Hail to the Sleep: The Hay-Adams Hotel, Washington
As the song goes – and I use the word ‘song’ in the loosest possible sense – “everybody needs good neighbours”. It’s a lesson The Hay-Adams, one of Washington DC’s oldest purpose-built hotels, should probably take to heart. I didn’t meet the neighbours personally but from what I saw, the police were ALWAYS there – sometimes with helicopters. I’m also told it’s a rare week they don’t throw a huge party and news crews and the press are hanging around constantly. In short, I didn’t see much evidence of “good” from their neighbours but the people at The Hay-Adams disagree and assure me that, contrary to the above evidence, the Obamas are actually a lovely family…
So. Yes. The Hay-Adams, as well as being a hotel of distinction and one of those effortlessly calming places, is the only hotel that overlooks The White House. Apparently, White House security have been known to come calling if people have spent too long on the balcony. The story has it that customers who complain about such tactics receive a salutary lesson. What would you prefer? A polite visit checking your passport details and asking you to go back inside? Or a cluster of red laser dots appearing on your chest?
I’m not sure of the truth of that particular tale but on the basis that this is America and if anyone’s going to have the good guns, it’s the President’s security service, I wasn’t in any rush to test the theory. Besides, there are many other things to do at The Hay-Adams than test the patience of an armed man with a buzzcut. Sleeping, for example. Eating. Sleeping some more. Using it as a handy downtown base to go and see all the bits of DC you really should go and see at least once in your life. And, you know, sleeping.
There are not many hotels where, on emailing my thanks to all concerned for a damned near perfect couple of days, I’ve also felt the need to find out the specifics of the bed I’ve slept on. In fact, up to this moment in my life, there have been zero. For the record, it is called the Stearns & Foster Tivoli Pillowtop Plush and, annoyingly, doesn’t appear to be available for purchase in the UK. The fact that they have this information to hand is impressive, but it’s not just because they’ve been asked the question before. No. When they were in the process of changing the beds, they tested various combinations on their long-term regular clients to see which they preferred. Did someone say “attention to detail”? Yes indeed, but it’s more than that. In this well-oiled machine of a hotel, even as it’s been the location of some of the capital’s finest power-broking – many’s the night you’ll see a senator or several in their bar (called, but of course, “Off The Record”) or in the Lafayette restaurant – there’s a sense that guests are treated more like family than customers and that staff are constantly going that extra mile because, well, they can.
For example, a pre-visit request for restaurant suggestions leads to an e-mail from Head Concierge Eric Gammill. While many such lists are clearly made up of all the nearby eateries that will slip the odd backhander the concierge’s way, Eric’s covers all points. He even sends me to the wilds of the Meatpacking district for a sandwich at A Litteri Inc., an Italian supermarket that you would never stumble across by accident but which does, by some margin, the best sandwich in DC. “You went to Litteri?” an incredulous DC journalist asks me one evening. “The concierge sent you to Litteri? Man, he knows his stuff…” And coming from a man who was once the main food writer of the Washington Post, that’s considerable praise.
Food plays a major part at The Hay-Adams, from the fine dining of The Lafayette – and the warm bacon and cheddar scones that rocked my breakfasting world – to the newly built kitchens on the top floor that cater for the endless “ooh look it’s the White House!” gatherings, weddings and parties that fill the panoramic function suites. Many places would be content to be churning out this many covers with a menu that ticks all the safe boxes. Again, The Hay-Adams defies expectations, working closely with a farm just outside the city and cheerfully experimenting at every turn.
I spent a morning at the farm with The Lafayette’s chef Jaime Montes de Oca, Jr., partly to take a look at what they’re doing but mostly to pick a few things for the ultimate in “farm to table” dinners. Jamie’s background is Asian food. The farmers know this and, throughout our walk, surprise Jamie with a few things and discuss what other things they could plant. Their logic is that anything that grows anywhere that’s on the same parallel as DC, well, maybe we can plant some? The results include the sort of things you’d expect from an American farm – apples, strawberries, kale – a few things you don’t – such as fresh kaffir limes and leaves – and at least one thing that’s truly unexpected: they’re having a stab at growing their own rice. Next year, at Jaime’s request, he should have things such as fresh turmeric and curry leaves to experiment with. “It’s a playground,” Jaime tells me. “They’re always surprising me.”
Back at the hotel, Jaime turns our pickings into several courses of utter joy. It’s delicious and light and not the sort of thing that leaves you reeling and wanting your bed – not that that stopped me in this instance. I still slept like the dead, nestled for a final time in the arms of that Stearns & Foster Tivoli Pillowtop Plush while, just a few hundred yards across a park, someone busied themselves running pretty much all of the Western World. As juxtapositions go, that’s a pretty good one. I’m also damned sure I got the better deal. Slip the Hay-Adams into my Top Ten hotels. It really is that good.
Stay at The Hay-Adams hayadams.com; +(800) 853-6807 from USD $329 for a Superior Room, based upon single or double occupancy.