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Washington, D.C., Offers a Mosaic of Meetings Options for Planners

Cherry blossoms and Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Power and politics are not the only connections in our nation’s capital. For groups, Washington, D.C.’s network of hotels, venues and experiences offer a world-class planning framework for meetings and events. Comprising seven industry sectors including technology, education, transportation and sustainability, Destination DC’s “Connected Capital” program is a powerful nerve center of knowledge for supporting agenda objectives. Influential ideas and innovation are also at the core of D.C.’s extended campus of world-class cultural, culinary and other planning components.

"A key aspect of our destination marketing involves encouraging people to look beyond their existing perceptions of D.C.," said Elliott L. Ferguson, II, president and CEO of Destination DC. "As an epicenter of knowledge and innovation, the nation's capital helps facilitate successful meetings and events. Enriched by meaningful experiences and expert speakers, our city offers exceptional venues, vibrant diversity, world-class museums and award-winning dining only found here."

D.C. also advantageously balances business with wellness, with a sustainability-driven focus on walkability, green space, smart transportation options, river-based activities and more. Like the famed cherry blossoms that ushered in spring last month, the planning possibilities in D.C. are in full bloom.

Washington, D.C. Is a Culinary Gathering Hub

Jamón Jamón at The Square
Jamón Jamón at The Square. Courtesy of Unfold Hospitality

From the new restaurants reenergizing Georgetown to the dining parade along The Wharf DC, the $3.6 billion, mile-long redevelopment of the Potomac River waterfront in Southwest D.C., culinary concepts are key ingredients in neighborhood redevelopment investments sweeping the city.

Union Market District exemplifies this literal go-to-market strategy.  

Originated in 1871 as Centre Market and reincarnated as the relocated Union Terminal Market in 1931, Union Market relaunched in 2012 as a dynamic food hall, event hub and retail incubator. Opened a block away in 2019, Latin-focused La Cosecha was the first market of its kind in the nation.  

Rentals include Union Market’s rooftop and DOCK5, offering more than 12,000 square feet of blank canvas space in a former warehouse. The neighborhood also features two new group-capable concepts from Stephen Starr as the Philadelphia-based celebrity chef expands his D.C. footprint with Mexico City-inspired El Presidente, and New York City brasserie import Pastis in partnership with restaurateur Keith McNally.  

Food halls are the hot trend of the moment. Globetrotting chef Richie Brandenburg, who masterminded Union Market and La Cosecha, joined forces with Spanish chef Rubén García to create The Square, an event-capable food market located in the atrium of downtown D.C.’s International Square complex.

Both veterans of globally renowned Spanish-American chef and humanitarian José Andrés’s D.C.-based restaurant group, the partners’ innovative concept combines personally curated restaurants with operational efficiencies including a shared underground commissary kitchen.

Venues include the central 42-seat Atrium Bar and seafood-driven Cashion’s Rendezvous from James Beard-winning chef-restaurateur Ann Cashion. García, a native Catalonian whose career includes five years at Spain’s iconic El Bulli, dishes out Spanish street food at Brasa and mouthwatering hand-cut dry-cured hams at Jamón Jamón. Named for his great grandmother Teresa Espinosa Moreno, a human rights activist during Spain’s brutal Franco era, García’s signature Casa Teresa restaurant offers the 12-seat Teresa’s Table and an 18-capacity private dining room.

Other event-capable dining hubs include Western Market, which pays homage to one of the three original marketplaces constructed by city planner Pierre L’Enfant in 1802. Love, Makoto is celebrity chef Makoto Okuwa’s “culinary love letter” collection of Japanese concepts including Dear Sushi and Beloved BBQ. Developed by D.C.’s renowned Neighborhood Restaurant Group, Roost is a “dining and drinking” consortium comprised of local chefs and F&B purveyors.

D.C.’s culinary star power includes Chef Ryan Ratino, winner of the 2023 Michelin Guide DC Young Chef Award. Ratino runs two exceptional event-capable restaurants in one building, one Michelin-starred Bresca, a contemporary Parisian-style bistro, and two Michelin-starred Jônt, a Japanese-driven, 16-seat tasting menu-only counter.  

[Related: Washington, D.C.’s Food Scene Delivers International Inspiration]

Washington, D.C. Is a World Capital of Learning and Inspiration

National Museum of African American History and Culture exterior
National Museum of African American History and Culture. Courtesy

Home of the 17-member Smithsonian Institution, the world's largest museum complex, along with other unique museums and cultural centers around town, D.C. ranks among the world’s most dynamic living classrooms.  

Opened in 1974, the esteemed Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden inaugurated its 50th-anniversary season this February with 270 artworks from 1860 to 1960. Another preeminent Smithsonian venue, the National Museum of the American Indian, turns 20 this year.  

Enveloped in bronze lattice that opens the building to daylight and symbolically invites “open dialogue about race and help promote reconciliation and healing,” the National Museum of African American History and Culture is a profound visitor experience throughout. Rentals include the 350-seat Oprah Winfrey Theater.

