St. Regis Washington blends elegance, low-key manner

Associate editor Grant Flowers paid a visit to the St. Regis Washington. Here is his report:

WASHINGTON -- In its previous incarnation as the Carlton Hotel, the St. Regis Washington was well-known and fancied by luminaries such as Charlie Chaplin and Harry Truman.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts, owners of the Luxury Collection, of which the St. Regis properties are a part, hope that the hotel's cachet continues into the next millennium.

Starwood acquired the eight-story hotel when it purchased ITT Sheraton, owners of the Luxury Collection, in 1998.

With its April name change, the St. Regis Washington became the third property to bear the St. Regis moniker, along with the original St. Regis in New York and the St. Regis Aspen. (A fourth St. Regis, in Philadelphia, joined the group in July.)

"The name has changed but the hotel is getting better," said Peter Walterspiel, the German-born general manager of the hotel. Walterspiel arrived two weeks before the conversion.

The 73-year-old property, fashioned after an Italian palace, is located at the corner of 16th and K streets, two blocks from the White House.

The hotel has a timeless structure and facade -- Romanesque arches are in abundance -- that instantly lets guests know they are about to enter a patrician world. Yet, once inside, the hotel is surprisingly low-key.

It feels like a crime to walk into or out of the hotel without taking a few moments to sit in the beautifully adorned lobby, which is decorated with lush carpets, sofas, and chairs. It is a welcome change from the downtown streets.

The reception desk is located in back of the lobby, opposite the front door. To the left is the hotel's in-house restaurant, Lespinasse, which is one of the best in Washington and earned five diamonds from AAA. (The restaurant also has a side entrance on the street.)

The hotel's 192 rooms and 14 suites have a bright look due to tasteful use of gold and white, which show up on the walls, bedspreads, curtains, chairs and other pieces of furniture.

It almost goes without saying that the bed, a St. Regis standard, is just fine.

Bathrooms are not huge but certainly comfortable enough, and have ample lighting. Features include a full-length mirror and Bijan toiletries.

The St. Regis properties are known for their butler service, available for guests staying on the Astor Floors. The St. Regis Washington has two Astor Floors.

Butlers will do almost anything for guests or, as Walterspiel puts it, "anything that is in good taste and legal." Most such tasks are mundane, such as pressing clothes and packing or unpacking bags.

Walterspiel provided a glimpse behind the scenes of how the butler service operates. An unmarked door, one for each butler floor, leads to what is called the "pantry." This is essentially the butlers' control center.

The pantry contains a good supply of the most frequently needed items, but the highlight is the white board that butlers use to keep track of guests.

Using erasable red and blue magic markers, butlers chart guests by name and room status and keep track of any information that is necessary, such as arrival time.

Butlers also input "profile" information about guests, such as what kind of pillows they like or which fruits they prefer.

This information is later added to the computer system so it can be accessed at other Starwood properties.

A large number of St. Regis Washington guests come from the world of government, either foreign or domestic. Walterspiel has noticed many frequent guests of the St. Regis New York trying out the southern sister property.

Walterspiel said that next year there will be additional renovations to the property, including new carpeting, more furniture and remodeled hallways. The hotel's traditional look will remain intact.

The hotel's most recent renovation came in 1995, for a cool $25 million, but the company invested $2 million as part of the conversion to a St. Regis.

Other areas of the hotel include a fitness center (small but well equipped), and eight meeting rooms. The rooms range from the 2,500-square-foot Crystal Ballroom to the 550-square-foot Chesapeake Room.

Adjacent to the Crystal Ballroom is the Crystal Terrace, an outdoor space often used for weddings.

It is a luxury property, and it certainly has luxury rates. A summer special had rates as low as $189 per night, but the fall peak season will see rack rates of $700 with butler rooms at $850.

During the winter, rates will start at $560 for a superior room and climb to $660 for a room with butler service.

St. Regis Washington

Phone: (800) 325-3589

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