Photos by Arielle Patterson/courtesy of The Banneker
Crossing the Potomac River along I-395, a quintessential D.C. landscape fills the foreground. Drive by landmarks like the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial on the way to something new in a historic part of our nation’s capital.
Scenically and conveniently located near downtown Washington D.C. and Dupont Circle, the Kimpton Banneker Hotel is the District’s newest hotel, offering relaxation and sophistication in the historic area. Rounding Scott Circle, the modern hotel, that opened late June 2021, is situated along the charming tree-lined streets.
Before the Banneker, the location was the site of the former Kimpton-run Hotel Rouge. After a $20 million renovation, the accommodation was completely transformed into a 10-story boutique property. The Banneker embraces the spirit of D.C. through an appreciation for its history, art and culture.
Contrasting the Banneker’s contemporary, slate-colored exterior is a warm and comfortable vibe in the hotel’s lobby. Showcased on the wooden wall opposite the front desk is an abstract portrait by D.C.-based artist Rob Matthews that is not only a representation of the Banneker’s art collection but is a portrait of the hotel’s namesake.
The Banneker’s name is a nod to one of the country’s major Black innovators, Benjamin Banneker. Banneker made significant contributions to astronomy, mathematics and civil rights. He also played a key role in surveying the land that would become Washington D.C. in 1791, specifically identifying the meridian line for D.C.—a line that is now 16th Street, where the hotel is located. To honor Banneker, the hotel has several constellation motifs and even provides guests a card that describes which constellations will be visible during their stay.
The Banneker portrait is just one of the many original works of art within the hotel. The Banneker has thoughtfully curated an art collection highlighting D.C. natives and international artists in a variety of mediums. From the lobby mural by D.C.-based Nigerian-American artist Victor Ekpuk to abstract paintings, photographs and more throughout the hotel, the Banneker could also double as an art gallery.
Complementing the hotel’s collection of art is the refreshed interior design led by Toronto-based firm Mason Studio. Each of the 144 spacious guest rooms presents a blend of warm tones and cool minimalism, designed with lush materials like corduroy and velvet.
Once you settle in and decompress from the inevitable traffic on I-95, mosey back down to the lobby for a complimentary evening wine hour in the adjacent sitting area. The wine hour is a perfect precursor to dinner at the Banneker’s in-house restaurant, Le Sel.
You may forget, when you first walk in to Le Sel, that you’re in Washington D.C. The restaurant’s wall-to-wall windows fill the dining room with light and open up to 16th Street NW, drawing inspiration from Paris bistros. The 750-square-foot outdoor patio attracts pedestrians to dine at the inviting restaurant.
Le Sel, with a name that translates to “the salt,” features a menu that blends contemporary French fare with elevated comfort food. Executive chef Laurent Hollaender, a native of France, conceived an upscale, yet approachable, menu that utilizes locally sourced, seasonal ingredients.
Tomatoes from a farm in Maryland are the star of the restaurant’s Heirloom Tomato Carpaccio, served with crushed pistachio, buttery sweet Castelvetrano olives and balsamic glaze. The mushrooms served with the Roquefort Crusted Filet Mignon are sourced from a farm in Pennsylvania, while the apples used in the Pork Belly entrée’s fennel and apple salad hail from neighboring Virginia.
Hollaender put a spin on French staples by adding a mid-Atlantic twist. Steak Tartare is made with smoked oyster mayo and topped with an oyster to add a briny flavor to the savory appetizer. Seafood entrees include Seared Diver Scallops, served with an “eggplant caviar,” and flounder wrapped in thin slices of prosciutto.
Hollaender explains that after spending years in Orlando, Florida, he was eager to move back north and take advantage of the regional offerings from the water. “There was a bounty of seafood to choose from,” he says.
Additionally, Le Sel indulges diners with classic French dishes—onion soup overflowing with Emmental cheese, escargot in bubbling garlic butter, niçoise salad, Moules Frites and crème brûlée.
Currently, the restaurant is only serving dinner, with plans for breakfast and lunch upcoming. For now, grab-and-go breakfast is offered to hotel guests as a COVID-safe option.
The Banneker’s location makes it easy to tour D.C. by foot. Historic hotspots, along with the National Museum of African American History, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the National Gallery of Art, are just a few miles away. The Banneker even offers complimentary bike rentals so you can pedal your way around the nation’s capital.
While the Banneker is still in its early stages, there is so much more to come for both guests and visitors to Washington D.C. The hotel’s rooftop bar, Lady Bird, is set to open in late summer/early fall and will showcase sweeping views of the White House, Washington Monument and D.C. skyline. Imbibe on signature cocktails, beer and wine that have been sophisticatedly paired with small bites.
While opening during the pandemic presented its challenges, the Banneker’s friendly staff is ready to safely host travelers. Follow the stars, much like Benjamin Banneker did more than 200 years ago, for a much-needed getaway.
Kimpton Banneker Hotel is located in downtown D.C., a three- to five-hour drive depending on your starting point in Coastal Virginia. Learn more or make a reservation at TheBanneker.com.