Once known as the ‘Bank of Presidents’ because 23 former presidents were clients – even Honest Abe once stored his shekels here – Riggs Washington DC has a new lease on life as downtown’s buzziest hotel. Barrel-vaulted ceilings and stark columns flank the bustling see-and-be-seen Café Riggs and, below, inside the original bank vault in the basement, is Silver Lyan, a high-concept cocktail bar using weird and wonderful ingredients. Though there’s lots to keep you inside, it’s the location that really clinches our nomination – Riggs resides just a few blocks from the National Mall, the Smithsonian museums and the White House.
Get this when you book through us:
Two cocktail vouchers (one a person) to use in Café Riggs
Noon. Earliest check-in, 4pm. Both can be flexible, subject to availability.
Double rooms from £220.65 ($271), including tax at 14.95 per cent.
Rates don’t generally include breakfast; the comprehensive à la carte menu at Café Riggs spans health-conscious smoothies, juices and overnight oats as well as indulgent pastries, pancakes and egg sandwiches.
The print on your bedroom’s striking feature wall – offset by lashings of terracotta paint and complementing a scallop-shaped headboard – is a bespoke design by George Venson for NYC-based design studio Voutsa. It evokes the folds in the dramatic clothing of Baroque-era paintings and you’ll find the same pattern in the lining of your bathrobe and the inside of the umbrella in the wardrobe – if you fall in love, you can take them home with you for a small charge.
At the hotel
Gym, parking, free-to-hire bikes, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: TV, DS & Durga bath products, air-conditioning, free boxed water, Nespresso coffee machine, silk bathrobes, slippers and tote bags to take home, and custom umbrellas.
Our favourite rooms
Rather than presidents, the suites are named after four (relatively obscure) first ladies – the Louisa Adams suite celebrates her love of music with a baby grand piano; the Wedgwood in the Caroline Harrison suite reflects her penchant for porcelain; the Ida McKinley suite (our pick of the bunch) is fabulously floral due to her love of blooms; and the Angelica Van Buren suite is outré and opulent in keeping with her maximalist tendencies.
There’s no spa, but gym bunnies will be delighted with the 1,800sq ft fitness centre, equipped with almost every bell and whistle for toning and honing, including Peloton bikes. Free chilled water, fresh fruit and towels are on hand too.
A weighty tome on American history by Ron Chernow or David McCullough.
All public areas and a number of bedrooms are adapted for wheelchair users.
There’s not a bad seat in this house, though we are particularly partial to the green marble-topped tables by the bar with their squishy mustard-yellow seats.
Anything with a strong shoulder – the power suit is never not in fashion round here.
The first thing you’ll notice at Café Riggs is the soaring coffered ceiling, marble columns and double-height windows. The second thing you’ll notice is that two-storey paper-flower installation in a glass case – the joyful colours bring an air of permanent springtime to the otherwise stately dining room, buzzing at any time of day. Pull up a red bar stool or take a seat on a leather banquette to ponder the menu, inspired by the golden-age brasseries of Europe. Though seafood and meat feature prominently, vegans and vegetarians can order from the substantial plant-based section of the menu that’s more than just an afterthought, with dishes like fried baby artichokes, broccoli salad and Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes in these parts) with freekeh. Brunch is served on weekends. The Patio & Garden Terrace provides plenty of fresh air as you dine and views of the National Portrait Gallery.
At the twilight’s last gleaming (that’s the patriotic way to say ‘after dark’), you’ll find DC’s cool kids in Silver Lyan, the underground cocktail bar in the bank’s original vault, presided over by cocktail whiz Ryan Chetiyawardana. Ryan’s the recipient of an embarrassment of awards for his commitment to sustainability, trailblazing ingredients and bars that guarantee ‘damn good times’. At Silver Lyan, the theme is ‘exchange’ and each drink tells a tale of American history. Try the Japanese Saddle, which pays homage to Japan’s gift of cherry blossoms, or the Project Apollo, inspired by space missions, with Moonshot gin, pineapple (one of the first foods in space) and raspberry dust. To go with the drinks, there’s a plant-based bar menu with dishes like an eggplant sandwich, summer rolls and oysters.
