Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Washington Social Diary

The money shot at twilight: one of the stunning views from the rooftop of the W Hotel.
Washington’s New Point Of View
By Carol Joynt

Washington is a city of splendid views, but we suffer a deficit of public places where it’s possible to sit, drink, eat and take in the splendor. One of the most beloved – the rooftop of the Hotel Washington – recently re-opened after a takeover and makeover by the W Hotel chain. The views remain the same – breathtaking – but just about everything else is different and the public reaction has been mixed. The complaints? Power-tripping bouncers, slow service, a long line. The raves? The view. The view. The view.

W may have thought they were simply renovating a worn down old tourist hotel, and that’s true, but for Washingtonians that funky old roof was almost sacred. Now it’s called POV (for point of view) and strives for hipster chic, with loud music, velvet ropes, the staff in black and wearing headsets, and an unpopular procedure for being granted permission to board the one elevator that goes to the rooftop. Back in the day there was no “list,” you just walked in, went up any of the elevators, and asked for a table. Typically, I’d order a Pina Colada and Nachos, put my feet up on the railing and marvel at the monuments and the clear view of the White House.
The W Hotel rooftop, in the early evening a place for quiet conversation. Later, it gets loud.
This corner of the W Hotel rooftop is the most coveted - it has views to the East and the West.
“I used to take my college friends to the top of the Hotel Washington and order ... frozen drinks,” said Susanna Quinn. “It was always kind of grungy and the crowd was Midwest business men and tourists toting tired children after a day at the Smithsonian. Nothing beat the magic of the view and frankly, I liked it better back then.”

Maybe all the naysayers will come around. It seems enough have already because the two times I’ve been there – both in the past week – the rooftop was packed and downstairs in the re-done lobby – with a trendy décor out of South Beach circa 1990 – there was a long, patient line of people waiting to go up.
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner. Sen. Warner's view? The White House, of course.
The view over the rooftop of the Treasury Department to the White House just on the other side.
Another popular corner table.
The W Hotel rooftop is a place to think ... ... and a place to phone a friend, or lover?
... hang with friends, cruise, party?
Isn't it romantic? A couple of cocktails, and thou, and the White House?
The terrace feels as long as a football field, or longer.
The P.O.V. menu has tapas and a range of specialty cocktails.
In one plate, heirloom tomatoes with crab salad, in the other, watermelon with goat's cheese.
Crispy calamaris and crunchy Samosas, with sauces to match.
Aubrey Sarvis and Bill McPherson. Say "cheese." I mean, "cheers." Bill McPherson and CJ.
Aubrey Sarvis and Bill McPherson get served.
After sunset, the views begin to glow, particularly the White House.
My first visit was for a private party hosted by the Gilt Groupe, the groovy high fashion discount website, after a screening of the new documentary about Vogue magazine, “September Issue.” The guest list was a few men plus a pretty horde of fashionable young women in sky-high hooker heels and hemlines, salon-fresh hair and make up, who were comfortably at home with the loud techno music, the designer cocktails and clever Hor D’Ouvres.

We wore wrist bands that got us up the elevator and past the velvet ropes. I sat with friends on the candle lit terrace, lapping up the views, shouting at each other to be heard. Down the way, White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers kept a low profile with her own group. Her Social office colleague, Ebs Burnough, mingled happily at the party, as did White House Deputy Chief of Staff Mona Sutphen, who was there with her sister-in-law, co-hostess Tina D’Souza. Tony Powell snapped pics of his favorite ladies.
The guests at the Gilt Groupe party after a screening "September Issue."
Ebs Burnough, White House Deputy Social Secretary. Tony Powell and Joelle Myers.
Mary Cull and Brandy Moore in the foreground, at the Gilt Groupe party at the W Hotel.
Jamie Doros and Susanna Quinn talk to a reporter at the Gilt Groupe party. Matt Glassman of NBC News.
Out on the long terrace there was a breeze, aided by an army of ceiling fans. We sipped rose champagne. It was beautiful. The place was hopping. Two middle aged men in flip flops, shorts and sport shirts, after several attempts, finally finagled some wrist bands and got inside the velvet ropes, looking hilariously like bewildered St. Bernards among Flamingoes.

I returned a second night with friends Aubrey Sarvis and William McPherson, to try out the terrace at twilight, to see if the scene was different. It was. There was not yet a line to get up the elevator, and we just went right up. The controversial bouncers in the black jackets and headsets were relaxed. The music was low. Most of the tables were filled but we got a nice one that looked toward the White House and to the West toward the sunset. A couple tables over was Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, with his daughter and a friend, just back from a family trip to Europe and “going back and forth across the state talking about health care.”
A W Hotel rooftop deejay.
The W Hotel's lobby deejay.
At this hour, before the ramp up, the scene reminded Aubrey, Bill and me of the rooftop of old – populated with the known, the unknown, lovers, tourists – with the Pina Colada replaced by a glass of good rose wine and the Nachos replaced by several small plates of delicious “tapas” from chef Phillipe Reininger. In a new dimension of florid menu prose, the W boasts “cocktail creation as an exhibition sport,” drinks with an “artistic divination” and “drinking as a display of deliriously delightful decadence,” but you can, thankfully, just get a Scotch on the rocks, though the rocks are “signature” and “customized” and chipped from a “100 pound block” of ice.

The W rooftop terrace plans to be open year round, which will be something new for the location. Screens and special heaters will keep patrons warm and dry. They say they will close it only in the event of a big snowstorm. Too bad. That could be fun. Think of the possibilities of artistic divination with cocktails created from fresh snow?
The long line of wannabe patrons, waiting to get up to the W Hotel rooftop.
Guests pose for pictures as they wait to be permitted up to the W Hotel roof.
The first of many velvet ropes at the W Hotel.
The one elevator up to the W Hotel rooftop is roped off and securely guarded. Your name has to be on a list.
Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C. Visit her at: caroljoynt.com.