Since those two 70 pound bags didn't get checked directly through to Rio, the long layover apparently being a security issue, I was doubly thankful for a place to store my stuff! I'd made reservations at a recently opened hotel called aloft, which is part of the Starwood hotel chain. I found their site on the internet, and being the only decently priced hotel with a pool, it seemed like the sort of place I had to check out. They answer the phone with over the top peppiness and, yes, Aloha. Aloha!
The second key to the quirky modernity of this place is the lower-case spelling of the name, followed by the retro titles given to all the normal amenities one expects in a hotel: the pool is splash and pumps ambient music underwater, re:fuel is the snack bar, which feels like a chic gas station convenience store. One one side are coffee machines, hot snacks and presumably doughnuts in the a.m., atop well-lit cases of fancy juice drinks, expensive mineral waters and sodas. The case on the other wall is full of sandwiches, fruit cups, and the ubiquitous American protein bars. In the middle sits a tall table with high stools to pull up, dispelling the urge to grab one's food and run, squirrel-like, back to the room.
But I digress. It was obscenely difficult to figure out where one caught the hotel shuttles at the airport but I was finally picked up by a pleasant man driving a spanking new Suburban plastered with the aloft logo. The car is so new it still has that car smell, which reminds me of cat piss. Someone should work on that in the Chevrolet factories. Walking into the lobby, one is greeted by the choice to talk to the good looking gentleman seated behind a small, white donut desk or checking in on what look like the little self-service terminals at airports. I like people. It's painless work checking in and gives me a moment to discern that, yes, in addition to ambient music and the brightest color scheme ever, they've got the scent branding thing going on. It smells like Hawaii? Is this possible?
My room is on the second floor, giving me a chance to take the James Bond elevators with the weird blue tiles that look like water shifting under my feet. The lofted ceilings and huge bed make me really happy, as do the clever unstealable Bliss products in the shower (good move!)and the magazines, including Wired, above the coffee maker. The water bottles are complimentary but the phones look fake and there isn't a hotel guest guide, which means I have to call the desk for any information. But the huge 42" flat screen tv in front of the bed makes up for any minor inconveniences. The safe apparently has an electrical plug, so you can charge your electronics while they're under guard. I’m impressed.
I immediately crash and sleep for hours, waking up to an odd sort of thumping sound. I change clothes and head downstairs to the gym, where I realize the noise is actually the lobby music, which is picking up for the night. I go for a jog on the ellipical machine (a choice my body will make me later regret as I am woefully out of shape!). This is the point where I'm really thankful I'm here and not in the airport...no worries, no baggage watching, the freedom to just totally veg for a few hours.
As I get ready to leave, the front desk sends, aloha!, a man to get my bags and WARM UP THE CAR for me while I check out.
This is where things get even happier for Jenna, because somewhere along the wires, I unintentionally became a Starwood Preferred Guest, meaning the room was free. FREE. FREE.
The nice man at the desk was as confused as I was, but handed over the confirmation and invited me to have a drink at the bar. The w xyz bar. (Try saying that five times, fast.) It was the least I could do, so I joined the small crowd of regulars and actual hotel guests who were enjoying the funky lighting, the wasabi soybeans and chasing the blueberries in their highballs. Had I spent the night here, I envisioned myself crashing on the cool chair in the corner, talking up a couple of strangers to play a game of pool, perhaps just sitting on the decorator sofas and people watching. Which is the whole concept of the hotel, to bring socialization back into the hotel scene. It's not the place for people looking for total privacy, peace and quiet and traditional service. But for people who like design, modernity and the unexpected burst of commercial community, it's a clever option.
All told, this was a great decision and made my stay in Washington so much more relaxing than it might otherwise have been. Should I have another unwanted layover, anywhere, I'm going to be looking for this hotel.
p.s. Check out the website's promotional packages, which are quirky and non-traditional. Who ever heard of a hotel offering girl's night packages, or a movie night rate with a late checkout, two movies and a pizza delivered to the door?