Overview: A truly luxurious in-city boutique hotel
Strengths: Rooms, approach to service, dining
Drawbacks: Service isn’t flawless, and could be an issue
I’d been curious about the Capella in Washington DC for some time. Since opening a few years back, I’d heard a bit of chatter, but not seen much written about it. For a one-night business trip earlier this month, I decided to give it a try.
Wow. While not 100% perfect, the Capella Washington DC gets pretty close to being the ideal in-city luxury boutique hotel. I’ll elaborate on the limited challenges I faced below, but overall, my stay was excellent and I look forward to returning.
I had first booked a lead-in Superior Room via Virtuoso agent, but then found out about a 50% off suite sale from a friend and upgraded my booking to a Capella Suite for about 15% more. I was upgraded upon arrival to their “Executive Suite,” which is one level below the Presidential Suite. The Executive Suite’s name is a bit of a misnomer as it is indeed a full suite.
Within an hour of making my original booking, I was contacted by the hotel via email by a “Personal Assistant” offering to help in any way with my stay. I had heard about their pro-active concierge approach, and decided to give them a run. The night before my arrival, I emailed at about 11pm to make transportation arrangements for the next two days. These were not just pick-ups at the airport, but multi-stop journeys visiting several clients with waits in between. I’m pleased to say each ride was set perfectly, and on short notice. I also made a special request regarding the coffee service in my room and a dinner booking. These were both looked after without issue.
We arrived at the hotel a little after five in the afternoon on a rainy evening. There were two doormen standing by who quickly came curbside to look after the passengers and our luggage. We were escorted in to the building by the doormen holding umbrellas.
On the main floor are a largely unfurnished public lobby, a bar and a restaurant, each of which is open to the public. Behind a secured door (requires a key card), guests can find the registration area along with a guests-only sitting lounge (called the “Living Room”) where refreshments can be had. The doorman took care of the key card requirements for us.
Registration for our two rooms (my colleague had a separate room) was handled quickly. Registration is handled at a desk where both the staff and guests can sit. We were both informed of a one-category upgrade without asking. Non-alcoholic refreshments were offered while the formalities were being completed. We both declined. Within a small number of minutes, we were being escorted to our rooms.
The Executive Suite was very comfortable and had a truly residential feel. Guests enter the suite though a long but wide corridor. The floors had a herringbone pattern and the walls were adorned with tasteful moldings.
In the entry foyer there was a half bath.
The next room off the foyer was the bedroom. The bedroom was very comfortable and quiet. The bed was one of those where you say “ahhh” as you get in. The bed was more comfortable than a typical Four Seasons bed setup in the US.
There was a small wardrobe area between the bedroom and bathroom.
The bathroom was significantly oversized (perhaps too big?) and included a glass WC, large stall shower and separate tub. There were two vanities.
Though the living room was a bit oddly shaped, and the furniture large for the space, overall I found the room to be very comfortable. A desk area was well designed.
Some of the button covers had come off on the sofa.
A welcome amenity of some macaroons was waiting for me in the room. Wifi was strong and fast in the suite.
The room had a coffee maker and plenty of supplies.
The hotel has a lovely rooftop leisure area. Both drinks and light meals can be served outside on nice days. It was 40 and drizzling during my stay.
There is a small fitness center.
There is also a small indoor/outdoor pool. I went in the pool for about 15 minutes. It is not big enough for swimming laps, but did provide a nice way to wind down after a busy day.
After the pool time, I met my colleague for dinner in the restaurant, The Grill Room. Being a Tuesday night, the restaurant was perhaps 30% full. Service was attentive and the food quite good. Warm bone marrow is served along with butter as accompaniments for the bread. It was delicious.
I had a crab cake starter and then the steak tartar starter as my main. The tartar was prepared tableside with all of the customary ingredients. Though I don’t recall what my colleague had, we both enjoyed our meals.
After a round or two of cocktails, we ordered a bottle of the 2010 Ramey. I ordered the bottle by asking for the “2010 Ramey.” The waiter brought out a Ramey but had his finger over the vintage when he presented the bottle to me. Whereas normally when presenting a wine the waiter will say the vintage along with the producer and comment what an excellent choice had been made, the vintage was conspicuously missing from his short soliloquy. I asked to see the vintage, and indeed it was not the bottle ordered – but rather a 2012. Frankly, it felt like a little trickery was underway.
