- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Call it the end-of-the-holidays long-way-before-spring interregnum. That’s the time of year when the skies are gray, the nights are cold and work seems to grind away the spirit.

Now picture a place where you never have to do the dishes, literally and metaphorically: your in-town bed and breakfast.

So this weekend, why not get away without going away? With the holiday rush over, there’s room to spare at the local inn.

Today’s urban bed and breakfasts are a diverse lot, with styles and approaches as different as the people who live in them and those who come to stay.

Plunk yourself down in a Capitol Hill townhouse for some in-town sightseeing. Check out the trendy shops and cafes along U Street from a restored mansion filled with Russian art. Sleep in an over-the-top 1920s Italian bedroom in a sprawling upper Northwest mansion complete with wireless technology — and just possibly a resident ghost.

All across the District, B&Bs; have just the right amount of pampering for you.

“We know that you’ve been out there for a while, that you’ve probably gotten lost a few times, and are feeling it,” says Monique Greenwood, owner of Akwaaba DC, an 1890-vintage five-story townhouse near Dupont Circle.

“Now we’re going to kill you with kindness.”

A personal focus

Forget the canned obsequies of the large-scale hotels. The animating spirit of these urban B&Bs; is individual, not corporate. Akwaaba DC’s aesthetic, for example, is a literary one, with rooms built around particular authors or literary genres. And though B&Bs; may be small, they offer plenty of privacy, tucked away at the end of a long hallway or in the suite at the top of the stairs.

And that second “B” is as important as the first: A shared breakfast can be an opportunity to meet travelers from around the globe.

“My view of America has changed 180 degrees,” says Anne Kerkvliet-Lyon, visiting the U.S. from Holland along with husband Gijs. “People are so helpful, so friendly. Now I’ll tell my friends that they’ll have to come here before they start criticizing.”

The Kerkvliet-Lyons were spending their time in the District at the Bloomingdale Inn near Howard University and Washington Hospital Center. But the sentiment is repeated in B&Bs; all around the city.

“In hotels, everything is the same,” says Toni Burger, a health care consultant from Toledo who always stays at the Bed and Breakfast on U Street, near Dupont Circle, whenever she’s in town. “I love it that we all come down and sit around and get to know each other.”

The B&B; on U, along with its sister property around the corner, The Meridian, carries forward that mix-and-match quality with an eclectic assortment of antique and period pieces and a collection of paintings by Russian artist Yaroslav Koporulin.

B&B; owners and innkeepers seem to thrive on their visitors’ diversity, even as they treasure the qualities those guests share.

“I’d say the underlying characteristic is a general curiosity,” says Pat Durkin of lodgers at the Chester Arthur House in Logan Circle. “That’s the quality that I can count on.”

Home away from home

While urban B&Bs; may not look alike, they too share some underlying characteristics.

B&B;’s can be a lot like home, if home means that you never have to make the beds or worry about the dirty dishes, and you can find freshly baked cookies waiting for you when you come in the door at night.

“Staying at a B&B; somehow seems more acceptable than staying in a hotel if you’re in town visiting family, especially if they have a place that is really too small for everyone,” says Carol Ross, who owns the Chevy Chase Circle B&B; in upper Northwest.

“People like to be able to say, ‘I found this lady who lives just up the street for you.’ ”

The observant guest of the home near Chevy Chase Circle will notice some fairly unusual objects. They are souvenirs of many years abroad in the Middle East and North Africa, when Ms. Ross, who holds a master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, was married to a Foreign Service officer.

“People know that they’re staying in someone’s home, so they comport themselves accordingly,” she says. “I’ve never had any trouble with my guests.”

Distinctive touches

In this town, proximity to power can be amenity enough, which is one of the reasons that Celia’s Place, on Capitol Hill across from the Library of Congress, is so popular — particularly among guests doing research at the library.

The owner, author Celia Morris, moved to the 150-year-old townhouse in 1977 while she was still married to the late Bob Eckhardt, a congressman from Texas. It was here she did much of her work on her 1984 book, “Fanny Wright: Rebel in America,” a biography of the 19th-century abolitionist and women’s rights advocate.

