The Jefferson: Washington, D.C.’s hotel that’s more like an elegant home [classic article]

From the moment you first step into The Jefferson in Washington, you feel like you’re visiting an elegant friend’s home.

The lobby is narrow and uncluttered; you won’t find pamphlets to visit Luray Caverns in a rack. There are no generic prints or starving artist paintings on the walls. Instead, rare museum-quality letters from Thomas Jefferson, some with a fanciful flourish beneath his signature, decorate the public areas.

Check-in is at a quiet, private desk, but really starts before you arrive. You receive an email requesting your personal preferences, including your favorite morning newspaper and whether you’d like to arrange for special additions to your room, such as chocolate-covered strawberries. The Jefferson, by the way, is called just that: There’s no “hotel” in the name, emphasizing that this experience should feel like a visit rather than a hired room.

Nothing at The Jefferson is done in a haphazard or ordinary way. Other hotels have robes and slippers in their closets, but the ones The Jefferson supplies are by Porthault, as are the bed linens and pillows. There’s a television screen built into the bathroom vanity mirror, so you can watch shows while bathing in the antique clawfoot tub or while brushing your teeth.

Reading materials in the rooms aren’t the expected local publications; instead coffee table-quality fine cookbooks feature recipes served at their restaurants. Some rooms have a private deck.

You can get a pair of shoes shined and an outfit pressed free of charge.

The special touches aren’t reserved for your room. The library has many rare volumes, as well as books written by authors who have stayed there.

That’s the only way to tell who has stayed there, as The Jefferson is far too discreet to name names.

If you seek a chic but fun way to imbibe without making reservations, The Jefferson has a great lounge: Quill. The cocktails use the latest – and rediscovered – techniques of mixology: house-made syrups like lemongrass and sweet potato, along with a staggering number of bitters.

Quill has a hot cocoa menu with different single-source chocolates. The cocoa is served with bowls of all the accoutrements, so that you can fix up your drink as you like: mini marshmallows, freshly whipped cream.

Madeira was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite wine and it figures as an ingredient in Founding Father’s Eggnog, with nutmeg, brown sugar, port, eggnog liqueur and Madeira. This drink is rich, creamy and decadent, served hot.

The food service at Quill and Plume, The Jefferson’s AAA 4 Diamond restaurant, are both under the auspices of Chef Jakubiec. Jakubiec describes his cuisine as “traditional food, done right” with attention to impeccable cuts, proper seasoning and classic technique. He has a knack for expanding your taste buds, even in traditional fare. He also has a master sense of how a meal’s flavors should progress throughout the evening. However, it’s a total immersion in comfort food. It’s the perfect antidote to the jet-set lifestyle, with hearty stews, chicken or tomato soup and chocolate chip cookies. There’s a cigar selection and porch, as well as a piano bar atmosphere during weekend evenings.

As befits a restaurant that’s close to and a favorite of the White House, Plume has many secluded sections in which to dine. Some areas have the appearance of a private outdoor European café. There’s even a special nook where you can curtain yourself off and be in complete seclusion, called “The Bird’s Nest.” The minimum requirement to reserve it is to order the Chef’s Tasting Menu with premium wines.

One of the most memorable items on the tasting menu is the BBQ Yorkshire pork tasting. It is plated with bacon-wrapped loin, tenderloin, belly confit, pulled pork BBQ, a mini cornbread and mustard greens.

For years, the only pork you could get was bred to be lean and mild (bland). Plume’s pork is a different creature altogether, and the flavor and texture of what pork used to be like might catch you off your guard. Certainly, this is what it was like in Jefferson’s day. The pork loin was very tender and not overcooked, moister and richer than you might expect. The pork tenderloin had a meatier flavor and was less rich. The pulled pork was spicy with good texture. Some pulled pork is shredded to the point of pablum, but not here. The pork belly had two distinct components: rich fat and meaty, drier meat attached — two flavor ideas in one bite.

Plume has a dazzling wine collection. They have acclaimed wines, hidden gems and varietals from around the world. They also have many extremely rare vintages, including a Madeira — wine aficionado Thomas Jefferson’s favorite wine – from 1780! Jefferson could easily have sipped this wine. For $7,000 a bottle or $240 a glass, you can, too. Plume’s collection has so much depth, though, that you can find gems at all price points. The sommelier’s attention to detail is appreciated; he serves Gruner Veltliner wine in the traditional green-stemmed glasses, for example.

All the details combine to lend a feeling of serenity and elegance during your stay.

The Jefferson has “bed and breakfast” packages starting at $365 a night.

 

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