WASHINGTON – The newly reopened Watergate Hotel might have mined the scandalous legacy of the complex where it’s located for its theme, but the black-tie crowd gathered there on Tuesday night for its inaugural party looked unimpeachably upstanding.
Former senator Bob Dole, R-Kansas, who lives in one of the complex’s condos, was wheeled around the ballroom, where he was greeted by well-wishers and gamely posed for selfies. His wife, Elizabeth, a former Republican senator from North Carolina, mingled with the crowd, which included fellow residents, boldfacers from the city’s media, business and real-estate worlds.
Tandy Dickerson might have once known scandal – the socialite’s Nixon-era love life made headlines – but that’s long past, and now the glamorous “mayor of the Watergate” was perched on a sculptural chair that matched her red dress, and observed the guests trickling in. Dickerson has lived in the complex since 1973 and thoroughly approves of its retro-mod makeover – and like many residents raising glasses, she’s just glad the dust from the nine-year renovation has settled.
“It’s hot!” she said. “There are 1800s mansions all over town – the Watergate should be modern!”
It’s up-to-date, all right, and guests ogle – and Instagram – the lobby’s whiskey bar lined with curving walls made entirely out of faux liquor bottles and sinewy metal art pieces in the new Kingbird restaurant. And the grand-opening fete is full of au courant touches: Champagne flutes are topped with clouds of cotton candy, and billows of smoke from liquid nitrogen spill from a mixologist’s table.
But highlighting the hotel’s connection to the infamous June 1972 burglary that brought down a president is the center of the marketing schtick, and the party’s trappings underscore that theme. Guests at the grand opening checked in at office desks that looked like they’d been filched from the set of “Mad Men,” and attendants – garbed in throwback A-line dresses actually designed by the AMC series’s costume designer – located guests’ names on Rolodexes (remember those?). The ashtrays (again, remember those?) are mere props, we’re assured. Trays bearing mini crabcakes are lined with faux newspapers blaring familiar headlines: “Nixon Resigns.”
The question being debated among the well-heeled guests: Will the hotel become a hip hangout, drawing the city’s young and moneyed sets, or will it mostly appeal to tourists simply seeking a location convenient to the nearby Kennedy Center and George Washington University campus?
As the hotel’s owners, Jacques and Rakel Cohen, led the crowd in a toast to the hotel’s future, Giuseppe Cecchi – the developer who built the original Watergate complex and lived there when his children were young – looks on from the back of the ballroom. Asked whether he likes the changes he’s seen, he offers a businessman’s pragmatism.
“So far, so good, but I’m not supposed to like it, the public is supposed to like it,” he said. “Hopefully, they will.”