Riggs Washington D.C.
Stately style, $$
Money and politics: strange bedfellows or co-dependent besties? Both, of course. Which could also sum up the relationship between New York City and Washington, D.C. Although New York may hog the spotlight as the financial center of the United States, the capital city has its own claim to a hometown bank: Riggs National. Riggs, as it came to be known, began its life as a brokerage house in 1836 and, during the centuries of mergers and expansion and deals that followed, maintained the accounts of the political elite (23 presidents from Lincoln and Grant to Eisenhower and Nixon, and feminist icons Clara Barton and Susan B. Anthony) and gave the U.S. government the funds to fight the Mexican-American War and the gold to buy, oh, Alaska. In the early 21st century, money launderings scandals brought that illustrious to a pretty ignoble close, as the bank was absorbed into PNC Financial Services.
But the noble Riggs National Bank headquarters has been revived as a much more welcoming and egalitarian institution: Riggs Washington D.C. Hotel. The first U.S. project by Lore Group, the hospitality company behind Pulitzer Amsterdam and Sea Containers London, is beautiful and whimsical, an appropriate new life for the 1891 Romanesque Revival building with a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. (So nice we named it one of the World's Best New Hotels for 2020.) Lore preserved original design elements like coffered ceilings, brass detailing, and Corinthian columns and sourced heirlooms like old Riggs bank checks on eBay. The Guest rooms wink at the bank's history, with the mini bar and safe nestled in what looks like a vintage safes, and its political side, with four suites inspired by First Ladies. Café Riggs on the ground floor is styled like a grand European brasserie; the basement is home to the the gym and the cocktail lounge Silver Lyan, which also has a secret room in the old bank vault. If the mood is transparent rather than clandestine (the scene goes both ways in D.C.), then cocktails with a view on the sofas at the expansive Rooftop at Riggs should fit the bill nicely.
At a Glance
The Vibe: Refined and cool style, the likes of which Washington, D.C. too rarely has the guts to attempt.
Standout Detail: A toss-up between Café Riggs, the loungey all-day-restaurant made even warmer by custom furniture, and the check-in area, which recalls old banks in a way that might make you miss the dawn of online banking.
This Place Is Perfect For: Visitors and business travelers who appreciate history and panache in equal measure.
Special Covid-19 Protocols: Hotel staff are given regular health checks and hand sanitizer stations are located throughout the hotel. Guests are required to wear masks in all public areas, and elevator rides are limited to one family. The check-in process is primarily mobile, available on smart phones.
Rooms: 181 guest rooms and suites. Rooms are warm and cozy, with hand-painted headboards, ornate wallpaper, and vintage-style accessories at bedside The decor in the four First Ladies suites reflects their interests: floral motifs for Ida McKinley, a baby grand piano for music lover Louisa Adams, porcelain and bone china for Caroline Harrison. The two-bedroom Riggs Suite is located in the former board room, and would make for a great party space.
On Site: The hotel has a gym in the basement.
Food + Drink: Café Riggs on the ground floor is a European-style brasserie that serves an all-day menu. Some guest rooms have been converted into private dining rooms serving the Café Riggs menu. Silver Lyan, the subterranean cocktail lounge, is overseen by globally recognized mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana, AKA Mr. Lyan. Currently closed due to Covid, the bar is offering Silver Lyan at Home service.
What to Do Nearby
The hotel is in the Penn Quarter neighborhood, a few blocks away in either direction from Union Station, the National Gallery of Art, and The White House. Nearby Metro stops mean easy access to just about everything in Washington, D.C. (This is a very tourist-friendly town.)
The National Portrait Gallery, home of those awesome Barack and Michelle Obama paintings you've seen all over Instagram, is right across the street — and has much more on exhibit (though is temporarily closed). Capital One Arena is right across from the gallery abutting Chinatown, and the National Building Museum is two blocks beyond that. The best restaurant in the area (and one of the best in town) is Fiola, the upscale Italian run by award-wining chef Fabio Trabocchi that has special outdoor dining igloos for extra safe dining.