An old hotel with a few new tricks: The Ven at Embassy Row

Mar 29, 2022

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Marriott International now comprises a staggering 30 different brands. Even for folks who spend dozens of nights at the chain’s properties each year, like myself, it can be hard keeping many of them straight.

Sure, there are household names like Ritz-Carlton, Westin, Sheraton and Courtyard. But then there are less well-defined labels like the Autograph Collection, AC Hotels, South Africa-based Protea Hotels and budget-friendly choices like Element and Aloft.

I’d been curious to check out a hotel in the Tribute Portfolio, which is among the more obscure brands Marriott now includes. There are just 70 of these hotels worldwide (43 of them in the U.S.) and, according to Marriott, they are, “A family of independent boutique hotels bound by their indie spirit and heart for connecting people and places.”

That doesn’t tell you much beyond the fact that they shouldn’t feel like your average convention centre-connected JW Marriott.

(Photo by Eric Rosen/The Points Guy)

Eager to learn more (and to check one more Marriott brand off my Bonvoy bingo list), I took the opportunity of a recent trip to Washington, D.C. to book a two-night stay at The Ven at Embassy Row, which is in the Tribute Portfolio. The hotel originally opened in 1970 as the Embassy Row Hotel, and most of my D.C.-based friends have a salacious story or two set at its rooftop pool and bar.

The 231-room property was acquired by a group of new investors nearly three years ago and underwent both a name change and a $15 million (£ 11 million) renovation. Ven means “friend” in Danish, and the new, Nordic-forward aesthetic is meant to evoke a sense of hygge or cosiness.

While the public areas do seem to have benefited from this investment, and the service was indeed very friendly, the accommodations did not feel up to par for this price point. Here’s what it was like to stay at The Ven at Embassy Row.

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In This Post

Booking

For my two-night stay, the prepaid, non-refundable room rates started at $217 (£160) per night for a double city view room, though rates often start lower, in the $150 (£111) per night range.

Including $129 (£95) in taxes and fees, the total came to $563.26 (£416). I didn’t have a car, but valet parking would have been $48 (£35) per night. There was also a destination fee of $28 (£21) per night, which included Wi-Fi, fitness centre access, a tote bag and a friendship bracelet I got to select at check-in (seriously), as well as a $28 (£21) daily food and beverage credit, which came in handy for breakfast and dinner.

The Ven at Embassy Row is a Category 6 hotel, so award nights cost 40,000-60,000 points each, depending on whether your date is off-peak, standard or peak.

Location

(Photo by Eric Rosen/The Points Guy)

The Ven at Embassy Row is located just a short walk from Dupont Circle along Massachusetts Avenue — a street that is, as the hotel’s name would suggest, lined by embassies.

The Dupont Circle Metro station along the Red line is just a three-minute walk away, which made the hotel ultra-accessible to points throughout the city without having to rely on a car.

Short on time, I ended up taking an Uber to Union Station to catch a train, and that only cost $10 (£7) and took around 10 minutes. Georgetown was the same price and distance in the opposite direction. Since my stay fell over a Sunday, I even got to walk around the Dupont Circle farmer’s market and sample fresh pastries and coffee, as well as see what local producers were purveying.

Standout features

(Photo by Eric Rosen/The Points Guy)
  • Welcoming public spaces with plenty of comfortable seating areas for co-working or simply socializing, plus an art gallery featuring rotating exhibits.
  • A small but intriguing boutique area peddling souvenirs and high-end products, many by local D.C. artisanal brands.
  • Excellent, central location in Dupont Circle with easy access to the Metro and a charming Sunday farmer’s market.
  • Wide and well-priced selection of both grab-and-go or eat-in breakfast and dinner options from the hotel’s bar and restaurant, Fred & Stilla.

Drawbacks

(Photo by Eric Rosen/The Points Guy)
  • Despite redecoration, rooms still felt old and worn and the bathrooms were tiny.
  • No soundproofing meant noise from the hallways and adjoining rooms was a major disturbance.
  • Elevators and room doors were frequently unresponsive to key cards.

The vibe

(Photo by Eric Rosen/The Points Guy)

Given its 50-plus-year history, it’s not hard to understand why the Ven at Embassy Row seems to have something of an identity problem. The lobby and other public areas have embraced a contemporary, Scandinavian-inspired look, with pastel-coloured modular furniture, Calder-like light fixtures, and rotating art exhibits that draw guests in on the way to or from their accommodations.

(Photo by Eric Rosen/The Points Guy)

However, the rooms are decidedly more mundane (though still brightly furnished) and feel like they could be in an old corporate hotel in Anywhere, U.S.A. The crowd, likewise, seemed mainly to be visiting road trippers and groups there for various events including a wedding — information I obtained because I could clearly hear my neighbours discussing it in rooms to either side of me and throughout the hallways of the hotel due to the lack of soundproofing.

(Photo by Eric Rosen/The Points Guy)

The room

(Photo by Eric Rosen/The Points Guy)

Although the rooms were redecorated during the recent renovation, there are limits to how much you can do when working with an existing space. The designers were clearly constrained by those limits in the guest rooms, including some of the tiniest closets I’ve ever seen.

