A Hotel Insider on DC’s Best Spots
The head concierge of the ultra-venerable Hay-Adams’ opens her Rolodex just for us
This is Concierge Confidential, a series in which we learn about a city’s best-kept secrets from people who specialize in exactly that: long-serving concierges from the best hotels in town.
The venerable Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington, D.C., has seen it all since it began life as the next-door homes of BFFs John Hay and Henry Adams back in 1884. The spot at 16th and H Street was transformed into a luxury hotel in 1927 and completely restored in 2011, shortly after Franziska Boelke joined the staff. Now the head concierge (and a member of Les Clefs d’Or USA Concierges), the Dresden-born Boelke knows D.C. like the local she has become Here, she shares her tips to the best the nation’s capital has to offer.
Where can I get a cup of coffee near the hotel and go for a good walk?
Franziska Boelke: My favorite coffee shop in the neighborhood is Filter Coffeehouse. It’s a small locally owned business with a deep love for java. From there, I would continue walking into Georgetown or the close-by Dupont Circle area.
Where do singles hang out?
I would say a great bar or the latest exhibit in town is where singles congregate. Service Bar on U Street comes to mind. My friend met her fiancée there! The National Gallery of Art does after-hours events a few times a year, and that is definitely a place for single mingling.
How about a restaurant where only locals go?
DC has such a great restaurant scene, and while it’s no longer a big secret, Apéro in Georgetown is for sure still a local gem. Set in a small historic rowhouse, it is known for its excellent Champagne and caviar selection, but it also boasts a fine, small dinner menu with great cocktails to pair.
Late-night spot where I can get into a bit of trouble? (But not too much trouble?)
Chicken & Whiskey on 14th Street! The front of the store is a fast, casual eatery offering some of the best roasted pollo in town. But the speakeasy bar — cleverly hidden behind a fridge door — has impromptu dance breakouts and always late-night shots on a Thursday night. I personally love the place.
Best cheap eats in town?
For a greasy and tasty breakfast, there is Lincoln’s Waffle Shop in downtown DC. A real old-fashioned staple. I love a good sandwich, and Stachowski’s Butcher Shop gives you the absolute best for the buck. Their Meat Grinder is legendary.
Where can I go for the best dessert?
It all depends on what type of dessert you are into. I truly believe Filomena in Georgetown makes some of the best cakes in the city, and my favorite is the Hazelnut Daquoise. Perfectly layered hazelnut meringue, ganache and mousse.
Best place for a sunset cocktail?
Tiki TNT, the tropical rum bar at the Wharf. You have great views over the Washington Channel and East Potomac Park. I suggest the Hinky Dinks Fizzy.
Where to go if I want to see politicians making deals?
In all honesty I think the traditional places are no longer in play. Business ideas and collaborations can be born over a great beverage or meal. And DC has plenty of those.
What’s a unique service that your hotel offers that I won’t find elsewhere?
It isn’t a service, but we have a ghost! We are named after John Hay, the secretary to President Lincoln, and Henry Adams, who was a descendent of John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Both men connected a lifelong friendship, and together with their spouses, they lived in two joining houses on Lafayette Square. Some say the hotel is haunted by the spirit of Glover Adams, Henry’s wife – who committed suicide at their house in 1885. Her memorial was designed by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and you can find it at Rock Creek Cemetery.
What’s an underutilized part of your hotel?
Our beautiful Top of the Hay Roof Terrace has, without a doubt, the best view of the White House and Washington Monument. It’s a great space for private events and exclusively offered for that. We do allow access to the public, but only about four times a year, while enjoying one of our famous “Holiday Brunches,” held on Easter, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
Where should I go in the area for a day spent outside?
Rock Creek Park or Great Falls. I love the outdoors, going for a hike or a nice long walk. The city closed Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park a while back to all vehicle traffic and really made it a fantastic area for running, biking or hiking. Weekends are busier of course, but it’s gorgeous there no matter what day you go. Great Falls over in Virginia or on the Maryland side is equally scenic and only a 30-minute drive from DC.
Where’s a good spot to snap an Instagram-worthy photo?
The steps of the Lincoln Memorial, ideally at sunrise. Makes for a picture-perfect moment with the Washington Monument in full sight.
Best neighborhood to take a four-hour stroll if I want to get acquainted with a more “authentic” side of the city?
Capitol Hill. You have the historic Eastern Market there, charming side streets with adorable front yards, a couple of great little bookstores, kids playing, neighborhood restaurants and The Fridge, a really cool art gallery.
What’s the easiest way to get around town, in terms of transportation?
I swear by my bicycle. It’s the best and most efficient way of transportation for me. I have been riding my bike since the day I moved to DC. Thankfully the Hay-Adams has their own and our guests can rent them for free.
What’s a lesser-known cultural institution worth visiting?
Hillwood Estate. It used to belong to socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post and is located right by Rock Creek Park. An absolutely beautiful location and hardly ever overrun by visitors. She was known for her love for Russian Imperial and French decorative art. In addition the grounds and gardens are stunning at any season.
What’s a cool architectural site that’s not mobbed with tourists?
Meridian Hill Park. Here in the city it is known as Malcolm X Park. Its cascading fountain is the longest in North America. The architecture is modeled after a 16th-century style Italian villa. The park itself also has a few notable statues, including Joan of Arc and Dante.
What’s the best thing you can only get in your city?
The original half smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl. It’s an institution.
What’s the best thing you can only do in your city?
Only in DC can you visit over 15 museums and galleries and don’t spend any cash on admission fees. How great is that!
What’s something I can say or do to endear myself to locals?
“I know about DC’s GoGo music and its legendary Father, Chuck Brown.”
What’s something that tourists tend to do that really annoys locals?
What would annoy me is standing on the wrong side of the Metro escalator.
I’m looking for a low-key brunch. Where to?
Duke’s Grocery is great and has a couple of locations here in the city. They have outdoor seating and it’s casual. You can even get a proper English breakfast there.
Best place to eat a meal or have a beer outside when the weather’s good?
One of my all-time favorites is The Garden District. It’s a small beer garden in the Shaw Neighborhood. They have some good German brews on their menu and those go well with a pulled pork sandwich or fried pickles.
Any potential issues I should be worried about or pay attention to when it comes to public transportation (busy times, delays, petty crime, etc.)?
Rush hour can get crowded on the Metro, so between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. and then again in the afternoon after 4 p.m. the trains are definitely busy. We have seen some serious delays when the Metro does track work, and sometimes trains can take up to 25 minutes to appear. It’s a work in progress, for sure. As for crimes I have to say DC is a major city and we have our fair share of crime. I would always recommend being aware of your surroundings and if possible travel with a companion late at night. It’s just the safest option.
What’s the one thing everyone forgets to pack? Or the one thing everyone should remember to pack when visiting?
During spring and fall seasons, I would say a jacket. I have had plenty of guests who were caught off guard by the DC weather, which can be a little unpredictable at times. You don’t want to end up freezing when touring.
Finally, what’s the best book to read about the area before I come?
I really enjoyed the Washington D.C. Field Guide by Wildsam. It’s full of stories from the past and present, beautiful illustrations and interviews with local chefs, authors and politicians.
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