Trying Out the New Marriott Bonvoy Program in the Nation’s Capital
After just a short train ride departing Newark Penn Station, we pulled into Union Station, in the heart of Washington, D.C. on a brisk spring day earlier this year. Once you step foot outside the station, you can already feel the immense power of this city, the Capitol Building looming in the distance.
D.C. in April is beautiful. The cherry blossoms are in full bloom and it brings an already bustling city to life – complete with festivals and tourists (like me) trying out best to capture the cherry blossoms in the foreground with some of our beautiful national monuments behind.
Though you may have thought there’s an endless amount of activities already in D.C., we were ready to see what the newly rolled out Marriott Bonvoy program had in store for us. The program, which combines Marriott Rewards, The Ritz-Carlon Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest is Marriott Internationals’ latest roll out that consolidates their brand’s membership reward programs into one. This will allow for its 120 million member strong program to enjoy over 120,000 experiences in 1,000 destinations across the world, with events such as desert treks on camelback in Morocco or hiking into glacial Patagonia.
Lucky for us, though, D.C. has neither camels nor glaciers. Instead, our Marriott Bonvoy Moment was taking us center court: at the Eastern NCAA Elite 8 game featuring a matchup between Duke and Michigan State. With Marriott Bonvoy’s exclusive partnership with the NCAA, program members gain unrivaled access to games and the experiences surrounding them.
After a quick Uber ride from Union Station, we checked into JW Marriott. Just a block from the White House and with incredible views of the Washington Monument, its location seemed ideal for just about everything, whether it was walking the National Mall or taking a quick trip to Georgetown. After checking in and freshening up, it was time to get ready for the big game.
After a quick walk to Marriott Marquis, a beautiful all-glass building in downtown D.C., we were warmly greeted by members of the Marriott International team, who were hosting a small cocktail reception before we’d depart for Capital One Arena for the game.
After an intense game – where the Michigan State Spartans upset the Duke Blue Devils – which we were watching while on our feet in awe for most of the second half, a strong drink was in high demand. We walked through the lobby of the Marriott Marquis and found ourselves at The Dignitary, an aptly named whiskey bar where the D.C. social and political circles typically collect to wind down over a glass of barrel aged whisky – of which The Dignitary proudly serves under their own label in partnership with many well known brands, such as Knob Creek.
The vibe is upscale and perfectly suited for its purpose: the place to relax after a long day, easing into a plush leather armchair or couch with a uniquely crafted cocktail in hand. Small bites, such as flatbreads and crab toast, compliment the cocktails perfectly.
After our fair share of whisky, including helping ourselves to a Macallan flight with samples of mainstays, such as The Macallan 12, and more rare labels, such as Rare Cask, we were ready for a quick walk back to the JW to retire for the night. Not before, of course, checking out the lobby bar, 1331 Lounge, which even at 11 p.m. on a Sunday was still bustling with patrons.
The next morning, after a quick breakfast at Avenue at the JW, we were on our way to explore D.C. Our first attempt was to get a glimpse at the White House. With security so tight, however, it’s almost impossible to get close enough to even get a view of the South Lawn that leads up to the Oval Office. If you walk further north, however, you can get a better glimpse of the front facade of our nation’s most famous mansion.
After catching a glimpse, we headed towards the National Mall, taking in the blooming cherry blossoms on our way. D.C. is a truly beautiful city, where well thought out architecture and large public spaces abound. The National Mall, lined with museum after museum, is a must walk. Spanning from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial, it’s a 2.5-mile walk. Stopping at the museums along the way is a great way of taking breaks, though!
After a long day of walking the D.C. streets and museums, we were ready for happy hour. We had heard about an “sound aging” bar program at The Ritz Carlton, whereby they use sound waves to create the same flavor profiles and effects of aging whisky in barrels for 12-plus years – albeit this process only takes 20-25 minutes. It was hard to wrap our heads around, but we needed to taste for ourselves.
The Quadrant, the bar within the Ritz-Carlton, is a place worthy of an Esquire photo shoot. In the middle of the room sits a full-sized gun safe, whereby The Quadrant keeps their most highly touted and rare whiskies. If you’re ordering from the reserve list, Lead Mixologist Chris Mendenhall personally escorts you to “The Vault” in which lies whiskies that will set you back anywhere from $250-$5,000 a glass.
Though rare whiskies are one of my favorite pastimes, we are here for a different purpose: the mad science of Mendenhall. While we are of the opinion that “mixology” has really become a trendy way of upper the price of your typical cocktail, the team at the Quadrant, heralded by GM Oliver Kiraly and Mendenhall, take the craft seriously. In just speaking briefly about cocktails, you immediately begin to appreciate the pour just a bit more.
Sound Aging was a process we couldn’t wrap our heads around. First off, it seemed to upset an industry where you’re often purchasing whisky at a price based upon how long it was aged. Secondly, could 25 minutes replace 18 years? Apparently, time flies when you use sound waves.
We were taken back to the kitchen to see the machine. Not much larger than a microwave, a door opens whereby you place the liquid in a large beaker – memories of high school science flashing back to me. You close the door, set the timing and the frequency of the sound waves, which is where the “mad science” comes in, and you give the sound time to penetrate the liquid and produce the chemical reactions that change the composition and the flavor of the whisky. The Quadrant team admits it’s a lot of experimenting before it was drinkable.
After checking out the equipment, we sat down for a walk-through of the results. Although our memory may be a bit blurred now, the Quadrant’s knowledgeable staff talked us through the testing, whereby we would try a whisky before the sound aging process and after. It’s worth noting that all of these whiskies are readily available at almost any liquor store throughout the country. The Sound Aging process, however, is exclusive to the Quadrant, and makes it a destination in and of itself.
There was no doubt, without giving away their discretionary secrets, the process works incredibly well, transforming brands across the spectrum of “whisky” into smoother versions of themselves. It was miraculous and actually hard to believe, but as they say, the proof was in the pouring.
The experimentation with the sound aging process is only at its early stages, and it continues to be a lot of trial and error. For instance, the Quadrant team gave us a sound aged tequila sample to try. Unfortunately, the flavors weren’t transformed the same way as it was with the whiskey. We were happy to be the guinea pigs, though. Albeit, drunk ones.
With our stomachs empty and enjoying a nice buzz, we walked down the street to a restaurant called Grillfish, aptly known for their wide variety of seafood, which in D.C. and it’s surrounding area is kind of a big deal. We started with luscious crab cakes, which were spectacular. You can’t go to D.C. and not have crab cakes, and these were some of the best we’d tasted. After, we indulged on fresh seafood with a plethora of sides – all in all, a solid local meal.
While it’s not your typical vacation destination, D.C. is a place everyone must go. With so many national and local treasures, it’s now an incredible place to not only indulge yourself in our country’s history, but also enjoy a stay at world-class hotels and eat and drink your way through incredible restaurants while doing so. Only a short train ride away, you really have no excuse not to plan a visit.
By Brandon Goldstein