Bruce Bradley smiles the smile of a man whose dream has come true—because with the opening of the
Capella hotel in Georgetown, he believes it has. Bradley is the managing member of
the DC-based Castleton Hotel Partners, which built the 49-room luxury hotel project
that took five years from the day the deal was closed until the soft opening this
past weekend. Originally Bradley hoped to open the hotel in January, in time for the
inauguration, but the complex reality of hotel construction set in, and instead he
is welcoming the first guests at cherry blossom time. “This is a better time,” he
says, “for the market and the industry.”
The Washingtonian to have breakfast and a tour
Wednesday morning. We met in the light-filled marble
lobby, had fresh-squeezed orange juice, eggs, blueberry
pancakes, and coffee in the
overlooking the C&O Canal, and then explored the hotel from
the shiny new kitchen
to the presidential suite, with its 2,000-pound marble bath for
four, to the almost-finished
rooftop deck with a black slate infinity pool, a large wood
deck, and expansive views
of Georgetown, downtown DC, and Virginia. Bradley wants to make
a statement with the
Capella. He also wants it to be Washington’s top luxury hotel.
Time will tell.
Until the Capella, Bradley’s business was building embassies and office buildings,
including some government and historic properties. It turned him into a world traveler,
with highly discriminating taste. He wanted to apply his experience and taste to a
hotel in his hometown—and the commercial office market had turned soft in recent years.
“It hasn’t been the ideal time,” he says of his standard line of work. “It generally
is a steady growth industry, but in the past couple of years we had the phenomenon
of the federal government cutting back on its budget, which almost never happened
before.” The hotel industry, on the other hand, “has taken off, and Washington is
one of the strongest hotel markets in the country.”
Bradley says right off that building an embassy is quite different from a hotel project and made for a challenging learning
curve. “It’s much more intricate. I feel like I got my [hotel] PhD in the past couple
of years,” he says. “Now I know precisely what to do with the next one”—which could
be in Miami or Milan. An ex-Leo A Daly
Michael Winstanley, oversaw the design of the hotel. “It was such a complex project, the level of finish
and detail,” says Bradley. “It’s like making a Ferrari, where you have to put on ten
coats of paint.”*
The elements of the design are something Bradley enjoys talking about and showing
off. “Every piece of furniture is custom-made for the hotel,” he says as we walk through
the “living room,” a quaint but lavish private area for hotel guests that features
a towering crystal chandelier reclaimed from the original Italian Embassy. The upholstered
pieces are from Germany, other items of furniture from Italy, the ebony-finished woodwork
from “the best factories” in China, the millwork from Austria. Even the chef,
Jakob Esko, is imported—from Sweden by way of the Capella Singapore. The hotel’s general manager,
Alex Obertop, comes to DC from Düsseldorf, Germany, where he oversaw the opening of another Cappela
hotel, the Breidenbacher Hof.
When we make our way to the sunny rooftop it is nothing short of a construction site,
swarming with carpenters, electricians, and tile setters. I venture a guess that it
will be another three weeks before it is finished. Bradley scoffs. “Oh, no,” he says.
“We will have water in the pool by Friday. It will all be finished.” A motivating
factor is a private party planned for this weekend for friends of Bradley and his
Sharon, his partners, and their friends. He expects about 150 people. Next week there’s
a much larger opening party for the public. He doesn’t even try to guess how many
people will come to that soiree.
The rooftop deck, pool, and bar area looks like it could be one of the choicest pieces
of summer real estate in the city, but, frustratingly for locals, it will be only
for hotel guests. If a Saudi prince comes and takes over two floors of the hotel, for instance, he will want privacy.* Saudi princes, other heads of state, business
moguls, movie stars, and the just plain rich are the clientele Bradley hopes to attract.
He’s off to a good start: Tuesday, the hotel’s private dining room held a dinner hosted
by a trio of ambassadors. It went into the wee hours. Bradley says that’s the scene
he expects at the Capella. Could he change the rooftop policy? He pauses, starts to
speak but stops, and ultimately doesn’t answer the question. He has a few things to
say—but only off the record.
There’s no mistaking that the Capella is a hotel for
people of means, or at least
generous expense accounts. Rooms, which are lush, cost in the
$600-and-up range. On
Monday evening, three cocktails and two glasses of wine with
friends, and no food,
came to $105. But the cocktails were delicious. They have
Manhattans on tap, which
is a nice touch at a place named the Rye Bar. The bar food, on
the other hand, is
curious. Yes, there are conventional items such as crabcakes
and sliders—along with
the latest DC food craze,
will patrons go for bone marrow canapes and potato skins with
oxtail? The dinner menu
is tempting, with grilled meats and fish and rotisserie chicken
($26) among the highlights.
A 12-ounce strip steak is $40, beef tartare $22, roasted wild
rockfish is $34, sole
meunière $48, and a cote de boeuf for two is $70.
Bradley wants the food to be sophisticated but not too exotic. Again, he models it
on favorite hotels in other countries. He’s proud of a Champagne cart that will make
the rounds of the tables at dinner (and lunch, too, if you ask). He also hopes to
become the spot for the so-called power breakfast in Washington—the current top contender
is the nearby Four Seasons Hotel, where Bradley says he’s been a regular breakfast
patron for years. How will he woo those customers to his dining room? “Word of mouth.”
He wants the community to come in the doors and feel comfortable, and he acknowledges
there’s a delicate balance between serving the community and serving the hotel’s guests.
“But we’ll do it,” he says.
Even though the Capella is the product of a team of partners, and is operated by a
noted global chain, it’s at heart a very personal statement for Bruce Bradley. It
has occupied so much of his time that he’s not pursued any other commercial projects
while getting it finished. “There was a need to be hands-on,” he says. He reminisces
about some of his favorite hotels—the Plaza Athénée in Paris, the Bauers and the Gritti
Palace in Venice. “In every hotel you see something you love, little details, and
you want to have them. I remembered these things and brought them here,” he says.
Bradley is at the hotel daily now, meeting friends and associates, pointing out the
details, introducing his staff. Has he spent the night in his own hotel yet? “No,”
he says, but very soon he will come with Sharon and their children and have—what else?—a
*This post has been updated from a previous version.