Cafe Riggs is open for breakfast from 7am to 11am; dinner is served from 5.30pm to 9pm from Sunday to Wednesday and till 11pm Thursday to Saturday. Brunch runs from 10am to 3pm on weekends. And Silver Lyan opens from 5pm till late, Wednesday to Sunday.
Room service is available during restaurant hours. The comprehensive menu includes a kale salad, steak frites, the Riggs burger, all-day breakfast items and lots more.
This stately former bank is in downtown DC on the corner of 9th and F streets, putting you in walking distance of the city’s most famous monuments, museums and major attractions.
Arriving from within the US? You’ll likely be touching down at Ronald Reagan National, a 15-minute drive from the hotel, which has frequent flights to other major American cities like New York, Miami and Los Angeles. International flights arrive at Dulles Airport, a 40-minute drive from the hotel. Private transfers are $65 one-way from Ronald Reagan National and $150 from Dulles.
Union Station (a 10-minute drive away) is a major Amtrak hub, serving cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Miami and many more. For zipping around the city, the Gallery Pl-Chinatown Metro stop is a three-minute walk away.
Driving in DC can be unnecessarily complicated due to all the one-way streets – you’re better off hailing cabs, walking or cycling. If you do drive, parking is available onsite for $65 a night plus tax. Parking comes with in/out privileges.
The attractions that aren’t right on your doorstep are but a short Metro hop away – DC’s underground system is zippy and reliable.
Worth getting out of bed for
Once you’ve filled up on the bountiful breakfast spread at Café Riggs, it’s time to delve into the wealth of history and culture in America’s capital. Start by taking in all the presidential portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, part of the Smithsonian museums. Then, stroll the length of the grassy, outdoor National Mall, home to the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. Or, take a turn around the Phillips Collection for an impressive array of Impressionist art – including Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party – in a converted Dupont Circle mansion. Be sure to visit the Rothko Room, a tiny space lined with the painter’s works.
You can learn the trade secrets of double agents throughout history at the Spy Museum – the interactive exhibitions and installations include all kinds of spy artefacts (including a lipstick pistol, invisible-ink letters and a fake pregnancy suit) and pulls back the veil on the lives of international spies from the Revolutionary War to the Cold War and into modern day. And, if all those tales of double-crossing have left you craving some wholesome American pastimes, you’ll only have to walk one block to reach the Capital One Arena, the huge sports stadium that’s home to the Wizards (basketball) and the Capitals (ice hockey). The arena also stages big-name concerts – check the calendar of events before you travel to see what’s on.
You can’t go wrong at Le Diplomate, a French-inspired bistro whose Gallic classics are suited to almost any occasion, from a late-night burger to a birthday blow-out. Even in uber-cool Bloomingdale, the north-west neighbourhood known for its restaurants and dive bars, The Red Hen stands out for its rustic Italian cuisine and exceptional wine list – those in the know order the off-menu cacio e pepe. Celebrating something (just snagged a Senate seat, maybe)? Then, book ahead at Minibar by José Andrés, where the chef showcases his modernist techniques (honed at El Bulli) to delightfully wacky effect.
With Silver Lyan serving some of the world’s best cocktails in your hotel’s basement, it seems a shame to drink anywhere else. But, if you need a loosener while you’re out and about (democracy can be draining), head to Barmini by José Andrés, a mod lounge with theatrical drinks and delicious tapas.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this buzzy former bank in the District and unpacked their Washington Wizards jersey and postcards from the Smithsonian, a full account of their capital campaign will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Riggs Washington DC…
In the kind of dog-eat-dog city that prefers power lunches to happy hour, you might expect the hotel scene to have as much fizz as a five-hour filibuster. But Riggs Washington DC has brought a boatload of much-needed dazzle downtown. Its proportions are grandiose, thanks to the building’s history as a former bank. But though there are Corinthian columns, coffered ceilings and flirty references to the finance theme, all that weighty history fades as you behold the fresh face of what’s arrived. On the ground floor you’ll find Café Riggs, a theatrical all-day bistro with a menu that ranges from the comforting to the virtuous to the eye-popping (the oscietra caviar grilled cheese is a cool $98). Below that is Silver Lyan, the sultry speakeasy serving achingly avant-garde cocktails. And upstairs is no less stylish – each bedroom has a custom headboard inspired by an oil painting, jewel-toned furniture and stately navy and marble bathrooms. DC, the future’s looking bright.