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POV Lounge, Lobby Bar and Rooftop Bars at the W Hotel, 15th and F Street Downtown


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I've imbibed at the W Hotel several times now, so I'll lay out the layout. . . I'll post later on the menu/off-menu experiences I've had. But this place is a complicated venue to navigate.

Lobby Bar
The lobby is a perfectly fine place to relax. The bar itself has about 10 stools, and always has a spectacular floral arrangement reaching 14 feet upwards. Table service is comfortable and leisurely. Choose from an assortment of games (chess, checkers, etc.) to pass the time as you sip cocktails and/or munch on snacks. Pick a table near the windows, and away from the hallway, to avoid the long lines to the elevator that can hover over you. I.E. If you're headed to the rooftop, there will be AT LEAST one line to the elevator here in the lobby. Only 7 may fit into the elevator (and even then the hopper has asked folks to step off if the weight limit has been reached), so inevitably you'll wait to get upstairs.

Rooftop Bars
Once on the rooftop, you instantly understand why all of those lines downstairs are necessary. Few views (if any) in DC surpass those from the W's rooftop, and the upstairs would be a complete zoo if there wasn't some sort of crowd control. As it is, I have yet to feel claustrophobic upstairs. The tables are spaced nicely (remember the horrific seating of the Hotel Washington?). The sun sets just over the White House, and I don't tire of watching Washington's skyline at night. This rooftop is the W's timeless competitive advantage over any other club or restaurant in the city.

There are two rooftop bars: a small one (no seating) at the corner of the building, and a shotgun one that seats about 10 at the other end. As you stand in the rooftop corner, the Washington Monument dares you to reach out and touch it. The shotgun bar runs parallel to the Treasury Building, and may be the most crowded area in the W Hotel.

POV Lounge
Now we're cooking with gas. This indoor lounge on the rooftop is just gaudy sick. Floor to ceiling windows allow for a panoramic view of the south, hard to believe that the Hotel Washington had it bricked up for years before. Most of the tables are reservation only. On the weekends a live jazz band adds to the ambiance.

The room's centerpiece is the "sushi bar", styled after those of high-end Japanese restaurants. Here the bartenders shake, stir and muddle behind the elevated bar in the dim light. Seating consists of 12 10 zebra-striped armchairs, at a bar that doubles as a lamp (a very bright one) by nightfall.

It's a bit awkward to have the bartenders tower over you, albeit from several feet back, but they reward your curious interest with exploratory suggestions. When sitting so low, it is downright impossible to see all the bottles behind this bar, and the menu tells precious little of this shop's range of inventory. Still, there are PLENTY of cool toys here, including a copper ice sphere mold (one of 7 kinds of ice). If the W Hotel is a sea of people-watching, power-mingling, vodka-drinking, weekend-clubbing folly, the sushi bar is an island of cocktail-crafting giddiness.

Lines and Access
Making a reservation is definitely the safest way to go. I swung by last Sunday at 3:30pm only to be told that rooftop access was closed to walk-ins.

During the weekdays, I get upstairs solo no problem.

On Friday and Saturday nights, lines form outside for those without reservations ("TWRs"). Once inside the lobby, there is another line for TWRs to get to the rooftop. Finally, there is a line for the one rooftop elevator that most everyone must suffer. An annoying production, but IMO necessary, as observed above.

Atmosphere
Although there is decent food, a restaurant it is not. Definitely a bar. More than that, it's one of those "THE place to be" bars. The clientele is an odd mix of: tourists, politicians, celebrities, professionals, and business meetings. Didn't see too many interns or cocktail enthusiasts. It's generally an older crowd that is less interested in innovation, and more apt to opt for wine or beer (only available bottled). It's generally a crowd who has never heard of Sasha Petraske. On the surface, a place that purports to cater to the sophisticated, but mainly attracts the pretentious (Yours Truly included in his weaker moments). But, the staff is friendly enough to chat with me if I can't get a conversation going with a random customer.

