Upon arrival to Washington Union Station on a recent conference trip to D.C., I found my way outside, waited five minutes in line, and caught a cab to my destination, the Washington Marriott at the corner of M and 22nd Streets ($16, including tip, not bad for PM rush hour). The hotel sits in the heart of NW Washington, where all the D.C. money is. The many billions spent every year by lobbyists are dispensed on nearby K Street, and you can almost hear the legislative cash registers ringing from the corner of M and 22nd.
Still, there's nothing special about the Washington Marriott. It's a cookie-cutter urban property with the same damn tiny rooms that Marriott is famous for. Check-in was swift, and the clerk accommodated my request to change my preassigned room from a lower floor to the eighth floor, room 855.
Sure enough, though the room was nicely appointed, it was small. The chair under the narrow and wobbly desk could not be moved out to sit in without hitting the bed and blocking passage to get to the windows. I liked the flatscreen HD TV, though I hardly had time to watch more than 20-30 minutes a night. There is a narrow and almost unusable space between the bed and the window where Marriott has nonetheless crammed in a lamp.
I've been on sailboats with bigger heads (bathrooms) than the one in room 855. The sink didn't even face the mirror because it was forced into one corner. The tub/shower was roomy enough, but the oversized rainwater showerhead had little water volume, and the outward shower curtain bulge that's now standard in every hotel room caused the shower curtain to bow out over the toilet seat because the toilet was installed so close to the tub by necessity. The closet by the room door was miniscule; it reminded me of the narrow closets on airplanes.
All this lux for a mere $331 per night, the generous and special conference rate! I was assured by Marriott reservation agents when I booked the room that this was half the rack rate.
Oh, and by the way, it's another $13 per day (plus tax) for wifi. I used my BlackBerry instead. Paying $662 for two nights in a plain-vanilla Marriott made me sour enough without having to fork over more for a commonplace product that's included in the room rate most places. A hotel that charges guests for the Internet these days makes as much sense as charging extra for towels and soap--but maybe I shouldn't give them any ideas.
Marriott's snazzier brand, the Ritz-Carlton, is just a half block away on the other side of the street. I decided to treat myself to another visit to its beautiful bar, done up with proper dark wood and muted lighting. I enjoyed Champagne and cheese there two years ago, and I wanted a repeat experience. The menu seemed not to have changed, with a bottle of Taittinger nonvintage brut at $80 and a cheese plate for less than $20. Knowing I couldn't drink 750 ml of fine French Champagne without falling asleep in my chair, I opted for two glasses of the Taittinger at $16 per.
The Champagne and the cheese went well together, as usual, and I was soon hoofing it back to the Marriott. Out of curiosity I stopped in the bar there to check out their bill of fare. I was amused to find the Marriott offering a bottle of Mumm California champagne at $60 for the bottle, or $13 per glass. Mumm made in Napa is fine, but it's far inferior to Taittinger made in France, and yet the Ritz price for the Taittinger was a great bargain by comparison to the Marriott's price for Mumm. I didn't order any.
Both nights in the hotel were quiet on the eighth floor, and I slept well. The HVAC fan rattled a bit, but it didn't keep me awake, and thankfully the thermostat functioned properly, avoiding wild swings between too hot and too cold (a problem in some hotel rooms). I give the Marriott credit for delivering the Wall Street Journal to my door each morning, which has long been the preference stored in my Marriott profile. Note to self: Now that the mendacious Rupert Murdoch has defiled and debased the once-great WSJ, change the newspaper preference in my Marriott account to anything but.
I did not try the hotel's restaurant, just as I had not two years previous, because the menu was unimpressive and the ambiance dull. Instead, I ambled over to K Street to dine with colleagues at McCormick & Schmick's. I don't doubt for a second that their signature crab cakes outshone anything on offer at the Marriott.