“That’s the thing I hated most about the divorce, losing those Library of Congress privileges,” she says now. “When you were married to a member of Congress you actually got to take books home.”

Her townhouse is filled with photographs of friends and family and a life filled with travel. Don’t expect a full breakfast here, not with so many eating places just a short stroll away. But when Ms. Morris is in town, there’s always a chance for some good conversation.

An uptown retreat

If you’re looking for something farther uptown, head for the newly opened Intown Uptown Inn on upper 14th Street Northwest. Behind the imposing facade of this 1908 mansion is a world of antiques, stained glass and solid comfort, all put together with an unerring eye for color and line.

It took owner Sandy Gartrell more than two years to renovate the house, which included wresting space from closets and hallways to ensure that each bedroom could boast its own bathroom. Each room is themed, from the Don Corleone bedroom filled with 1920s-era furniture imported from Italy to the light and airy Wisteria Room, complete with tendrils of greenery twining up to the top of the bed.

You’ll also find two-person bathtubs, plasma televisions, a Jacuzzi in the back yard and wireless capability throughout the house. Ms. Gartrell even provides laptops for those who need them or simply want to surf the Web. And she gets up early to provide a full Southern-style breakfast.

“I wanted to put the same emphasis on the breakfast part as I do on the rooms,” says Ms. Gartrell, who is from Georgia. “So people can be expecting shrimp and grits, if that’s what they want.”

The groaning board

If you want to mix and mingle, just come down to breakfast, whether it’s the get-it-yourself continental style, an extended buffet, or sit-down meal. At Akwaaba DC in Dupont Circle, Ms. Greenwood says that her guests prefer eating breakfast at her large dining table rather than the smaller tables for two she sets up for more privately inclined couples.

“People like eating family style,” says Ms. Greenwood, a District native who also has B&Bs; in New York City, Cape May, N.J., and New Orleans. “Everyone’s fighting to sit at the big table.”

At the Bloomingdale Inn, guests often bond as innkeeper David Powers shows them how to make waffles using his mother’s time-tested recipes. Evenings may find them grouped around the piano in the living room, a bit out of tune but still a draw.

In fact, a lot of B&Bs; have pianos in their parlors, a nod to a time before all those high-tech toys.

“Kids especially are fascinated by this,” says Jackie Reed of the Aaron Shipman House, who acquired her circa-1925 player piano from the secretary to Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. The piano now graces the living room of her B&B;, an imposing 1887 home just off Logan Circle.

Not everyone wants to listen to the rattle of a player piano or tinkle on the keys of a real one. That’s why B&B; owners and innkeepers are always mindful of the primacy of privacy.

“I try to be friendly and open without being probing,” says Ms. Ross at Chevy Chase Circle.

In other words, a good B&B; will let you be just as gregarious or as self-contained as you wish.

Neighborhood ambience

For out-of-towners, a stay at an urban B&B; is a welcome alternative to the “concrete jungle” of downtown.

“You get to experience life in a real neighborhood,” Ms. Burger says. “You feel like you’re part of the city instead of just visiting.”

Meanwhile, in-towners get to experience life in a different neighborhood, or sometimes a different house. Ms. Ross still remembers the time she played host to a groom trying to keep one step ahead of his relatives.

“He said they were all pranksters and practical jokers so he needed to stay in a place they would never think of,” she says. “But he liked it so much he came back here after the wedding.”

For each inn, a story

Most urban B&Bs; are located in older homes, some resurrected from years of oblivion in reviving neighborhoods like U Street and Logan Circle.

At the Aaron Shipman House, current owners Jackie and Charles Reed fell in love, not so much with the 1887 house as with the staircase.

“It was just so striking,” says Mrs. Reed, indicating the eye-catching piece of architectural whimsy, complete with turned spindles and fine woods. “But everything was in such bad shape.”

