The Doyle Collection’s Dupont Circle Hotel is turning heads in DC after a multi-million-dollar makeover... and you never know who you might spot in the bar
For a minute, I’m part of the DC set.
Sitting in Doyle bar, lowball glass in hand, I scan the clubby blue banquettes and bookish nooks, drawing intrigue from the air. Earlier, Secret Service agents waited by black Chevy Suburbans outside. Around me, are there journalists cultivating sources? Conspiring politicos? Diplomats brokering deals? Are those dapper first dates or after-work drinks?
Tone is a tricky thing to get right. But the Doyle Collection makes it feel easy. The Irish group’s eight hotels (including Dublin’s Westbury and London’s Marylebone, Bloomsbury and Kensington) are a portfolio of soft-power service, understated luxury and ooh-inducing attention to detail (be it black makeup-removal cloths in bathrooms, or covert lobby charging points always within arm’s reach).
The Dupont Circle, where I’m now wishing my suit jacket was tailored, is the family-owned group’s only US hotel and, following a multi-million-euro refurb together with designers Martin Brudnizki and New York-based studio Clodagh, an essay in mid-century sophistication.
The rating: 8.5/10
The grey-bricked Modernist building looks on to Dupont Circle, the huge roundabout at the heart of the neighbourhood.
It’s a spiffy location, with bars, bistros and boutiques between the trees and townhouses, the Red Line subway a few minutes and the White House 1.5km away. You might spot chess players by the fountain, or skip around the corner for a browse and brunch in Kramers bookstore.
The door is opened, a receptionist introduces himself by name and offers a late checkout without asking; and the small lobby lounge, with its look-through bookshelf and 1950s-style furniture, is exquisite eye candy. It has the style of a showroom, but the warmth of a home. 9/10
At play here is an unpushy confidence, cosmopolitanism and vintage-inflected design that never screams “look at me!” but gently layers up over the course of a stay.
You won’t find any twee Irish artefacts amidst the dark strip wood panelling or designer furniture — but there are a few nods to the Collection’s heritage, like sculptures by John Behan and Linda Brunker. There’s no pool or spa, but a small gym and fitness centre downstairs (if you must).
The Taoiseach and Boris Johnson both stayed recently, and I recognise at least one Government player among the scattering of Irish accents.
But mostly business is US-based, with guests looked after by seriously good and snappily dressed staff (shout-out to the concierge’s excellent white beard). Watching reception tick over, I see a doorman spot a guest’s coat slipping off the counter. He glides over to catch it before it hits the floor.
Save for one brusque interaction on a drinks order, the service purrs. Everyone exudes a sense of “I’ve got this”. 8/10
The intimate lobby and bar belie the hotel’s scale — there are 327 rooms, including a ninth floor devoted entirely to suites and a colossal penthouse (with its own terrace fire bowl, natch).
Rooms have been refurbed in palettes of creams, greys and taupes, with jewelly pops of colour — an amber swivel armchair, rather than blingy statement pieces, for example. Subtler luxury touches include heated bathroom floors, duck-down duvets, brass detailing and blackout curtains.
Beds are big, high and cloudlike; turndown sees my toiletries arranged neatly on a fluffy towel, and marble bathrooms are stocked with Malin + Goetz products (they are mini bottles, though). 8/10
Doyle is a clubby little bar, “a sort of 1950s, Mad Men vibe”, as Corkonian GM Mark Payne describes it, sipping a pint of Guinness ($9) one evening.
The din here can get surprisingly loud for a smooth space with no TVs, but staff keep it ticking over, and a few sips of a playfully retro cocktail (‘Drain the Swamp’ mixes aged rum, nocino, banana and absinthe; from $17) should see you settle right in.
The Pembroke is the hotel’s restaurant, an elegant, quieter space serving “American cuisine with global influences” — from a 16oz rib-eye to handmade pastas or veal Milanese (mains from $28-$62). Gluten-free and veggie options are strong, and my blackened salmon pings off a tabbouleh salad and velvety lemon caper butter (though a starter sees a ball of burrata cheese served fridge-cold along with its aubergine caponata, rather than room temperature, which I’m pretty sure most would prefer).
Floor-to-ceiling windows open onto a terrace, and the leafy plants, copious marble and curvy coral booths combine the best brasserie and salon vibes. A marble bar with a drinks island lit from within is another nod to classy bars of the ’50s. You can get brunch on weekends, too.
It’s great American customer service, with staff introducing themselves by name, mollycoddling you across dish descriptions, wine pairings and portion sizes. Though I do wait a little too long for a Virginia Ham Benedict ($20) at breakfast. Feedback is eagerly taken. 7.5/10
The Dupont Circle is a gorgeously designed hotel that never feels overtly, guiltily so. Its luxury subtly wraps you up rather than hammering you over the head.
In a world with a hotel on every block, I love the sense of stepping into a clubby, intimate international crossroads, if only for a short stay.
Washington has its classics, from the Willard to the Jefferson or Mayflower. If it keeps evolving like this, the Dupont Circle will fit right into that DC set.
Classic rooms face the interior courtyard — upgrade to deluxe or higher floors for those neighbourhood views.
The Phillips Collection is a small but superb museum of modern art just five minutes away. Highlights include the Rothko Room. phillipscollection.org
Rooms only from $305/€290. Pól was a guest of the hotel (doylecollection.com/hotels) and washington.org