- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

Washington is a city of great architecture, but in winter, those monumental spaces seem chilly and aloof. Just when you're ready for a nice hot drink by the fire or want to curl up in a corner with a good read, you're stuck with high ceilings, vast expanses and marble halls.
Is "cozy" snug, warm, comfortable, friendly, intimate even possible in this capital of coolly calculated charm? Of course: They may be tucked away on Capitol Hill, they may lie a stone's throw from the sleek structures of downtown, they may lurk behind the facades of buildings you've passed countless times, but they do exist the District's cozy places, where it's easy to huddle, snug as a bug, and enjoy the comforts of winter.
Finding a truly cozy nook may take some doing. To ferret them out, it helps to know The Rules the cozy code, if you will.
Rule one: No faux
Ready-made paneling and fake beams might give an illusion of warmth, but coziness comes only with the genuine article. Better no flowers at all than plastic plants. Scratches in the woodwork and warps in the floorboards are good if they came from true wear down the years. Connoisseurs of cozy have no truck with 10-year-old places that want you to think they've been there for 70. Metal signs promoting Moxie or White Lily Flour don't make it if they came with instructions for hanging.
Never thought a downtown hotel could be cozy? The Hotel Lombardy, on the border between the office buildings of Foggy Bottom and the grand hotels of the West End, is something more than a clean, well-lighted place. The former luxury apartment building built at the close of the Roaring '20s was converted to a hotel in 1978, although it still bears some reminders of its former existence.
Upstairs, the hotel rooms, suites really, take unexpected twists and turns they were, after all, once somebody's in-town flat, and many still have kitchenettes.
Downstairs, the hotel displays carefully restored ceilings and art glass, and what may be the last working manual passenger elevator in the city. If you are lucky to come in when doorman Abdeerrahmane Anajjar is on duty, you also might come away with a new connection.
Mr. Anajjar, who speaks English, French, Arabic, and a little Spanish, seems to remember everyone. He has even been invited to graduations at nearby George Washington University by families who have stopped at the hotel whenever they are visiting their children. Former GWU students still stop by the Hotel Lombardy just to have a chat.
Another nook in the hotel is the Venetian Room. Designed for comfort but with an eye toward the exotic, the Venetian Room sports working fireplaces, German fabrics and Moroccan tables in an East-meets-West motif.
There's also a small, sun-drenched cafe that is perfect for a little talk over tea.
Rule two: No pretense
"Clubby" is not synonymous with "cozy." The truly cozy should stop time, at least for the moment. A cozy spot is a place to relax, not rehash to plan, but not plot. No conversation in a cozy corner should ever include references to budgets, bankrolls, or "the opposition." So any place where lawyers or politicians congregate is probably off-limits.
In fact, all cozy corners seem to have only one thing in common: that the place is "like home" or better.
At the Morrison-Clark Inn, just a few blocks north of the hustle of downtown, the curtains are lace, the settees are stuffed and the inn's signature scent of spring hyacinth wafts through the upstairs rooms. At night, the fires are blazing and the candles glow with all the warmth of the 19th-century showplace this 1864 mansion once was. There are even a few Asian touches, a nod to the peripatetic second owner, M. Frank Ruppert, who made frequent trips abroad.
"We wanted to bring it back to its Victorian roots," explains resident manager Maryalice Giroux of the one-of-a-kind hotel.
On Thursday evenings between 5:30 and 7:30, the Morrison-Clark offers the "Big Chill." Here you can sip a glass of wine or enjoy a hot coffee drink while playing backgammon, chess or a board game in front of the fire in the inn's drawing room.
"It's a lovely way to let the day wash off," says Miss Giroux.
Rule three: Be skeptical of chains
The prefabricated quality of most chains works against true coziness. A chain may possess some of the key components of cozy wood paneling, a fireplace, and big, comfy armchairs but the fact that they were ordered out of a corporate catalog rather than thrown together over the years seems to lessen the cozy factor. (See rule one.) Exceptions exist, such as Starbucks in Tenleytown, but they are few.
Rule four: History helps
Beginning in 1923 and until shortly before its renovation in 1987, the Morrison-Clark was home to the Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen's Club, a place where visiting servicemen could find a bed for the night for as little as 15 cents in the early years. The inn now proudly displays a few photos of servicemen hunkered down in the drawing room over bottles of Coca-Cola.
Rule five: Comfort comes first
For many people, cozy comfort means overstuffed furniture couches, easy chairs and ottomans. Still others like reminders of home or childhood.
At the Colorado Kitchen on 16th Street Heights, you won't find easy chairs or ottomans, but you will find a checkerboard floor, fresh doughnuts and grape Crush.
