Small in size, big on style: A review of the Motto by Hilton Washington DC
When choosing a hotel, travelers often have to decide between budget-friendly but nondescript accommodations or more quirky, boutique lodgings that come with a higher price tag. Motto by Hilton Washington DC City Center, a so-called "micro hotel," aims to offer the best of both worlds: a trendy vibe for reasonable nightly rates.
As a budget-conscious traveler, I'm usually happy to opt for modest chain hotels wherever I go. Even though I've found that almost always means sacrificing a unique hotel experience, I prefer to stretch my dollars or points over multiple trips rather than spend them all on one splashy stay.
However, when I got the chance to check out one of Hilton's Motto outposts during my recent visit to Washington, D.C., I jumped on it.
After a two-night stay at the 245-room Motto DC, I can attest that this relatively new hotel brand has nailed the hip factor without up-charging for it. That said, I was also reminded that, for better or for worse, we often get what we pay for.
Here's what you need to know about the Motto by Hilton Washington, D.C.
What is the Motto DC?
This Motto outpost opened in 2020, one of the first U.S. locations of Hilton's new micro hotel brand. A micro hotel can refer to either a low room count or accommodations with small footprints so that guests focus more on the public areas. Motto DC exemplified both of these facets.
The Motto brand, in general, aims to combine the best parts of a hostel — like affordability and flexibility in terms of sleeping arrangements — with the best parts of a hotel — like not having to share a bathroom. The rooms have a small footprint, averaging just 150 square feet, and they give guests group-friendly options like bunk beds and connecting rooms. Travelers can gather outside their rooms at the spacious rooftop bar and basement speakeasy-style whiskey bar when they start to feel cramped.
Motto feels like Hilton's answer to Marriott's Moxy thanks to its focus on fun shared public spaces for socializing and coworking and less of a focus on in-room amenities. Both brands also tout affordability and desirable locations — two factors these chains hope will draw in young people who become loyal customers as their ages and budgets increase.
Among the major cities where you'll find Hilton Motto outposts are New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
Related: Why big hotel chains are battling for budget travelers
Is the Motto DC a bargain?
Cash rates for a room at Motto DC can vary quite a lot. Depending on when you book, you could get a night for as low as $94, or you could be shelling out as much as $404 per night. If you opt to use points, one night here will set you back 50,000 Hilton points most nights in the spring and summer; you can sometimes snag a night for as low as 29,000 points during late fall and winter.
Use our TPG valuations to calculate the value of your points and determine whether you're better off paying the cash rate for your stay. We value Hilton Honors points at .6 cents each, so 50,000 Hilton points would be worth $300. If you're looking at a night that costs $200 in cash or 50,000 points, you'll get a better deal paying the cash rate.
Whether this is a bargain depends on your travel dates and priorities. Comparatively, you could stay at the Hampton Inn Washington, D.C./White House for as little as $175 or as much as $489 per night, depending on when you book. So, it's worth comparing the cash prices to make sure you're actually saving money by staying at the Motto DC. However, if you want to use points, you need 70,000 Hilton points to stay at the Hampton Inn most nights, making the Motto considerably cheaper.
Or, you can snag a room at The Morrow Hotel in D.C. for 60,000 Hilton points most nights. You may decide that having a more spacious room and higher-end dining and fitness facilities is worth the extra 10,000 points.
The location is convenient for business and leisure
Motto DC is located at the entrance to Chinatown, less than a mile away from the city center and the National Mall.
It's only a short walk to Chinatown as well as to museums like the National Portrait Gallery and the National Building Museum. So, this a prime location to stay if you want to check out some attractions further from the National Mall.
It's also conveniently located just down the street from the Gallery PIace/Chinatown Metro stop, which services the green, yellow and red lines; you can use those lines to travel deeper into the city when you're ready to explore other areas.
This is great for anyone opting for public transit during their trip, but I would recommend using ride-hailing services at night. I felt safe in the hotel itself, but limited street lighting and clusters of people loitering along the sidewalks would have made me hesitate to walk alone at night in the area.
If you're skipping public transit and renting a car, you can park it at a nearby parking garage that partners with the hotel for $26 per day.
Related: The perfect day in D.C. for travelers of all ages
The lobby felt both cool and secure
To enter the hotel, I had to ring a doorbell since I didn't yet have a key card to scan; so the Motto got points for safety right away. When I entered, I was greeted warmly by the receptionist and took a moment to look around at the impressive murals on the main walls of the lobby. I quickly realized, however, that the lobby was more for looking than for lounging. There was a bench along one wall and a few chairs, but they were easily overtaken by anyone waiting on a room or a ride.
When I approached the desk, the host welcomed me and explained the micro hotel concept. She forewarned me that my room would be small but assured me that if I needed anything I would find in most hotels, like an ironing board or tea kettle, all I had to do was call down and request it.
The rooms are tiny, even by big-city standards
I adjusted my expectations properly from the hostess' warnings, and I was actually impressed when I walked in to see some really smart uses of the limited space.
