Hot Hotel: Inside Riggs Washington DC, a new boutique hotel set in the former 'Bank of Presidents'

Venus Wong
Riggs Washington DC is the latest opening to turnaround the US capital's staid and corporate hotel scene

The hotel scene in DC is slowly shaking off its staid, corporate image, thanks to a slew of interesting openings: first, there was The LINE DC, a hipster design hotel in trendy Adams Morgan. Eaton DC, an 'activist hotel' campaigning for social change, soon followed. The latest property to join the fold is Riggs Washington DC, a new boutique offering from the hospitality group behind Sea Containers London and The Pulitzer Amsterdam.

Like its sister hotels, it features well-curated interiors, a buzzy location – and most importantly, a distinctive cocktail bar serving boundary-pushing mixology. Take a look inside...

The Design Concept

The hotel sits inside the former headquarters of Riggs National Bank, famous for being the go-to financial institution for many presidents and foreign ambassadors back in its heyday, including Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and Richard Nixon. The illustrious clientele aside, the bank, completed at the turn of the century, is an excellent example of Classical Revival architecture.

Step inside and you’ll be greeted by an original, barrel-vaulted lobby with a spectacular coffered ceiling. Period features in the rooms reflect the hotel’s financial past. You’ll spot plenty of medallion motifs around the hotel – it depicts the profile of Juno Moneta, the Roman goddess of money.

One of the most impressive design features of the hotel is the original coffered ceiling Credit: Jennifer Hughes

The best hotels in Washington DC

The Facilities 

Riggs takes fitness seriously: the 1,800 sq-ft space is fitted with all manners of equipment for strength training, weight training and cardio, from Technogym machines to Pelton bikes, part of the latest exercise craze. Guests will also be able to participate in classes held in fitness studios nearby. The hotel also features a brasserie and a basement cocktail bar. 

The Restaurant

Café Riggs, the hotel’s atmospheric all-day dining spot, is flanked by the banking hall’s Corinthian marble columns and flooded with plenty of light, thanks to a towering ceiling and arch windows. It’s a swish place to see and be seen, bedecked in custom-made furniture and mid-century-style brass desk lamps. Your eyes will be instantly drawn to the massive glass-encased floral art installation.

The menu takes inspiration from a classic European brasserie, with dishes such as oyster platters, lobster tartine and steak frites. A plant-based menu is also available, such as a kale salad done ‘Caesar style’ and Jerusalem artichokes with freekeh.

The Bar

Lore Group, the hospitality brand behind Sea Containers London and The Pulitzer Amsterdam, is known for injecting excitement and innovation into its hotel bar concepts, and Riggs is no different. Its basement drinking den, Silver Lyan, is helmed by Ryan Chetiyawardana (aka ‘Mr Lyan’) – the fabled creator of the Lyaness Bar in Sea Containers London and the winner of World’s Best Bar. 

The cocktail menu riffs on American history and DC’s influential role in politics, with drinks such as Project Apollo (a blend of Moonrock and Hendrick's gins, mixed with sour pineapple and raspberry dust) and Presidential Gift, which comes with a whopping $375 (£290) price tag, thanks to the use of a very old single-cask Aberfeldy Scotch. The lush velvet drapes, dim lights and speckled marble tables make for a very stylish – and discreet – spot for a nightcap.

Silver Lyan bar features a cocktail menu that plays on American history Credit: Jennifer Hughes

The best hotel bars in London

The Rooms

The design concept of the guests rooms very much revolves around banking, with each of the 181 rooms laid out to resemble a private safety deposit box. The minibars and safes are stashed within a steel cabinet made to resemble a vintage safe, with the Juno Moneta medallion making another appearance. The scallop-shaped bed headboard and the feature wall behind it are covered in contrasting, swirly patterns by design studio Voutsa. The swish navy bathrooms have Italian Carrara marble fixtures and chrome hardware.

To kick the bank experience up a notch, guests can book the two-bedrooms Riggs Suite, set in the bank’s former boardroom. There are also four First Lady suites inspired by the little-known hobbies of previous presidential spouses, such as Caroline Harrison’s porcelain collecting habit and Ida McKindley’s love for gardening.

The design concept of the guests rooms very much revolves around banking Credit: Jennifer Hughes

Rooms at Riggs DC start from $329 (£256). For more information, visit riggsdc.com