By Donna Evers
When the Jefferson Hotel opened its doors in 2009 after undergoing a complete renovation, owner Connie Milstein said that what she loved about the hotel was that it had a “homelike feeling.” The magnificent 99 room hotel, the first in this city to win a place in the esteemed Relais & Chateaux Guide, indeed gives you the feeling you might be visiting your rich uncle’s mansion. But the most striking and unique feature of this renovation is its complete homage to Thomas Jefferson.
When you walk in under the newly constructed Beaux Arts porte-cochere, a brass bas- relief of Jefferson looks down on you. Images of Jefferson appear throughout the hotel, with the main rooms named after rooms in Monticello ( e.g. the Pavilion Room, the Book Room, etc), and the draperies in the guest rooms are custom designed with toile patterns showing scenes of Jefferson’s beloved Virginia home. Even the toiletries are made with fragrances from the herbs and flowers that are grown at Monticello. However, no pun intended, history is not dry at the Jefferson.
In the Quill bar lounge, there is a series of antique maps which detail the monumental wine tour that Jefferson carefully planned and undertook through France, Germany, and Italy, visiting hundreds of vineyards and wineries, when he was our minister to France in the 1780’s. The Quill also features a gorgeous glowing bar, patterned after one that Mrs. Milstein saw at the Plaza Athenee in Paris, made with lighted, curved layers of glass over fabric in cadmium orange, a signature color that was especially created for the renovation.
While you can enjoy afternoon tea in the Book Room, Jefferson would probably be most pleased with the Cellar Room. He spent a lot of money and effort to keep the best stocked wine cellar in the country, both at the White House and Monticello, so the hotel is proud of this room where guests can dine surrounded by 1600 of the best wines from the hotel’s renowned 6000 bottle collection. In the plush haute cuisine restaurant, Plume, there is a curtained banquette, nicknamed “the nest”, where people who want a truly private dinner can drink champagne under the soft light of the antique chandelier which was purchased when the old Willard Hotel closed. When the renovated Willard tried to buy it back many years later, it was definitely “not for sale”.
The hotel has an interesting local history of its own. It’s been visited by stars and presidents and one particularly well-publicized scandal, where former Clinton insider, Dick Morris, was caught cavorting on the balcony with a prostitute. Originally constructed by mega-builder Harry Wardman in 1923, it served as an apartment building for Washington’s social and power elite. The brilliant Beaux Arts architect, Jules de Sibour, created a magnificent steel and glass atrium in the front of the building, which had been inadvertently plastered over many years ago. It was only rediscovered during this last renovation and made into the brilliant Pavilion Room, which is the hotel’s architectural piece de resistance.
While the guest rooms are large and luxurious, dressed with Porthault linens and decorated with custom-created colors and fabric, with a regal Presidential Suite on the top floor, nowhere in the hotel do you get the feeling of pretension or ostentation. “God is in the details” said architect Mies van der Rohe, and here we have to say, Jefferson is in the details.
A more thoughtful tribute to Washington’s favorite Renaissance man would be hard to imagine, from the exquisite enameled miniature of Monticello on the ornate entry hall podium, to the marble hall displaying documents signed by Jefferson and graced with the busts of Jefferson and John Adams, his old nemesis or best friend, depending on which decade we’re talking about. The place is all about the great man, his vast intellect, his love of good food and wine, and his immense passion for architecture and design that serve to embellish the rebirth of this elegant hotel.