Cigar Aficionado

Four Seasons, Washington, D.C.

"Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that's the stuff life is made of," said Benjamin Franklin in 1746. Today, he might have added, "and if you're in Washington, D.C., stay at the Four Seasons Hotel." For nowhere is luxury equated more with the righteous use of time than at this Washington landmark located in historic Georgetown (called the Port of Georgetown in Franklin's day).

At the Four Seasons, conserving time translates into lightning-fast room service, an ultraefficient concierge (Javier Loureiro, named 1994 Concierge of the Year by the prestigious Hideaway Report travel newsletter), high-tech communications devices, computer-equipped workout facilities and among the speediest check-ins and checkouts in town. The object? Freeing up time in the present day to enjoy the good life.

A visit to the Four Seasons offers almost unlimited opportunities for that. Located on the eastern extremity of the Georgetown neighborhood, the building, with its sharp contours and modern glass-and-brick edifice, at first presents a jarring contrast to the Old-World gentility of the nearby eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Federal and Georgian row houses. Once inside, however, the tone warms considerably. The soft-polished mahogany panels of the smallish lobby lead invitingly to the Garden Terrace Club bar. There, the aromas of afternoon tea and scones mix, then later give way to the clubby smell of leather chairs, Cognac and Davidoff cigars from the club humidor. Patrons congregate around the window seats, which overlook the locks of the old C&O canal, where the gravel path laid for the barge-pulling mules now provides an ideal surface for joggers, bicyclists and strolling lovers.

The Georgetown neighborhood is itself a major attraction. Inside the quaint row houses are many of the city's finest shops and restaurants. And Georgetown Tobacconists, a two-minute walk from the hotel, is generally considered the finest in the D.C. area.

The 160 rooms and 40 suites offer surprisingly long vistas for a hotel with only eight floors (a pre-New Deal federal law limits building heights to below the top of the Capitol dome--about 12 stories). From the rooms overlooking Rock Creek Park, trees, streams and the occasional deer (and at least one recorded black bear) make up the view. From elsewhere, the view is of busy Georgetown and familiar national monuments.

Rooms are impeccably maintained and furnished, but hardly grand. Even the posh Presidential and Royal suites give off more the air of a compact, convenient in-town condominium than Old-World luxury, and standard rooms are commensurately less commodious. But high ceilings are not what the Four Seasons is all about. Prompt service and amenities are.

The epitome of such amenities has to be the Four Seasons Fitness Club. Think of it as a European health spa with "Intel Inside." Guests avail themselves of VCR-equipped LifeCycles, Stairmasters and treadmills. Nautilus, free weights, a steam room, a juice bar and a lap pool are also available. Professional trainers offer fitness evaluation, body-fat analysis and personal training. And in keeping with the need for almost instantaneous communication, the facility has fax machines, cellular telephones, a PC and pagers for executive joggers who need to keep in touch with the office. Even the club's two massage rooms have speaker phones for convenient communication.

The Four Seasons is a cigar-friendly environment. Cigars are stocked in both the Garden Terrace Club and the Seasons (formerly Aux Beaux Champs until a recent remodeling and name change), a Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning restaurant under Chef Douglas MacNeil. A feisty Scotsman with a long-time passion for Cuban cigars, MacNeil was host to three sold-out cigar dinners last year and plans a greater number this year. Such dinners are held in the Seneca, a newly inaugurated private dining room that features a custom-designed ventilation system to exhaust excess smoke.

After an efficient, time-compressed day of proficient touring, politicking or shopping, one could hardly imagine a more agreeable way to squander some time.

-- Ben Giliberti

Ben Giliberti is a wine and spirits columnist for The Washington Post.

Four Seasons
2800 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20007
(202) 342-0444
Room Rates: about $220 to $345; suite: $395 to $2,000