I commented that it was different than we ordered and he said they recently received their new allotment. He offered for us to try it and if we didn’t like it, we could send it back. I knew it was going to be too young yet I foolishly accepted the proposition. (Perhaps I should not have had the second pre-wine cocktail?)
I really don’t like to send back open wine. No one likes to be “that guy.” If it is truly corked, then yes it is fine – but across 20 years of ordering wine, I think I’ve sent back a half dozen bottles in total. In each case, there was no question. This wine was fine for what is was, it was just too soon. We ended up keeping the wine, which by the second glass I regretted.
Other than the wine issue, the service was attentive but not overbearing. This was a very good restaurant that just happened to be in a hotel. So many times a hotel’s restaurant is simply not that great – this was an exception.
After a too-filling dinner, we each retreated to our rooms. Though I did wake up once during the evening, the room was very comfortable to sleep in. The lights and drapes could be controlled from the bedside table.
The room was turned down with large bottles of water and small chocolates. The chocolates were delicious.
Before turning in for the evening, I hung my shoes outside my door and called the Personal Assistant to arrange an overnight shine. The card for the service promised a 6am return, which the PA confirmed over the telephone.
When I woke up a little before 7am, I looked for my shoes, but they were not there. I called down to the Personal Assistant to inquire. The phone rang for over a minute before being answered. When I explained why I was calling, the person who answered the call first asked “What day did you send them down?” That question did not inspire confidence and the overall tone of the person who took the call was such that I felt like I was stumping them. I said I was going for a run and really needed the shoes back in about 45 minutes.
There were a number of good options for running from the hotel. There were plenty of joggers and bicyclists out and about. Being so close to the waterfront, many of the options were relatively flat, though you could find hills if you wanted to.
When I returned from my run, the shoes were still not back. I went back downstairs and a housekeeper was in the guests’ lobby area. I asked her if she could help me and indeed she was aware that I was looking for my shoes. Why she was aware of this but hadn’t delivered them was not entirely clear – but she assured me she would have them up within five minutes. Indeed, she delivered them to the room shortly after I made it up.
I met my colleague and a person from a different firm for breakfast in The Grill Room. Breakfast was also very good. We had a variety of items including eggs, salmon, yogurt, etc. The coffee was pleasantly strong and they had a wide variety of fresh juices. The grapefruit juice had a head on it such that I suspect they squeeze it using a machine fresh to order. It was very good.
Check-out was also handled quickly. I asked them to simply email me the bill and said I would review it later in the day. Indeed, despite being a Virtuoso booking, they left the charge for breakfast on the bill. An email in response to the email with the bill was quickly tended to and an updated invoice sent. My “day two” transportation didn’t post until later in the day and they sent a further invoice without prompting.
* * * * *
Re-reading this report, perhaps I’ve not given the hotel all it is due. From the limited number of negative reviews I’ve read, they all seem to be driven by service lapses. While the pre-arrival concierge was more attentive and prompt than any hotel concierge I’ve ever encountered, I don’t recall the last time I had an issue with overnight shoe shine service. The question I was asked when I called – about what day they were sent – was clearly not the right question to ask and did not inspire confidence.
When everything works, I can see how this hotel would be just about the ideal hotel. The single point of contact in theory should work wonderfully. I think, and the reviews are consistent with, service lapses will happen from time to time. It’s not 20% of the time, but probably greater than 5%. When you’re working towards a “perfection” service product as the Capella is, even a 5% error rate becomes notable.
Ultimately, the service recoveries from most of my limited challenges were reasonably good.
* * * * *
In DC, over the past five years, I’ve stayed at the RC-Washington (not Georgetown), Mandarin and a pair of woeful Westins (including the property where Marion Barry was videotaped). I’d put the Capella comfortably ahead of the RC or MO, but noting that the Capella is a small hotel experience. I’ll make a point to try the FS, PH, RC-Georgetown and St. Regis on future trips to help further compare these leading properties.
That said, I look forward to future stays at the Capella, too. This really is a special property.
Capella Washington DC/Georgetown
1050 31st St NW Washington, D.C. 20007
Telephone (202) 617 2400