The Watergate Hotel: They’re Baaaack


For many years, the Watergate Hotel sat lonely and abandoned at the edge of the Potomac, its once-elegant interiors home only to the occasional mouse seeking refuge from Foggy Bottom’s brisk winter wind or hot summer sun. Trash collected in deserted exterior entranceways. Weeds sprouted from the cracks in the concrete.

Now, in one of D.C.’s biggest comebacks since Marion Barry got out of prison and resumed his role as mayor, the Watergate Hotel is open again, ready to re-take its position as the home of hush-hush happenings that will one day become public. (This likely will happen more quickly this time, due to modern inventions like Twitter.)

Propelled to Fame

When the Watergate Hotel first opened in 1965, it was frequented by politicians, international figures and assorted rich people. It was known merely as another fancy, expensive hotel in a high-profile city. It wasn’t until 1972 when the Watergate burglaries put this prominent piece of architecture on the Potomac on the map for all of America, and much of the rest of the world.

The scandal was broadcast in living color on 17-inch screens to households all over the country. America sat transfixed, eating their Swanson Salisbury steak dinners on trays in front of the TV so as not to miss any part of the parade of men with sideburns, broad lapels and wide ties taking turns saying, “I do not recall.”

When Nixon gave his final wave and boarded his helicopter outta town, the Watergate tried to hang on to the excitement, but alas, the magic was gone. Its 15 minutes of fame had elapsed. The property changed hands, individual buildings were sold and re-sold, and the iconic landmark eventually closed in 2007. Plans to reopen it were made and fell through again and again.

Rise from the Ashes

The curving, concrete-heavy façade may be dated, but the inside is brand-spanking new, and it’s ready for its close-up.

No one sings the praises of the new and improved Watergate Hotel more than the hotel itself, whose tagline is “unapologetically luxurious.” Its home page features a beautiful young woman, one eye secretively shrouded by her flowing hair, the other boldly sizing you up. One can’t help but wonder if she’s one of the amenities in the more expensive rooms.

And speaking of room rates, it seems the longer you wait, the better deal you get. Rates were widely publicized before the opening June 1 as “starting at $425 a night.” On June 2, you could book a room for $311.20 (what you do suppose the extra $1.20 covers? A condom? Unless these are included in the minibar next to the M&Ms …). By June 3, the rate was $263.20. Next week maybe it’s going to be competing with the Hotel Harrington—who knows?

None of the expensive accommodations are up and running yet. The Presidential Suite, Diplomat Suite and Premier One-Bedroom Suite show blackout dates for the rest of the year. So if you want 2,400 feet of “exquisite furnishings,” you might have to look elsewhere.

Modern PR is rife with terms like “lavish,” “lush” and “see and be seen.” The trailer (what hotel has a trailer?) features beautiful men and women sipping expensive liquor and lustfully fingering jewel-encrusted necklaces. Accompanying text includes: We’ve never been a stranger/To slander/To scandals/To controversy and A place with curves. The word “dignity” doesn’t appear. They must be getting ready for Election 2016. You’d never see this kind of marketing at the Jefferson or the Hay-Adams. Maybe they’ll film an episode of the Real Housewives of Potomac here.

No longer will the likes of Eliot Spitzer have to go downtown to the Mayflower — The Watergate is open for business.

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