The D.C. Scene: Dignitaries Gotta Sleep Somewhere

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All the higher-end hotel managers must have felt their hearts go aflutter — and their eyes light up with dollar signs like a slot machine gone jackpot — upon hearing that 40-odd heads of state (and their entourages) would be coming to Washington D.C. for a nuclear summit. As the talks have gotten underway, some hotel-heavy intersections have seen more international action than others, though establishments across the District are bringing their best Be-Our-Guest game.

On Monday at the corner of M and 24th streets, three prime hotels — the Fairmont, the Park Hyatt and the Westin Grand — stood flanked by lines of black SUVs, seemingly more than locals might see if every single American rapper and athlete decided to spring break in the capital. Members of the South African and Nigerian delegations, shacked up at the Westin, trickled in and out in suits and flowing traditional attire. Men with earpieces and guns, some slung over shoulders after the jacket had to go on this 75-degree day, drifted around them, and the general manager explained that they weren’t to be trifled with.

“The handlers for these people don’t have a lot of patience,” says GM Meade Atkeson, explaining that hotels have to be proactive in anticipating what security-laden guests will need. He estimates that the South African and Nigerian delegations had up to 50 people, while super-nuclear countries like Russia might top 100 and smaller countries without a strong nuclear interest might need only a few rooms. Atkeson has seen bigger conventions, he says, “but in terms of VIP-ness, this is it.”

Police on bicycles and in cars filled in holes between Explorers as drivers came and went, and languages floated through the street like as many gusts of wind. Around noon, an armored car stopped, and a man slunk into the Fairmont with a black sack while the fifth or so windowless van to pass the hotels in the last hour made its way up the street.

Inside the Park Hyatt, Argentine and Spanish delegations milled about the Blue Duck Tavern, a swanky eatery where special duck-fat fries cost $10 and where the Obamas celebrated their 17th wedding anniversary. Women with designer purses and plump lips intersected with the paparazzi (one of whom looked like he had recently had a serious run-in with a Sean Penn type) who trailed some of the more important men around the restaurant. “It’s all hands on deck,” says Park Hyatt manager Renee Sharrow, noting that this historic congregation is coinciding with the end of the chaotic cherry-blossom season. “We’re all getting a fair share of this market.”

The market is partly split by size constraints. Franck Arnold, manager at The Jefferson, a boutique hotel, says their 99 rooms couldn’t handle a delegation the size of Russia’s even if they were beating down the doors. Meanwhile, the Four Seasons has installed a temporary scanning station because of all their summit traffic. And everyone, big and small, is trying to keep mum about who exactly their hotel guests are. “We try to be as discreet as possible,” says Arnold, though that’s likely harder for the hoteliers who have had to turn their lobbies into airport security checkpoints.