There was certainly no excess square footage, but I had what I needed: a comfortable bed with headboard-mounted reading lights, a bathroom, a flat-screen TV on the wall, a nightstand with a clock and plugs where I could put personal belongings, and even a (remarkably) small desk by the window to start working on this review. There was also a wall-housed air-conditioning unit. The urban-contemporary design made everything feel sleek, modern and efficient.
What the room lacked in furniture, it made up for in shelves and hooks. There was space to stow my suitcase under the bed, and I could hang up my clothes on the wall hooks to give them a quick steam in the mornings. I will say that, had I requested an ironing board or tea kettle, I have no idea where I would have put them. My room had a full bed, but the Motto also offers the option of two twin bunk beds for travelers who need more versatility.
The bathroom was far from spacious, but it had a walk-in shower. There was enough space between the toilet and sink to stand and brush my teeth. There were also full-size plant-based Basd bath products for guests to use during their stay.
The sliding bathroom door was helpful, as there wouldn't have been space to open a hinged door. However, my bathroom door didn't stay closed on its own. This would be fine for anyone traveling alone but may have been an issue for someone sharing the tight space with a friend or partner.
On the one hand, the view of Chinatown's Friendship Archway was really nice outside my window.
On the other hand, my single-pane window and close proximity to the ground level meant significant street noise. I generally pride myself on my ability to sleep through anything. However, I finally met my match in a middle-of-the-night siren that overpowered the room's sound machine and complimentary earplugs.
After my night of interrupted sleep, I felt strongly that the room's biggest disadvantage was its lack of a coffee maker. I was told that this was not on the list of things available upon request. Luckily, guests can take advantage of free coffee in the hotel lobby from 5 to 7 a.m. if they need a caffeine fix before the cafe opens.
The food options are simple but satisfying
Room size at the Motto DC may be limited, but the food and beverage options are not.
Guests can enjoy breakfast on the go from Crimson Cafe, which shares the Motto's lobby space, or walk to other side of the building for a bigger meal at the Crimson Diner.
If you're counting on the cafe for your morning coffee, be forewarned that it doesn't open until 8 a.m. on weekends. I learned the hard way that 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday is the time of caffeine purgatory between lobby coffee and cafe hours.
In addition to a latte or tea, you can choose a muffin or yogurt parfait from the cafe to-go breakfast menu options. If you have more time, you can sit and enjoy a breakfast classic like eggs benedict ($14), avocado toast ($14), or a hot honey chicken biscuit ($12) at the Crimson Diner.
Later in the day, you can pop in for lunch or dinner classics like burgers ($17) as well as some unique southern options like gumbo ($15) or country-fried chicken ($24) at the Crimson Diner.
When you're ready for a drink, head to the roof for a cheese board ($18) or fries ($6) or cocktails like a Manhattan ($14). Alternatively, head down to the basement and check out the speakeasy-style Crimson Whiskey Bar and its award-winning bourbon list.
If you find that you've overindulged at any of these, you can hit the relatively spacious gym for a workout the next day to sweat it out.
You'll be able to choose between the three treadmills, two ellipticals, or the Peloton bike for cardio; you can do a bit of strength training with the weight machine, free weights, kettlebells, medicine balls and resistance bands.
Motto DC has level entry points, wheelchair-height elevator controls and spacious hallways for wheelchair maneuvering. It offers room options for mobility and hearing accessibility. The mobility-accessible room features a queen bed and a 3-foot-by-3-foot transfer shower. The hearing-accessible room has a queen bed along with a visual alarm and notification device for the doorbell and incoming phone calls.
Why the Motto DC might not be for you
- Spare in-room amenities: If you value classic in-room features like an ironing board or coffee maker — as well as a quiet environment for a good night's sleep — more than a cool mural in the lobby and a whiskey bar downstairs, you might want to skip the Motto during your Washington stay.
- Cramped quarters, including tiny bathrooms and no enclosed closets: You might find the tight quarters uncomfortable. As a relatively small person (I'm only 5 feet tall), the full-size bed and low towel bar in the bathroom didn't bother me. However, they would be extremely inconvenient for a much taller person. Similarly, if you have a lot of clothes with you or are traveling for business, you may opt for a place with room to iron your clothes and a full closet to store them.
- Questionable value: As previously noted, these drawbacks don't necessarily come with a significantly cheaper price tag than other traditional hotel options. If you can get a great deal on your stay here, it may be worth sacrificing some amenities and space. But if you can get a more luxurious room for a similar (or lower) price, you'll want to go that route.
Related: Why I loved staying at the Thompson Washington, D.C.
Motto by Hilton Washington DC City Center is a great option for someone interested in trying out the micro hotel concept and looking to save money on their next stay in the country's capital. The hotel's aesthetic and smart use of space make it a fun place to crash during a busy trip to the city. Still, you may find that the micro hotel life is not the life for you.
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