- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The District does not lack for hotel space. It does, however, have a dearth of pool deck space - at least space that actually encourages a little poolside lounging.

That’s why the new owners of the Capitol Skyline Hotel in Southwest have turned the pool at the midcentury-modern hotel into a place to tan, swim and be part of the scene on Sundays. The $10 admission fee gains pool access from noon to 6 p.m. and a burger grilled poolside by Good Stuff Eatery owner and Washington celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn.

“We come here almost every weekend,” says Sterling Morriss, a 24-year-old Georgetown University law student. “You get wonderful sun, great cocktails. It is like a little bit of Miami Beach here in D.C. Washington needed this 100 percent. It’s injecting an edge into the D.C. social scene.”

That’s the aesthetic the Rubell family — owners of Miami’s art-deco Albion hotel, among others — is seeking. The Capitol Skyline, designed in the early 1960s by Morris Lapidus (the man behind Miami’s famed Fontainebleau and Eden Roc), had morphed into a bland Best Western in a not-happening part of town. However, with the opening of Major League Baseball’s Nationals Park nearby in 2008, the time was right for renovation.

The 20,000-square-foot pool deck was part of the makeover. Now there are bright-orange pleather couches and lounge chairs on the deck, along with lots of bikinis, iPhones, tattoos and copies of Men’s Health and Us Weekly. What’s not here: body fat. Or children.

The Sunday pool party has been a big hit since it went live after Memorial Day. Mr. Mendelsohn estimates he goes through 1,000 burgers a weekend.

“The Rubells showed us the pool deck, and we were in awe of it, and the potential for D.C.,” Mr. Mendelsohn says.

His girlfriend, Alyssa Shelasky, works on publicizing the Sunday party. So far, word of mouth (or word of Facebook or Twitter or text, given the crowd) has made the pool party a hot event, even if it is in an out-of-the-way neighborhood. Attendees come from nearby, such as Capitol Hill, but also make the trip from Northwest or the suburbs. There are people who stop by before heading to a Nationals game. Every once in a while, hotel guests are shocked when they stroll down to the pool for a quiet dip and find it packed with 20-somethings drinking beer on giant rafts and a DJ playing hip-hop tunes.

Saturdays bring the more spirited party crowd, Miss Shelasky says. Sundays, when Mr. Mendelsohn is at the grill and the weekend has more mileage, the crowd is a little more mellow.

“Saturdays, they are doing the limbo,” she says. “Sundays, they are reading the New York Times.”

Omar Ashmawy, 32, of Foggy Bottom is among the Sunday regulars. He says the pool party fills a spot that was empty in the District, but the city still has a long way to go before it has the destinations of New York, Los Angeles or Miami.

Mr. Ashmawy says if there were other pool scenes in the District, there would be plenty of people to fill the lounge chairs, especially if the outing was reasonably priced. The Capitol Skyline’s $10 cover charge, $4 draft beers and generous $5 mixed drinks are in a range that even interns can afford.

“This is the one place my friends and I all congregate,” he says. “The reality is, a lot of people in D.C. don’t make a lot of money. But they are doing everything right” at the Capitol Skyline.

• Karen Goldberg Goff can be reached at kgoff@washingtontimes.com.

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