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I slept in the hotel room tied to the Watergate break-in — here's what it's like 50 years later

June 17, 2022
9 min read
Everything from famous Nixon quotes to newspaper clippings and magazine covers focusing on the Watergate break-in and Nixon's eventual resignation is on display in the entryway of the Scandal Room.
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In a city full of historical buildings, it takes a lot to stand out from the rest. Yet the infamous Watergate complex does just that in more ways than one.

A drab fixture of an otherwise stunning skyline full of marble-clad monuments, charming brick buildings and an expansive performing arts center, the six towers of Washington, D.C.’s Watergate complex are far from appealing to the eye.

The curved design incorporated throughout to maximize views of the surrounding parks and adjacent Potomac River is no doubt interesting. But the cold concrete facade and chunky balcony railings — which look more like bottom rows of teeth than railings outside highly sought-after condos, mostly occupied offices and luxury hotel rooms — feel out of place in a city packed with architectural treasures.

Nevertheless, the eyesore of the Potomac occupies a prominent place in our nation’s history because of what transpired within its walls 50 years ago: the failed break-in of the Democratic National Committee’s former office.

While the Watergate scandal of June 17, 1972, took place more than 15 years before I was born, as a resident of the DMV — D.C. and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs — for the past seven years and a self-professed history nerd and political junkie, I’ve long wondered what lay inside this ugly complex I’ve passed more times than I can count.

Can a five-star hotel really incorporate the building’s ties to the political crime of the century in a tasteful way while offering luxe amenities and an upscale atmosphere that somehow mesh with its uninspired exterior?

After years of curiosity, I decided to book a one-night stay where the break-in was orchestrated — Room 205 (aka the Scandal Room) of The Watergate Hotel — to find out.

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A glamorous flashback to the 1970s

From the moment you step foot inside the Preferred Hotels-affiliated Watergate Hotel, you feel instantly transported to another era.

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Instead of heavy materials in uninspired hues, the hotel lobby features a mix of bold design elements with a midcentury modern flair, such as a long brass reception desk and a cool bar with bright red chairs and a curved wall of empty glass bottles.

I immediately found myself forgetting about the dreary exterior while checking in with the front desk agent. It surprised me, though, to find no nods at all to the property’s past, as I’d enjoyed listening to a recording of a Vietnam War-era speech by former President Richard Nixon while on hold with the hotel during a call a couple of weeks prior to my stay.

I had assumed similar details would be evident when I arrived. However, it wasn’t until I looked at my room key after checking in that I discovered my first break-in reference: “No need to break in” was printed on the front side.

(Photo by Christine Gallipeau/The Points Guy)

Inside the (in)famous Scandal Room

After checking in, my husband and I made our way to the elevators. Following a quick ride to the second floor, we turned left down the hall, which featured retro touches like red-patterned carpeting and curved ceiling details, and walked until we found our room a few doors down on the left.

Admittedly, I was a bit underwhelmed at first. Nothing outside the room gave away what lay inside. Had I not booked Room 205 (formerly Room 214 at the historic property) and known the significance of it, I would’ve walked right past it unaware of what was inside. But since the room was ours for the night, I stopped, swiped my keycard and entered.

(Photo by Christine Gallipeau/The Points Guy)

From the minute the door opened, I found myself captivated by all the historical details inside. Newspaper clippings, White House photos, famous Nixon quotes and even copies of official resignation documents lined the entryway.

I quickly got lost in the articles hanging by the door, scanning the Watergate stories on display to soak up as much as possible about the break-in, the subsequent impeachment hearings and Nixon’s departure from office.

With some encouragement from my husband, who knew that we’d never make our dinner reservation if I got too deep into reading, I moved past the hall and into the main room.

My eyes were immediately drawn to the antique desk at the far end, which looked like it’d been pulled straight out of an office from the 1970s. Old-school desk accessories, including a red stapler, a Rolodex and a mint green manual typewriter, sat atop the vintage piece of furniture alongside a reel-to-reel tape recorder, an homage to the Nixon White House tapes that ultimately swayed Nixon’s decision to resign.

A Crosley Dansette Bermuda Turntable also stood propped up nearby, though I quickly moved on from it once I discovered the flimsiness of the “records” and realized I wasn't able to play them on the '60s-inspired record player.

Eventually, I caught a glimpse of one of my favorite room features: the safe next to the bright red sofa. An unexpected find in the Lyn Paolo-designed room — whom you may know as the costume designer for TV shows like “Inventing Anna,” “Little Fires Everywhere” and, of course, political dramas like “Scandal” and “The West Wing” — the vintage piece from Mosler Safe Company was just as hefty to open (and close) as it appeared. I found myself moving the door position for at least 10 minutes, fascinated by the look and feel of the piece.

Throughout our stay, I marveled at the incredible attention to detail evident everywhere I turned. From the spy novels and copy of the Pentagon Papers on the bookcase to Nixon quotes printed in faded ink on the typewriter’s roll of paper, no detail was overlooked.

Even the coasters by the bed featured a playful nod to the building. In a quote about Watergate architect Luigi Moretti, the coasters revealed that many in D.C. criticized the design of the complex when Moretti first presented it, saying it was “as appropriate as a strip dancer performing at your grandmother’s funeral.”

If that’s not a fun detail, I don’t know what is.

What to know before you book

My stay in the Scandal Room was memorable, without question, for a few reasons.

While the room itself was fantastic and full of one-of-a-kind touches you’ll only get at this hotel in this specific room, know that there’s a high cost to experiencing the space in this way.

(Photo by Christine Gallipeau/The Points Guy)

My one-night weekend stay in Room 205 set me back a whopping $1,698.97, including $220.97 in taxes and a $29 “urban resort fee” charge. Because my stay was so short, I didn’t get a chance to use the pool, 24-hour fitness center, loaner bikes or other amenities covered in the resort fee, but admittedly, they’re not ones I’d likely take advantage of during a longer stay anyway.

Even after factoring out the excessive resort fee for services I couldn't care less about, the total for the room was tough to swallow. I rarely spend more than $450 a night for a room anywhere I travel, and those bookings typically come with some added perks like complimentary breakfast (or snacks) and room upgrades thanks to my elite status in the Marriott Bonvoy and IHG One Rewards programs.

Although I did receive free internet access as a result of my entry-level Insider status in the I Prefer Hotel Rewards program, that perk did little to soften the blow of the Scandal Room’s nightly rate.

Fortunately, I later learned that there’s another way to access Room 205 for a lot less. Rather than stay in the Scandal Room itself, you can reserve a much cheaper Superior Room (which can be booked for as little as $240 per night on select dates this summer) and request a free tour of the Scandal Room. While tours are only available when Room 205 is unoccupied, the room’s high price tag means there’s a solid chance the space will be vacant when you visit.

Bottom line

Despite 50 years passing since the infamous break-in that took place at Watergate during the Nixon administration, the incident remains a fascinating piece of American history.

(Photo by Christine Gallipeau/The Points Guy)

Seeing the Scandal Room for yourself — whether through a free tour or a paid stay — is an “only in D.C.” experience worth having. Know, though, that there are other ways to learn more about that pivotal political moment if you’re unable to stay at The Watergate Hotel.

The Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery, which you’ll find in D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood, is offering a temporary exhibit titled “Watergate: Portraiture and Intrigue” featuring a collection of visuals depicting the politicians linked to the break-in. It’s on display until Sept. 5.

And across the country in Southern California, you can check out Yorba Linda’s Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, where a permanent gallery about Watergate delves into the history of the event.

Featured image by (Photo by Christine Gallipeau/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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1X1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
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    The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

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  • Annual Fee

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  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
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Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.