The Capital’s Newest Luxury Hotel: Review of the Conrad Washington, DC
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To The Point
The hotel is stunning, and the service was superb at this oasis for business and pleasure travelers alike in the heart of DC. Pros: Solid experience throughout, and the location couldn’t be beat. Cons: A couple room-service hiccups not worthy of a top-notch hotel.
Washington, DC, is a city of hotels. It’s filled a plethora of modern, glass properties and just as many historic ones. Travelers looking for luxury accommodations, budget ones or anything in between will be happy.
Over the years, I’ve stayed at the whole spectrum of DC hotels, high to low. Looking back for this review, I remembered at least 18 hotels in the district itself plus a half dozen just across the state lines in Maryland and Virginia. Often, I sacrificed luxury for location. The Fairmont and Park Hyatt are two favorites but closer to Georgetown than Capitol Hill. (They’re great if you are going to Georgetown or Foggy Bottom.) The Mandarin Oriental is lovely but not in an ideal spot for most visitors to DC.
When I heard about the new Conrad, I was extremely excited. Finally, a top-notch hotel in an ideal location for both tourists and business travelers. The hotel opened at the end of March, and I got to check it out with my family three months later.
Hotel prices in Washington can be all over the place. There are some busy weeks, like when Congress is in session, where I’ve seen a downtown Fairfield Inn asking more than $400 a night.
Luckily, the weekend I wanted at the end of June was relatively cheap. I found a Hilton Honors rate of $224 a night for a room with two queen beds on the Conrad’s website. The same room would have been 66,000 Hilton Honors points a night. Given TPG’s current valuations, those points are worth $396. Clearly, this was a stay where it made sense to pay cash.
The Conrad Washington, DC, is also part of the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts program, which offers free breakfast, a property amenity and elite benefits. I have access to the program thanks to my Platinum Card® from American Express and decided that the $100 food-and-beverage credit and free breakfast (we were given $60 each morning) was worth the slightly higher nightly room rate of $236.
For an extra $21 on the room rate, plus $3.48 more in taxes, I wound up with $220 worth of free food and drinks.
With taxes, the total cost was $542.56 for two nights. I decided to prepay for the hotel, since you can now earn 5x the points with FHR bookings by prepaying. The room was still fully refundable, making that an easy decision.
I didn’t need the early check-in or late checkout, but it was nice to know they were both options.
There’s no perfect place to stay in Washington. Some trips benefit from being near the quiet streets of Georgetown. Other times, it pays to be near the halls of Congress.
But if I had to pick one location, it would be where the Conrad is. The hotel is a five-minute walk to the Metro Center and Gallery Place Metro stops, opening up connection-free trips to anywhere else in the city, since all six Metro lines go through one of those two stations.
The convention center is a five-minute walk in the other direction. The National Mall and the White House are both 15 minutes away on foot.
The hotel is the northern extension of the fancy CityCenterDC outdoor shopping area and apartments. So far, only Tiffany & Co. has opened on the ground floor of the hotel. Plenty of other empty stores in the hotel are waiting to be occupied, though the luxe CityCenter shopping area that includes the Conrad has one of the top concentrations of high-end stores in the city.
Many restaurants are in the area, including a wide range, for all budgets, in the adjacent Penn Quarter and Chinatown neighborhoods. The Capital One Arena is also a 10-minute walk away.
I arrived at the hotel at 5pm on a Friday. The friendly bellman greeted me and ushered me up to the third-floor lobby. My wife had already arrived from her work meetings a few minutes earlier and was given a bottle of cold water.
Between booking through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts and my Hilton Honors diamond status, thanks to a recent status match, I was hoping for an upgrade. You can also get diamond status with the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card (after spending $40,000 in a calendar year on the card).
Since our 4-year-old daughter was traveling with us, we had booked a room with two queen beds. I asked about an upgrade at check-in and was informed that there were no better rooms with two beds. (The hotel does have upgraded queen rooms as part of its fancy lounge called the Sakura Club, but those don’t qualify for a free upgrade.)
We were offered a larger corner king room but told that a rollaway bed would barely fit. So we declined.
The free breakfast came in the form of a $60 daily credit good at either the restaurant or room service. We also had an additional $100 that could be used at the restaurant, room service or the two bars.
A letter was provided outlining the benefits, along with a survey card.
Diamond Hilton Honors members also got a $25 daily dining credit, but only if booked directly with Hilton.
Since I booked through American Express FHR, I did get my full points and 1,000 welcome points for the stay but wasn’t able to double-dip on the dining credits.
This is what a modern hotel room should look like.
There were sleek lines, thoughtful design and plenty of room to spread out.
The bathroom had two sinks, plenty of counter space, a large shelf for towels and two storage drawers at the bottom. The toilet was in a separate area with a frosted-glass door for privacy. The shower was large and had good water pressure.
The shampoo, conditioner and other bath products were from Shanghai Tang.
