D.C. Hotels See Fewer Guests for Inauguration

By Barbara DeLollis

Who'd expect to see a hot dog cart inside the Four Seasons, the exclusive hotel where some inauguration revelers have been ordering $2,000 bottles of wine?

Well, on Sunday, the hotel rolled out the real thing – an authentic hot dog pushcart – for its special inauguration weekend brunch.

In honor of a popular snack from President Obama's adopted hometown, Four Seasons diners could grab a Chicago hot dog on a poppy seed bun, complete with mustard, neon-green Chicago relish, spicy peppers and fresh tomato slices. A life-size cardboard Obama stood guard nearby, and men, women and children posed next to it for photos.

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WASHINGTON D.C. — Four Seasons employee Melinda Cook shows off a Chicago-style hot dog, made at a real hot dog cart.
(Photo: Liliana Baldassari, Four Seasons)

"I'm from Chicago," says the hotel's executive chef, Douglas Anderson. "I had to do the Chicago hot dog stand."

And people ate it up, as expected, he says.

While it may have been Anderson's quirky nod to the president, the simple hot dog cart also can be viewed as a sign of the times.

This year's tone: Subdued, not splashy

As news about the so-called fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling dominate headlines, the mood during this year's inauguration is far more subdued than it was in 2009, according to interviews with veteran hoteliers, visitors and best-selling author and Four Seasons guest Deepak Chopra.

Visitors are steering away from making showy displays.

Over the past few days, Javier Loureiro, head concierge at the Four Seasons who began working here in 1979, says he's noticed a lack of large jewels on women decked out for inaugural balls. (Which inauguration had the most bling? Hands down, he says, it was President Reagan's first.)

Another sign: Few hotels in the city have sold out for the full inauguration weekend, or if they did sell out, it was for fewer nights than in 2009.

Washington's convention officials expect about 800,000 people to arrive for inaugural festivities, vs. about 1.6 million four years ago.

Guests: 'More careful approach'

"The last time was epic due to the historical nature of it," says Jon Chocklett, sales and marketing director at the luxury Mandarin Oriental hotel, where people are paying $995 a night for the least expensive rooms and at least $2,000 a night for suites.

"The theme of America now is people being a little more cautious, and we're certainly seeing a more careful approach by our guests," he says.

The tapered enthusiasm about spending money – and showing it off isn't limited to Washington's most expensive luxury hotels.

Less expensive hotels have been seeing similar trends. Average stays are shorter, too, than four years ago.

The average guest stay in 2005 at the Liaison Capitol Hill Hotel was two nights, and in 2009, it doubled to four nights, says Jack Lindemuth, the hotel's revenue manager. This year, it should be around three, he says.

"It's still great, but it's just not that huge compared to the historical moment of 2009," Lindemuth says. "If you compare it to the Bush re-election, it's still going to be better than 2005."

Outside of inauguration weekend, the Liaison advertises rates on its website that start at $189, with a $50 in-room dining credit for Art Smith's Art and Soul restaurant.

For inauguration, the Liaison – with trendy rooms and a location close to the steps of Capitol Hill – initially fetched rates of $899 with a four-night, prepaid minimum when it began selling rooms last March. By Friday, however, it was allowing guests to book one night. The hotel's "Inaugural Chef's Ball" charity event held on Saturday night, with prominent chefs Smith, Todd Gray and Michael Isabella, however, sold out just as it did four years ago.

There's more… read the full article on the USA Today website.

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