If it reminds you a little of your grandmother's house, don't be surprised. Owners Gillian Clark and Robin Smith planned it that way.
"What we're trying to do is to get people to think of their favorite food memories," says Miss Clark, who is intent on developing the perfect roast chicken. (It's on the menu.) "We tried to make the restaurant look like grandmother's kitchen, where she'd be cooking and then turn around and put it on the table."
Certainly, no mention of District cozy spots would be complete without the Tabard Inn, a Dupont Circle fixture since World War I. It's probably been the site of more marriage proposals and unexpected rejections than any other spot in Washington. A drink by the massive fireplace is one of the better ways to while away a winter's night. And the dining room, with its low ceilings and friendly wait staff, is a great place for a winter weekend brunch.
Rule six: It helps if you can hide or think you can
Old libraries often have just the sort of nooks and crannies that conjure up cozy. At the Mount Pleasant Library, youngsters can curl up in one of the reading alcoves upstairs. As an added bonus, they'll be surrounded by murals painted in 1934 by local artist Aurelius Battaglia as part of the Public Works of Art Project of the Depression-era Civil Works Administration.
The floor lamps and heavy curtains of the 1928 library are long gone, but the old fireplaces, with their arts-and-crafts-inspired tiles, remain. Upstairs in the children's room, the old circulation table has been converted into a smorgasbord of current fiction, and schoolchildren stop by to use the one working computer.
Many of the library patrons are regulars, like Joseph Yeboah, who comes by three times a week for three to four hours at a time to make sure his sons get through their homework from their classes at St. Augustine's School. Saturday afternoons usually finds Mr. Yeboah at a table in the library with his two boys, Kelcey, 11, and Aubrey, 13.
Afterward, there are the books.
"I like adventure stories," says Kelcey.
"I like heroic stories," says Aubrey. "And scary stories, too."
Mr. Yeboah gets his own books as well, often on the advice of one of the librarians.
"I read everything," he says. "I want to cover enough material so I will be able to help them."
Rule seven: Most bookstores are cozy
Books are their own escape from the world's cares. That makes most bookstores cozy and used bookstores especially cozy, since the books have been read before (hopefully by some quirky, idiosyncratic individual who has left a message or two in the text.) Meanwhile, the jumble of old and new books, order and disarray, and the promise of serendipity conspire to envelop the browser in warmth. Check out Second Story Books in Dupont Circle, with its floor-to-ceiling stacks and maze-like selling area; Capitol Hill Books just north of Eastern Market; or The Lantern in Georgetown.
Rule eight: Think small
Small spaces are key. It's hard to feel cozy in a mansion. Writing in the January 1876 of Scribners Monthly magazine, essayist John Burroughs complained that the building of large homes helped to keep the "feeling of the snug, the cozy, and the privatein abeyance" for too many people. Large spaces were designed to create an impression rather than a feeling of intimacy. That's why bungalows are considered cozy that, and the fireplaces with seats on either side. So find some friends with old catalog houses in Chevy Chase or Brookland or Tenleytown and invite yourself over.
Rule nine: Cozy can't cost too much
Some places that might qualify as cozy like certain dimly lit and admittedly snug hotel bars downtown disqualify themselves as soon as the tab arrives. True coziness is egalitarian: You have to be as comfortable going out of the place as you were when you were there.
On a once-dreary stretch of U Street NW that now pops with activity, the Chi Cha Lounge attracts a varied crowd of outsiders and neighborhood residents. They come as much for the ambience as for the hot chi cha, a heady mix of wine, spice and fruit that is the lounge's signature drink.
"I wanted to make it like a living room," says Mauricio Fraga-Rosenfeld, who remembers how things were in his grandparent's hacienda in his native Ecuador. "I'm trying to make people feel that they belong to this place."
In fact, the Chi Cha Lounge has so many couches that people first thought it was a furniture store. But now they are comfortable with the fact that they can kick back, curl up, or just plain crash on the couch.
"I love the dim lights," says Tish Lennings, from Columbia Heights, who stops by for drinks with friends Moniece Plummer and La Shanna Chappell. "It's a real relaxed atmosphere."
Rule ten: Be a regular
If you're not, it helps to be treated like one. Walk into the Florida Avenue Grill at 11th and Florida NW and someone is sure to greet you, offer you a cup of coffee, and pass the time of day. Now nearing 60, the Florida Avenue Grill has been serving up grits, peach cobbler, and chicken cooked in a cast-iron pan since 1944.
They say the old songs are the best, and if that's true, then the Florida Avenue Grill is the place to hear them. Often, the servers sing along with the oldies on the radio.
Of course, the best cozy spot is the one where you don't have to think about any rules. Isn't that the point?

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