From Hell to Paradise


Ahh… heaven in a cocktail glass. Here we have the Pear Mandarin Martini – consisting of Absolut Pear, Pear nectar, Elderflower cordial, and lemon juice. It is, admittedly, a carry-over cocktail from Las Vegas, as is my modus operandi when it comes to cocktails – I’ll generally stick with a winning concoction for a certain stretch of time. Often it’s a seasonal thing, which is somewhat the case with the pears of late. This will do for now – and it will be peppered by the traditional gin or vodka martini until Negroni season begins again – usually by the end of the month.

Tonight, this is the pre-game moment for when we later dine with the man who performed our wedding ceremony. Outside the Empress Lounge (has there ever been a more apt name?) a tricky deluge of stormy weather. Wild lightning strikes out over the Potomac, as heavy rain pours down. Intermittent bursts of thunder bracket the live guitar player, his meandering jazz solos a perfect counterpoint to the rainy night. A good time to reflect on our current stay at the Mandarin Oriental, Washington, DC.

After our hellish flight experience, our arrival at the Mandarin completely turned the day around. We arrived far earlier than check-in, but our room, which had been graciously upgraded, was ready within minutes. The staff of the Mandarin Oriental proved an admirable bunch, welcoming us and erasing all memories of a rough morning. Here, there was calm and peace, an oasis from the rest of the world, and a much-appreciated respite from all of it.

My eyes were drawn, of course, to the flower display in the center of the lobby. As per usual, the true worth of any hotel is to be found in the floral arrangements, and these were exceptional in every way. Grand, yet simple ~ varied, yet harmonious ~ regal, yet grounded. I gush because they are that worthy.

Our check-in attendant Annie offered us a comfortable seat in the lobby area while the room was readied, and within moments she was back to tell us we were all set. Upon entering the room (and all but getting lost in the immense marble bathroom – more on that luxury later), all the worries of the day – nay, the month – melted away with the stunning vista of the river and the pillars of the Jefferson Memorial.

While the day remained overcast, given to bouts of rain, the sky was still bright, and it looked almost as if we were floating on a cloud. It felt as light too.

Far more than the surroundings was the services and courtesy provided by the staff. From our check-in attendant Annie to the housekeeping staff, to the guys who procured the taxis and town cars, to the host in the lounge who always asked if I wanted a newspaper or magazine as I sipped my cocktail, this was a highly-efficient, well-trained group of professionals who always had a kind greeting and a smile, even in the slightest passing.

That evening there was a bowl of fresh fruit, and a hand-written note of greeting from Linda, the expert Director of Communications at the Mandarin Oriental in Washington – welcoming us to the hotel.

That is the sort of personal touch that makes a first-time guest a loyal customer. (Example: when I left a book on the bedside table, I returned to find a bookmark resting on it. Being able to so expertly anticipate what the guest needs – even when the guest doesn’t even know – is the mark of an exceptional establishment.) And so is a box of artisanal chocolates, even if they had me at the fruit…

Our arrival at the Capitol had gone from dismal to delightful, thanks to the Mandarin, but the day had just begun, and we wanted to see the pandas…

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