Closing Thoughts
I'm not a big fan of the speakeasy model, nor any model that requires a complicated access protocol. I don't do reservations, Open Table, or anything past calling to make sure a restaurant is open that day, or that late. That said, there is a payoff at POV if you can bear jumping thru its hoops. I'll save my thoughts of the menu for a later time (bottom line: I like the enthusiasm and often the execution), but thought I'd kick off this thread.

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I love the rooftop, but I am definitely not feeling the indoor lounge. Gaudy - yes. Sick? It depends on your definition. I've been there a couple of times and while the service/drinks are generally fine and the view is spectacular, the space really is hideous.

The way that the bar is set up - with the bartenders towering above the guests - is not at all uncomfortable. The fuzzy faux zebra chairs shed white "hairs" that end up all over the outfit of the person sitting there (this especially annoying since it's the sort of place that calls for dressing up a bit).

Having that "see and be seen" vibe with velvet ropes and a "guestlist" at 4pm in the afternoon on a Saturday when the bar is empty seems unnecessarily pretentious. If it's at night and there is a line...then I get it. Otherwise, it's all a little bit lost on me.

As for the food, the only thing that I've eaten was the bacon/avocado BLT - which was delicious. Fries appeared to be of the frozen SYSCO variety, but then again, I wasn't really there to eat...

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Does anyone know what privileges hotel guests get at the rooftop bar/POV? I assume at the least no waiting in line in the lobby. We have friends staying at the W next month and I know they want to check out the bar with us, so I'm curious.

I went with a guest a while ago, and basically I think it's just really easy for guests to get reservations whenever they want--and that's helpful because, on a Tuesday at 5pm, all the non-reserved space was packed and we got a really comfy couch area. I'd just have them ask when they check in, "Hey, we'd like to go to the bar with some friends on Friday. How do we set that up?"

The samosas and the dark and stormies were delicious.

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This post continues my observations of POV's resources. I still offer no perspective on the cocktailing experience, but will *finally* do that in a later post. Their setup is distinctive enough to chat about.

POV Setup
I judge a sushi bar to a large degree simply by looking at its case. Is fish stored as whole as possible, maximizing its freshness by minimizing its surface area? Or do the chefs pre-cut for volume nigiri orders, creating a prior restraint on any future sashimi expressions? Do the chefs avoid placing salmon skin in direct contact with any flesh, thereby discoloring its meat? Do they use decorations of citrus, fresh parsley, or other herbs to deodorize the case? Are the layers of the tamago thin and neatly stacked (as to create a dense omelette), or are any burnt, wrinkled, or bubbly?

POV's mise-en-place invites a similar scrutiny: its core ingredients rest on crushed ice atop the sushi bar. Lemons & limes & oranges, fresh eggs, and mint bunches? Of course. Bottles of Dolin vermouths and select specialty liqueurs? Check. Character actors for the menu, including fresh pineapple, grapefruit, ginger, and tomatoes? Ouch, they remain offstage, unrecognized, to the detriment of the display. BUT -- what I see is fresh produce and new-to-market spirits. Looks promising.

Stop the show! Playing diva to this ensemble is a pair of 25-pound blocks of ice. These oversized beauties stand center stage, side by side, suggesting a glistening bosom. Here is the soul of the bar, artesian ice, offered nowhere else in the city. This specialty is often created similarly to tamago, ie layer by layer, using degassed water to ensure clarity.

This is POV's claim to fame, ice in five varieties. That doesn't included shaved ice, which I predict will arrive in the long-term. Check out this video for an exhaustive walk-thru of their ice program.

The first kind, the ice spear, is made exactly as we make it at home, molded in Tovolo trays with ordinary filtered water. Two others (cubed and crushed) come from the renowned Kold-Draft machine, the gold standard for any serious cocktail joint. The bartenders sculpt the remaining two types directly from the block ice. My favorite is the cracked ice. The bartenders chop and chip these chunks until one jagged piece is shaped snugly for your rocks glass. Sipping an Appleton 21 over this mini-glacier makes you feel as if you have arrived in life, indeed. But the final ice, the sphere, is certain to impress your friends.