Patterned blue carpeting and wallpaper, along with a canary-coloured ottoman and large windows did much to brighten the space. However, the nightstand and a white lacquered desk with chrome legs were already showing wear and tear with scuffs and dents, as was the room door and the one to the bathroom, which seemed like they had simply been kept (and perhaps not even repainted) during the renovation.

As for the minuscule bathroom, a backlit mirror above the single sink was a helpful touch to lighten up the otherwise cell-like space, but the walk-in shower felt downright institutional … Sicilian, orange-scented Nest products notwithstanding.

I actually moved from the first room I was assigned, which overlooked busy Massachusetts Avenue, because the neighbours to either side of me and across the hall were extremely loud as they conversed (and argued) in their rooms and the corridor outside (along with attendant door slamming).

The front-desk staff could not have been nicer, though, taking me to tour three different rooms that I could choose from before I settled on one facing leafy, quiet Q Street.

Food and drink

The hotel’s main restaurant, Fred & Stilla, is located just off the lobby and, as I had $28 (£21) per day to spend there, I opted for breakfast one morning and dinner another evening. The space, like the rest of the hotel, seems to want to be a few different things. It contains a sophisticated cocktail bar and semi-private booths, but also more casual café-style seating, bar-height communal tables, an outdoor patio for alfresco dining — and some enormous televisions playing local sports.

The breakfast selection was impressive and affordable, ranging from yoghurt parfaits ($6/£4) to pastries ($4-$6/£3-4)  and fresh fruit ($2-$7/£1-4), quiche ($8/£6), egg sandwiches ($8/£6) and a breakfast burrito ($9/£6), as well as a variety of coffee drinks. I had a hard time getting to the full $28 (£21) value of my daily voucher, but the two servers at the counter kept encouraging me to add more items to my to-go bag so I could take full advantage of it, which I appreciated.

As for dinner, the menu had a cute conceit that played off the hotel’s location on Embassy Row: Each dish represented a different country. There was farro tabbouleh salad from Greece ($11/£8), a short-rib torta from Mexico ($24/£18) and kuku paka coconut-curry chicken and rice from Kenya ($22/£17). I eventually settled on a Buddha bowl of seared ahi with wasabi furikake, edamame, cabbage and steamed rice ($26/£19) inspired by Japanese cuisine. I also enjoyed the spicy tofu shiitake larb lettuce wraps with rice noodles, fish sauce, lime and crispy shallots ($13/£10), which is based on Laotian ingredients. Cocktails ranged from $14-$16 (£10-12) and included the strong but well-balanced Sazer aquavit with Redemption Rye, Peychaud’s and an aquavit rinse.

Up on the roof, the hotel has a pool area and bar, but it is only open seasonally from May through September. I did, however, get a peek out there thanks to an accommodating front-desk agent who was helping with my room change request and came with me to have a look around. During the summer months, this must be one of the town’s livelier hangouts.

Amenities and service

The hotel has a few unique amenities worth calling out. Just across from the reception desks in the lobby is a small boutique area. The reception agents can help customers who are interested in perusing the interesting international wares including Matt & Nat vegan leather bags produced from plastic bottles, Valley Brook Tea ceramics and Persian-inspired Kuzeh Pottery.

There was a colourful video art installation in the lobby called “Life of a Neuron,” and one floor below, down the main staircase, there was both a small kids area with ping pong and foosball tables as well as an exhibition by the Arts in Color gallery featuring paintings by Bijan Rishedi.

The gym was also located down here, with a small selection of brand-new cardio equipment, free weights and a few weight machines.

As for service, everyone I interacted with was downright delightful. As I mentioned, my room change was handled with courtesy and understanding, and every time I passed the front desk, the agents there greeted me by name. The servers at Fred & Stilla, both in the mornings as well as during my dinner, were also warm and helpful, not to mention efficient. Overall, the staff really was outstanding and lent some sincerity to the whole “friend” theme of the hotel’s name.

Accessibility

The Ven at Embassy Row is Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant, so guests can expect the typical roster of accessibility-focused amenities including wheelchair-accessible parking, bathrooms, restaurant seating and guest rooms (though I’d be curious how the bathrooms in these rooms are given how small the one in my room was). The hallways were wide and easily manoeuvrable and all floors were accessible via elevator.

Note that there are steps just inside the entrance that lead up to the lobby, but there is also a wheelchair-accessible lift up to reception.

Checking out

Overall, I had a pleasant stay at The Ven at Embassy Row and I appreciated the hotel’s location and amenities. If I were to stay again, I’d aim for times when room rates were at the lower end of their range (under $200/£148 for sure) and I’d try to strategize using the $28 (£21) daily food and beverage credit from the amenity fee more efficiently. Although the public spaces do look refreshed, the rooms still feel dated and the bathrooms and closets were almost comically small. That said, the friendliness of the staff and the ease of travelling from the hotel throughout the city made my time there feel worthwhile.

Featured photo by Eric Rosen/The Points Guy.

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