The two bought the house in 1975 and embarked on an eight-year renovation project of the home, originally built by a builder named Shipman. They’ve been in the B&B; business for 22 years. And they ended up helping to renovate their neighborhood as well as the house.

“Now all of our friends who were worried about us in the beginning talk about what good sense we had,” Ms. Reed says.

The Bloomingdale Inn has an even more unusual tale to tell. Traces of the place’s spiritual antecedents (it once housed the Catholic Students Association of a nearby college, no one is sure which) can be found in the kneelers still attached to the chairs used in the dining room, or the scars on the floor left in one of the guest suites by removal of an altar rail.

The rooms themselves are named for some of the neighborhood’s more famous residents, like Samuel Gompers, the first president of the American Federation of Labor. Ironically, the room commemorating Gompers, who was Jewish, is the former chapel.

But it has a strong effect on its denizens, many of whom are relatives of patients at nearby Washington Hospital Center.

“We’ve got a 100 percent recovery rate for relatives of patients who stay in this room,” Mr. Powers says.

And then there’s the Mediterranean woman in white who floats in the Wisteria Room at the Intown Uptown Inn. Ms. Gartrell, the owner, has never seen the lady, but one guest did provide a detailed description.

“It didn’t seem to bother her,” Ms. Gartrell says of the guest who told her of the apparition. “She said she had a peaceful feeling.”

Meanwhile, neighbors have told her that the house may have been owned at one time by entertainer Ethel Waters, who they say used it as a refuge for blacks looking for a place to stay.


If you are looking for the entirely predictable, then a B&B; may not be for you. But for many guests, what sets a B&B; apart from the next humdrum hotel is that special touch of the unexpected, perhaps nothing so spectacular as a resident ghost, but a child’s drawing on a refrigerator or a willing ear after a difficult day that helps to illuminate your stay.

Because the touch that matters most of all is the human one. And that’s enough to drive away the winter doldrums.

District bed and breakfast sampler

Thinking of opening up your own B&B;? You may want to reconsider. Hard work and long hours mean that many B&B; owners burn out after just four or five years.

“You really need to figure out if you want to run one or be a guest in one,” says Pat Durkin of the Chester Arthur House in Logan Circle.

“A lot of people say that running a bed and breakfast must be romantic and wonderful. Now, running a bed and breakfast can be a lot of good things, but it’s not romantic. It’s a lot of hard work.”

To experience a B&B; from the best possible perspective — as a guest — do your initial planning online, at such Web sites as Bed and Breakfast Inns Online at bbonline.com/ dc or Bed and Breakfast Accommodations Ltd. at bedandbreakfast dc.com, a reservation service used by many District B&Bs.;

Note that these sites allow you to search by neighborhood and alphabetically, make a reservation and learn about staying at a B&B.; For privacy reasons, most B&Bs; subscribing to the Bed and Breakfast Accommodations service do not publish their exact addresses; you’ll get those after you make a reservation.

Here’s a sampler of District inns. Rates depend on room, dates of travel, number of persons and length of stay. Unless otherwise noted, reserve at 877/893-3233 or bedandbreakfastdc.com.

1. Aaron Shipman House: 13th and Q streets NW. $90-$215.

2. Akwaaba Bed and Breakfast: 16th and R streets NW. $150-$250.

3. The Bed and Breakfast on U Street and The Meridian: 17th and U streets NW. $110-$250.

4. The Bloomingdale Inn: First and Channing streets NW. $90-$140.

5. Celia’s Place: Independence Avenue at Third Street SE. $115-$165.

6. Chester A. Arthur House Bed and Breakfast: Logan Circle at 13th Street NW. $115-$195.

7. Chevy Chase Circle B&B;: Quesada Street at Western Avenue NW. $90-$150.

8. Intown Uptown Inn: 4907 14th St. NW. $145-$175. The Intown Uptown currently has guests under private contract and will open to the general public in February. 202/541-9400 or a soon-to-be-unveiled Web site at www.iuinn.com.

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