Unfortunately, in recent weeks, management has initiated the batching of these ice spheres in the kitchen to handle the volume crowds. And I've never seen (or heard) chipped ice used for shaking, either, as advertised. Kold-Draft does the heavy lifting in that area. Worse, not all spheres are made with the clear block ice. Some are products of filtered tap water, frozen without layers. This ice doesn't freeze fast enough before absorbing (and dissolving) air, culminating in a mere mass of translucency. So yes, I have gotten some hazy spheres before. You'll likely get a clear sphere if you ask your bartender with polite discretion, but still, for shame that it isn't standard issue!

Refrigerated Spirits
POV refrigerates most of its spirits (and its entire speed bar, from what I can tell). Since the bartenders work with chilled spirits, super-cold ice, and pre-chilled glassware, there is precious little water dilution that would result in the ubiquitous swollen cocktail. Their coupe glasses measure a mere 4.5 ounces, but these may be the stiffest drinks in town (not necessarily a virtue). Order Vera's Swizzle over crushed ice; even after 15 minutes, the ice has hardly melted, leaving the flavor profile intact.

Food Menu
The food is nice. Watermelon and goat cheese salad ($10), or Maryland crab salad over heirloom tomatoes ($14) are tasty light choices. The tilefish tempura ($12) is served with a chili sauce, and shares well. BLT with avocado ($10) is delicious; the petite filet ($19) is ordinary. I don't care for the tuna burger ($16), but those who eat slices of gari simultaneously with their maguro might.

Final Thoughts
While many authorities maintain that water dilution is best when working with room temperature spirits, POV represents a newer school of thought: working with colder materials increases the bartender's control of water dilution. Seeing this new school in action here in Washington DC is really exciting! I'm a bit tired after getting all geeked out here, so I'll post my experience another day. (Bottom line: perfectly fine drinks, but I guess this place really is only 3 months old after all. But there's much promise.) Can't wait to hear about yours!

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There have been a lot of changes at POV recently - in terms of management, food, and the recent remodel.

The Remodel

I'm told that everything on the roof was removed except for the black and white tiled floor.  For those who have been before, you'll notice the change immediately when the elevator doors open, as you are greeted with a wide red wall/art piece instead of the former white surrounding windows.

The biggest improvement has been to the interior lounge area.  One of the worst physical bars I've come across - a two level situation where the bartenders lorded down on you from on high with cheap plastic outdoor chairs has been thankfully been replaced by a gold colored metallic bar at an average height (though the bar itself is quite deep - they still keep a good bit of distance between you and the bartenders).  On the wall behind is a gold display that models the silhouettes of Washington, Lincoln and Ben Franklin with chandeliers that mirror the wall faces.

Outside on the terrace, the south bar has been replaced and is now much wider.  The north bar has also been replaced with a curved bar designed to look like the Capitol dome under a new lighting scheme.  This seems to have substantially shrunk the size of the bar, both for customers and the bartenders trying to squeeze around each other while serving.

Another big improvement is new furniture throughout the upstairs space.  There are now comfortable lounge chairs and wooden stools with soft seats, as well as a rail to place your drinks on - it is a much more pleasant set up to spend some time having a cocktail.  (though during a strong rainstorm Saturday afternoon one of the designers panicked - apparently its not weatherproof?)

The Food

When Jean Georges contract ended, the bar menu food - which had been passable - became awful.  We were told this was temporary as a new food and bev program was transitioned in with the arrival of Barry Koslow and the redesign of the hotel restaurant, but man it was truly bad.  The good news is they have reportedly tapped a sous chef to oversee the new menu upstairs and its now better than under Jean Georges.  Lamb Kofta was juicy and flavorful, Crispy Mussels were crispy and flavorful, and both the lettuce wraps and steamed pork buns were delicious.

My overall feeling was that this is now a more comfortable place to get a decent cocktail (albeit pricey) and enjoy the view, but the food now matches the scene.

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