Promptly at six, the ceremony began.
In honor of Napoleon, whom Christopher Biguet, the friendly French food and beverage executive, said, “drank champagne whenever and wherever he could,” the friendly Parisian swung his sword, deftly decapitating the cork from a bottle of fine champagne.
Almost a stone’s throw from the White House, hotel guests gathered in the lobby of The St. Regis Washington for the evening tradition known as ‘sabering’ quaffed complimentary bubbly and chatted amiably with each other as a jazz duet struck up the first chords of the classic tune, ‘Make Believe.’
This little soiree celebrating transition from day to night launched our evening off to a perfect start, culminating in a fine dinner at the Alhambra restaurant.
Named Regis after a lake in upper New York state, this 172-room luxury hotel, part of the Starwood chain owned by Marriott International, was founded in 1926 by John Jacob Astor IV, a rich industrialist who died aboard the Titanic.
Lavish may be an understated adjective to describe it.
A spacious lobby, accommodating more than 400 people and featuring an ornately coffered ceiling and three glittering chandeliers, is festooned with lush furnishings: Palladian windows, velvet sofas, fresh orchids and roses, smoked mirrors, gilt-framed chairs, floor-to-ceiling curtains, marble-topped tables and embroidered, multi-colored cushions.
To enhance the ambience even more, the reception and concierge desks are located discreetly in rooms off the main lobby while glass display cases house high-end jewellery, handbags and other accessories from brands such as the White House History Shop and Gucci.
We basked in the immensity of Suite 510 with multiple rooms, chandeliers above our bed, separate bath and shower, two toilets, four armchairs around a sturdy polished wood table in an extended dining-room, gilt-framed mirrors and paintings, as well as sophisticated toiletries by New York based Laboratoire Remede. The room was even furnished with a special machine that dispensed perfectly chilled plum wine by the glass.
And as we were in a suite, we could also avail of our very own St. Regis Butler Service, which includes daily tea or coffee delivery, unpacking and packing services, and 24/7 access to our butler via email. The hotel even offers a complimentary Sedan service for travel within a two mile radius on a first-come-first-served basis.
Designed by renowned architect David Rockwell, the Alhambra restaurant is every bit as opulent as the lobby including hanging chandeliers and an ornate ceiling, though where the lobby displays strong Neo-Renaissance French influence, the restaurant exudes a more contemporary one.
Seating is either in private booths or open table. For a cocktail with a difference, try Capitol Mary, the hotel’s take on the classic Bloody Mary. It’s made with gin, clam juice and Maryland-based Old Bay seasoning.
Serving up Mediterranean and French cuisine, we delighted in a three-course menu which included grilled octopus with cauliflower, lobster ravioli and a traditional bouillabasse, completing our evening with special concoctions, smokey Caipirinha (whiskey, syrup and lime) and French 75 (cognac, cava and lime juice).
Close to the White House and Capitol Hill, corporate business is well catered for at St. Regis with more than 11,000 square feet of event space in eight different rooms, including the Astor Ballroom which accommodates around 300 people.
The hotel has also hosted important celebrities and dignitaries down through the years, from presidents and prime ministers to well-known actresses such as Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor.
With some of the city’s main attractions such as the Smithsonian Museum, the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington National Cathedral, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Smithsonian Institute close-by, it is also a prime deluxe stay-over for tourists visiting the US capital.