In October 2023, the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), the world’s first major museum dedicated to championing women artists, unveiled the sweeping $67.5 million renovation of its majestic 1908 building. Elegant event spaces within the former Masonic Temple include the Great Hall and second-level Mezzanine.  

Featuring the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the event-capable Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill is slated to reopen this June following a three-year, $82 million renovation.

O Museum in The Mansion is a true conversation starter. Designed by U.S. Capitol architect Edward Clark in 1892, the “Big O” comprises five interconnected townhouses with a total of 112 rooms, including 35 bathrooms (matching the White House) and over 80 secret doors. Ranked by Smithsonian as one of the top five historic venues in the world, this idiosyncratic gem, featuring themed areas filled with fine art, antiques, music memorabilia and rare items, is a local landmark for receptions and other events.

D.C.’s cultural expanse extends to group-ready theaters and music venues of all sizes. Part of The Wharf DC, Anthem, flexibly hosting up to 6,000 people, is a hot-ticket venue for concerts and private events. Opened in 1934, D.C.’s iconic Mellon Auditorium reopened last November following the first major renovation in its prestigious history.

[Related: How CVBs Are Connecting the Next Generation to Jobs in Hospitality]

New Hotels Extend the D.C. Welcome


The Morrow Lobby
The Morrow Hotel lobby. Credit: Hilton

With around 19 new hotels and 3,500-plus rooms in the pipeline, D.C.’s ever-expanding portfolio of group properties includes the new 274-room Royal Sonesta Washington, DC. Unveiled in September 2023 as the first new luxury hotel on Capitol Hill in 40 years, the 274-room property offers rooftop conference and ballroom space with private terraces that overlook the city and several national monuments.  

Marriott International, originated in D.C. in 1927, expanded its local presence in January 2023 with the opening of the 235-room Washington Marriott Capitol Hill, offering 18,000 square feet of indoor event space and a 5,000-square-foot event courtyard.  

The property forms part of the new mixed-use NoMa Center in the fast-emerging NoMa neighborhood, where The Morrow (see sidebar) is an exciting new lifestyle hotel for groups.  

October 2023 saw the reopening of the former Renaissance Washington hotel as the 807-room Westin Washington, DC Downtown following an $80 million makeover. The property, one of the largest in D.C., offers 70,000-plus square feet of flexible space, including a 19,000-square-foot grand ballroom.  

With venues including the 1,688-capacity Grand Ballroom and expansive Grand Lawn, 373-room Salamander Washington, DC is nearing completion on phased upgrades including Dōgon restaurant from acclaimed chef Kwame Onwuachi.

Positive Vibes Define D.C.’s Latest Lifestyle Hotel, The Morrow Hotel

On February 11th, 1964, two days after making their first American TV appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York City, the Beatles played their first U.S. concert at the indoor Uline Arena in D.C. Local disk jockey Carroll James Jr., an early champion of the Fab Four, emceed the show. Following a 12-song set before 8,000-plus screaming fans, the Beatles were feted at the British Embassy before returning to NYC to play Carnegie Hall.

D.C.’s National Museum of American History remembers the concert as “an exciting, transitional time in American popular culture.” Today, the arena, which was renamed the Washington Coliseum in 1960 and hosted one of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inaugural balls in 1953 as part of its illustrious event history, is part of the dynamic transformation of the surrounding 35-block NoMa, or “North of Massachusetts Avenue” neighborhood.

Since repurposed for retail, restaurant and office use, the arena resides across the street from The Morrow Hotel. Resurrecting the former site of a century-old electrical manufacturing and repair business, the 12-story, 203-room lifestyle property, which opened in November 2022, reflects “optimism” for the future in its name and design elements.  

Anchoring the emerging 3rd Street District where NoMa, Union Market District and H Street converge, the hotel, part of Hilton’s Curio Collection, makes a welcoming opening statement in the airy and decorous lobby. The rooms are equally as inviting. My eighth-floor King Suite featured an outdoor balcony overlooking the arena, Union Station railyards and D.C. cityscape, including the distant dome of the U.S. Capitol Building.  

The views get more vivid from Vesper, the 11th floor cocktail and jazz lounge, and the wraparound outdoor terrace of Upstairs at Morrow. Both are event-programmable. Groups have 11,400 square feet of contemporary, customizable space, including a 2,400-square-foot ballroom and 4,900-square-foot outdoor veranda. Michelin-starred chef Nicholas Stefanelli runs the culinary program, including French-inspired Le Clou restaurant. 


Destination DC

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About the author
Jeff Heilman | Senior Contributor

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based independent journalist Jeff Heilman has been a Meetings Today contributor since 2004, including writing our annual Texas and Las Vegas supplements since inception. Jeff is also an accomplished ghostwriter specializing in legal, business and Diversity & Inclusion content.