A hotel insider on where to see midterm politicians in DC
It’s Concierge Confidential, a series in which we uncover a city’s best-kept secrets from people who specialize in the field: long-time concierges at the city’s top hotels.
The venerable Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington, D.C. has seen it all since it began life as the neighboring homes of best friends John Hay and Henry Adams in 1884. The spot at 16th and H Street has been transformed into a luxury hotel in 1927 and fully restored in 2011, shortly after Franziska Boelke joined the team. Now head concierge (and member of the Clefs d’Or USA Concierges), the Dresden-born Boelke knows DC like the local she’s become. Here, she shares her tips on the best the nation’s capital has to offer.
Where can I get a cup of coffee near the hotel and have a good walk?
Franziska Boelke: My favorite cafe in the neighborhood is Filter Coffeehouse. It’s a small, local company with a deep love for Java. From there I would continue walking into Georgetown or the nearby neighborhood of Dupont Circle.
Where do the singles meet?
I would say a great bar or the latest show in town is where the singles gather. Service bar on U street comes to mind. My friend met her fiancée there! The National Gallery of Art hosts after-hours events a few times a year, and it’s definitely a unique hangout.
How about a restaurant where only locals go?
DC has such a restaurant scene, and while it’s no longer a big secret, Apéro in Georgetown is sure to still be a local gem. Located in a small, historic townhouse, it’s known for its excellent champagne and caviar selection, but it also has a small, fine dinner menu with great cocktails to pair.
A late night place where I can get in trouble? (But not too much trouble?)
Chicken and Whiskey on 14th Street! The storefront is a fast-casual restaurant offering some of the best roast pollo in town. But the speakeasy bar — cleverly tucked away behind a fridge door — offers impromptu dance outs and always late night shots on a Thursday night. Personally, I love the place.
The best cheap restaurants in town?
For a greasy and savory breakfast, there’s 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 best for the price. Their meat grinder is legendary.
Where can I go for the best dessert?
It all depends on the type of dessert you like. I truly believe that Filomena in Georgetown makes some of the best cakes in town, and my favorite is the Hazelnut Daquoise. Meringue with hazelnuts, ganache and mousse perfectly layered.
The best place for a sunset cocktail?
Tiki TNT, the Wharf’s tropical rum bar. You have stunning views of the Washington Canal and East Potomac Park. I suggest the Hinky Dinks Fizzy.
Where do I go if I want to see politicians make deals?
In all honesty, I think the traditional places are no longer in play. Business ideas and collaborations can be born over a good drink or a good meal. And DC has plenty.
What is a unique service your hotel offers that I won’t find elsewhere?
It’s not a service, but we have a ghost! We are named after John Hay, President Lincoln’s secretary, and Henry Adams, who was a descendant of John Adams and John Quincy Adams. The two men struck up a lifelong friendship, and together with their wives they lived in two adjoining houses on Lafayette Square. Some say the hotel is haunted by the spirit of Glover Adams, Henry’s wife, who committed suicide in their home in 1885. Her memorial was designed by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and you can find it at Rock Creek Cemetery.
What is the underutilized part of your hotel?
Our magnificent Top of the Hay Roof Terrace offers, without a doubt, the best view of the White House and the Washington Monument. It is an ideal space for private events and exclusively offered for this. We allow public access, but only about four times a year, while enjoying one of our famous ‘Holiday Brunches’, held on Easter, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Where to go in the region for a day spent outdoors?
Rock Creek Park or Great Falls. I love the outdoors, going for a hike or a nice long walk. The city closed Beach Drive at Rock Creek Park a while ago to all vehicular traffic and has truly made it a great place to run, bike or hike. Weekends are of course busier, but it’s beautiful there no matter what day you go. Great Falls in Virginia or the Maryland side is equally scenic and only a 30 minute drive from DC.
Where’s a good place to take an Instagram-worthy photo?
The steps of the Lincoln Memorial, ideally at sunrise. Made for a perfect moment with the Washington Monument in full view.
The best area to take a four-hour walk if I want to get to know a more “authentic” side of the city?
American parliament. There you have the historic East Market, charming side streets with adorable front yards, some great little bookstores, kids playing, neighborhood restaurants and The Fridge, a really cool art gallery.
What is the easiest way to get around town, in terms of transportation?
I swear by my bike. It is the best and most efficient means of transport for me. I’ve been cycling since the day I moved to DC. Fortunately, the Hay-Adams has its own and our customers can rent them for free.
What is a lesser-known cultural institution worth visiting?
Hillwood Estate. It was owned by socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post and is located right next to Rock Creek Park. An absolutely beautiful place and almost never overrun with visitors. She was known for her love of Russian and French imperial decorative art. In addition, the grounds and gardens are beautiful in all seasons.
What’s a cool architectural site that isn’t overrun 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 inspired by an Italian villa in the 16th century style. The park itself also has some notable statues, including Joan of Arc and Dante.
What’s the best thing you can only get in your city?
The original half-smoked Ben’s Chili Bowl. It is an institution.
What’s the best thing you can do only in your city?
Only in DC can you visit more than 15 museums and galleries without spending money on admission fees. How awesome is that!
What can I say or do to make the locals like me?
“I know DC’s GoGo music and its legendary father, Chuck Brown.”
What do tourists tend to do that really annoys locals?
What would bother me is standing on the wrong side of the subway escalator.
I’m looking for a low-key brunch. Where to go ?
Duke’s Grocery is great and has a few locations here in town. They have outdoor seating and it’s casual. You can even have a good English breakfast there.
The best place to eat a meal or drink a beer outside when the weather is nice?
One of my all time favorites is The Garden District. This is a small beer garden in the Shaw district. They have good German beers on their menu and these go well with a pulled pork sandwich or fried pickles.
Are there any potential issues I should be concerned about or watch out for when it comes to public transportation (rush hours, delays, petty crimes, etc.)?
Rush hour can get crowded on the metro, so between 8 and 10 a.m., then again in the afternoon after 4 p.m., the trains are definitely busy. We have seen serious delays when the metro is doing track work, and sometimes trains can take up to 25 minutes to appear. It’s a work in progress, that’s for sure. When it comes to crime, I have to say DC is a big city and we have our fair share of crime. I would always recommend being aware of your surroundings and, if possible, traveling with a companion late at night. It’s just the safest option.
What is the thing that everyone forgets to pack? Or the one thing everyone should remember to pack when visiting?
In spring and fall, I would say a jacket. I’ve had a lot of guests who have been caught off guard by the DC weather, which can be a little unpredictable at times. You don’t want to end up freezing on a tour.
Finally, what is the best book to read about the region before coming?
I really enjoyed the Washington DC Field Guide by Wildsam. It’s packed with stories from the past and present, beautiful illustrations, and interviews with local leaders, authors, and politicians.
This article was published in the InsideHook DC newsletter. Register now to learn more about the Beltway.