A bank of power outlets and USB ports was on each nightstand. Above that was a fancy control panel that controlled all the lights and the “Do Not Disturb” indicator.
There was a small table and couch, providing a spot to work or eat a meal.
The floor-to-ceiling windows let in tons of light and amused my daughter, who camped out next to them. Our room, No. 728, overlooked CityCenterDC and not much else.
There were two closets, two bathrobes and slippers, a deep safe and plenty of spots to store clothes for a few nights’ stay. The only thing extra I would have liked was an oversized umbrella.
Each bed had four pillows, and there was a spare in the closet. The curtains blocked out most of the light but did let some creep in around the edges each morning.
The minibar was generously stocked, although I struggled to find a menu or prices listed anywhere. I guess if you’re buying from the minibar, you know there will be a significant upcharge.
The internet in the room was not exactly lightning fast but did the trick.
Housekeeping brought fresh ice with turndown service, something my daughter was giddy about. (And she will now wonder why every hotel doesn’t offer that ice service.) We also got fresh water bottles on our nightstands and slippers next to the beds.
If I were to nitpick — and what sort of review wouldn’t point out those minor things? — I would note that the toilet paper was also closer to what would be found at a Hampton Inn than the plush, multi-ply paper expected at a luxury hotel. (I was also disappointed that the public bathrooms near the rooftop bar lacked the cloth towels found at most top-tier properties and just had standard paper towels.)
Food and Beverage
This was an urban hotel within walking distance to plenty of restaurants. That meant it didn’t need to offer tons of dining options. And it didn’t.
There was the main lobby restaurant and bar, Estuary; a rooftop bar, Summit; and room service.
We had breakfast one morning at Estuary and found the staff extremely attentive and the food creative and tasty.
There was a stack of print newspapers outside (after 20 years in the business, call me old school, but I still like a physical paper) and free coffee and tea.
My egg sandwich with smoked pork shoulder, Jack cheese, arugula and a tomato-chile jam didn’t quite fit under “breakfast classics” but was well worth the culinary gamble.
The children’s chocolate chip pancakes were a hit — how could they fail? — but were not cheap at $12 off the kids menu. The buttermilk pancakes did the trick for my wife. With two orange juices, tax and tip, we spent $80 on breakfast. Luckily, $60 was covered and the rest chipped away at our $100 food-and-beverage credit.
Summit was a welcome addition to DC’s hotel bar scene. It was a large rooftop bar that offered views of the US Capitol and the surrounding neighborhood buildings.
On the Friday night we arrived, there was a mix of families on vacation and lobbyist types saying hi to everybody at the bar. Everybody seemed to blend into the scene perfectly.
There was a good selection of drinks at reasonable prices, well within what now goes for inner-city, rooftop-bar reasonable.
We ordered the Scotch Smoked S’mores because they sounded amazing. But in the end they were just way too decadent, and we barely touched the treat.
Room service offered up the same menu as Estuary and tacked on a modest $5 delivery fee.
This meant that for breakfast on our second and final morning, we could have the items we didn’t get to sample the first morning but in our room. Oh, the delight of a toddler getting food delivered to her.
I had the sun-dried-cherry-stuffed French toast. The first two bites were amazing, and then it was just overkill. My wife had $23 worth of scrambled eggs, but my daughter’s eggs were a more reasonable $12. Add in a large pot of coffee and one smoothie, tax, tip and the delivery fee, and our breakfast was $119.13.
Again, at least $60 of that was covered as part of our package, but wow. There were plenty of hotels in the neighborhood that cost that much for the entire night.
We finished ordering at 8:08am on that Sunday morning. The staff told us that they were running behind in the kitchen and to expect our meal in 35 to 45 minutes. Nearly an hour later, at 9:05 am, our doorbell rang and our food finally arrived.
The coffee was hot, and the food was delicious, but the kitchen was out of multigrain bread. Instead of calling up and asking if we wanted another type, they just decided to skip the toast. That’s not what I expect from a top-notch hotel.
The Conrad didn’t have much more to offer guests besides some meeting rooms and a fitness center. There was no spa at this hotel.
The lobby had plenty of seating, a gas fireplace and a big bar.
Behind the front desk was a nice outdoor patio with tables, chairs and plenty of early-morning shade. Three stories above New York Avenue, it was shockingly quiet — a tiny urban oasis.
The fitness center was stocked with plenty of towels, apples, water and even a few bottles of Powerade. There were plenty of machines for cardio and an average area for weights.
Parking, like at any city center hotel, was not cheap.
We didn’t have a car, but it would have been $60 a night, plus 18% in tax.
The Conrad is a very welcome addition to the Washington hotel scene. The location is as central as can be. The food is pricey, but there are plenty of more affordable options a short walk away.
The room was clean, comfortable and well-designed. Nothing about this hotel wowed me, but everything delivered as promised. It was a solid luxury experience. Besides the room-service hiccups, everything else about the stay was perfect.