cherry tree out front. The soil and compost came from the company who
takes away our food waste and composts it.” He smiled with satisfaction:
“Our recycling efforts had come full circle."
"George Washington would be proud,"
we said to Michael.
"He would,” he replied, adding, “We
are trying to be as environmentally responsible as possible. But at the
same time, we maintain the standards of a luxury property."
Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC
2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20007
Photographs by Harvey Frommer
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About the Authors: Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband
team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional
scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories
It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in
America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in
Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.
They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining
as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United
States, Europe, and the Caribbean.
about these authors.
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This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer. All rights