by Henry Lane Hull
Over 30 years ago a friend treated me to lunch at the Hotel Tabard Inn in downtown Washington. I recall the experience fondly and last week on a three-day trip to the Nation’s Capital I decided to stay at the Inn. Having made a reservation in advance, I was not concerned about a late arrival. I checked in seamlessly and opted to have dinner at the Inn.
My room was on the third floor and the Inn does not have an elevator. As the ceilings are high, one climbs many steps in ascending the stairway, passing a large picture of Mikhail Gorbachev. Ironically, I had seen him with his wife, Raisa, only a couple of blocks away, passing in his limousine during his state visit to President Reagan.
The Tabard is a historic hotel, built in 1922, which has grown into two neighboring Victorian row houses. As I noted, the décor is eclectic in every respect. The place is meticulously clean wherever one looks and one comes to accept the limitations that an older hotel offers, as they are offset by many amenities that modern hotels lack.
My room was tiny, nicely appointed with a Governor Winthrop desk (a reproduction, not an original) containing interesting books to read should one be unable to get to sleep and an antique dressing table and chair. The bed was extremely comfortable and each day was made up to perfection. My room was at the end of the hall, with a communal lavatory immediately adjoining it. The bath with shower was farther down the hall in the other direction, but again, such inconveniences seemed trivial. As I made the reservation late, the rooms with private baths already had been taken.
The rooms do not have televisions, thus one is not kept awake by a restless neighbor’s loudly playing a rerun at 3 a.m. The staff, which includes a delightful English bulldog named Dante, is courteous to the max and in membership resembles a small United Nations with numerous nationalities being represented. My pickup was taken to be parked by a young man from Azerbaijan, with whom I was able to speak the few halting words that remain from my former Russian vocabulary. At dinner the waiter was a refugee from Vietnam. The Inn proudly proclaims that every employee is a part-owner, which of course gives each one an added incentive to perform well.
Upon entering the lobby and proceeding to the dining room, the guest is aware that this place is different, happily different. My first dinner was excellent, causing me to return for supper the second night. I began with cream of mushroom soup, the best I ever have consumed. Fresh herbs were sprinkled on the top and the portion was gracious.
The first night I had a delicious risotto and the second a seafood pasta filled with rockfish and mussels.
All foods are prepared on site with fresh, natural ingredients, whenever possible locally sourced. The Inn boasts that it does not own a microwave, thus no one eats food that has been “nuked” to warm it.
For dessert I had my standard favorite, crème brulee. I told the waiter that I did not want any chocolate, but apparently the chef had run out of the lemon poppyseed cookies and a chocolate chip one appeared on the plate. When I mentioned it, the waiter profusely apologized and removed it. He and the manager both told me that the dessert would not be charged and the following night the manager returned to my table to say that the lemon cookies were available. The crème brulee was superb.
My days in D.C. were filled with meetings and events, thus upon returning to the Inn I enjoyed walking through the doors to enter a former world, a half-block off Connecticut Avenue on N Street, Northwest, thereby leaving the chaos of downtown Washington behind me. I plan to return.