As promised, I checked out a DC memorial to the 1970s I notice every time I cross the 14th Street bridge to Virginia. What icon is that? Why, the Crystal City Doubletree’s rotating lounge, of course. In an earlier era it seemed no self-respecting city lacked a rotating restaurant, preferably lodged high up in a futuristic tower. While I don’t know much about its history, what I found about it on the web wasn’t promising: DC’s only rotating lounge had almost no footprint on the web save one critical Post review from 1998. However, I set out on my adventure optimistic as I had read the hotel had been recently renovated, starting with my destination: the Skydome Lounge.
Getting there would prove a bit of a challenge. From my house in Shaw I walked to the Convention Center Station to hop a Yellow Line train. When I plugged the address into WMATA’s trip planner it suggested I get out at the Crystal City Metro Station. At the station I walked under Route 1 and took a right on S. Eads Street. (Check out an area map.) After about half a mile of walking by condos and hotels I came to 12th street and could see the hotel. Although I perhaps naively expected an entrance, this hotel is a thoroughly auto-based affair: pedestrians have to walk up to the carport along a skinny sidewalk. Once inside, it was anything but clear where to go next. The hotel has had a major makeover and the main second floor lobby has its own bar as well as meeting rooms. Signs located near the elevator bank said nothing of the Skydome, but a hotel directory said it was accessible by the elevators in the North Tower. The front desk attendant told me I would have to take a specific elevator to reach the lounge, pointing me down the correct nondescript hallway and telling me to take elevator three.
Entering the lounge the first thing I noticed was the view, which is quite worth the hassle getting there. The perhaps 300-degree panorama provides good views of Rossyln, the Pentagon, and National Airport. The National Cathedral, Lincoln and Washington Monuments, and Capitol Dome are all also visible. Not to mention beautiful I-395. The second thing I noticed was a mild yet distinct dank odor. It was as if the Skydome needed a good airing out, but then again most 34-year-old bars take on an odor. The smell aside, the decor was new: small tables were stylishly set, flat screen TVs broadcasting ESPN and halogen track lighting. After taking a seat we remembered this was a rotating lounge, and realized that the floor where the tables were arranged was slowly rotating. (At the rate of one revolution every 47 minutes, our server informed us.) The menu seemed to be a selection from the hotel’s kitchen and included a wide variety of basic fare. (No happy hour specials here — two Buds set us back $10) The clientele seemed to be almost exclusively hotel guests — a couple, several businessmen, a group of conventioneers. The menu informed us the bar is open daily at 4:30 and on Friday and Saturday has a $5 per person cover charge. Also on Fridays and Saturdays the space hosts the “Windows Over Washington” restaurant, which we can’t find much information about.
Getting back to the Metro I took another tack, cutting through a vacant lot on a mysteriously paved and lit walkway to reach 12th Street by the Pentagon City Metro stop. While much more direct than coming from Crystal City, the walk would still be a bit far for a drunken stumble. So, what’s the verdict? The view means the spot would be unmatched in DC to watch a sunset or wow a date with a romantic skyline. Yet architectularly, the space comes across as exactly what it is: a 1970s marketing gimmic showing its age. The smell and supplies and beverage cooler placed awkwardly near the elevator did little to add to the charm. The difficult location also makes for challenging logistics for all but the most intrepid urban explorers. There are other much more accessible panoramas — from Sequoia in Georgetown to Tabaq on U Street — to warrant anything beyond an ironic suburban sojourn to the Skydome.