Monisha Rajesh marvels at the Presidential Suite where the Obama family camped out before moving into the White House.
There has been a recent spate of articles about the most fascinating toilets around the world, which I would normally dismiss as clickbait were it not for the fact that during my stay at The Hay-Adams I found myself oddly drawn towards a toilet that Barack Obama had sat on. Lingering in the cosy cream bathroom for just a moment too long, I marveled at the Japanese Toto seat, with all its fancy buttons for spraying, warming and playing music, and pictured the American president perched on the seat back in 2009, perhaps pondering the next four years of his life. For it was in this grand old renaissance hotel that the Obama family had camped out before they moved into the White House across the road. Only the day before I had stood beside the Lincoln Memorial in awe, and although this porcelain throne was slightly less impressive, it instilled a greater sense of excitement. I was staying in the room next door, but had convinced the girl at the desk that I was considering having my wedding there and got her to show me round the modest but pretty little Presidential Suite.
Built in the 1920s the hotel does in fact look and sound like it’s permanently hosting a wedding. Tall vases burst with huge white and ivory roses, classical music plays quietly in the lobby and gold candelabra stand above beautiful white fireplaces. In addition to the immediate charms of the hotel, the finer details emerge throughout my stay as a number of staff reject tips, carry bags without prompt, and offer guests ice water in the lobby with shavings of cucumber and strawberry.
Rooms feel like bedrooms: warm carpets underfoot; Toile de Jouy wallpaper featuring Chinese musicians framed by apple trees, and plenty of brass fittings, tiny lamps and mirrors. They also have ironing boards – which almost never happens in luxury hotels that are prone to fleecing guests with a ludicrously priced laundry service. But ironing aside, the real reason to stay at the Hay-Adams is for the view. Pull up the windows and there’s the White House, literally a stone’s throw away. The only other way to secure a view like this would be by helicopter and you’d probably be shot down. It’s spectacular on a summer’s day with little but a china-blue sky, the Washington Monument in the background and bundles of treetops dotted around the Oval Office below.
Down in the basement is the most fun part of the hotel and one of the coolest bars in the neighbourhood. Named ‘Off the Record’, in an homage to its history of journalistic and political clientele, the bar is a bizarre mix of 16th-century English paneling with bright red armchairs, but you can spend hours nursing a gin and tonic and taking in the gallery of uncompromising political cartoons and sketches.
Around the corner is a new hotel with a brash brand, a squawking cocktail bar overlooking the street and a clientele to match. But it’s not a patch on the quiet charms of the Hay-Adams, where nothing is overlooked but the White House.