Hallelujah! Former church revived as new Washington, D.C., boutique hotel
You need to have a little faith to stand in the middle of the lobby at the Line hotel in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C. High above is a chandelier made of organ pipes with very pointy tips.
Before its life as a ceiling-grazing fixture, the instrument served Christian Scientists. You might want to think twice before taking the Line's name in vain.
The 220-room hotel honors the building's former self as the First Church of Christ, Scientist — though it does take some liberties. You can take a seat in the former nave and order an “I've Done Some Dastardly Things” cocktail from the bar at Brothers and Sisters.
Instead of hard pews, you can sink into velvety blue couches shaped like surprised eyebrows. And instead of hearing anything from the pulpit, you can hear the rousing words of the check-in staff.
“I'm going to put you in a room with a view of the Washington Monument,” an employee informed me during a recent Saturday night stay.
Amen to that.
Preserving the church vibe
Built in 1912, the church lay dormant for nearly a quarter-century before the Sydell Group bought it five years ago. (The New York-based company operates several hotel brands, including the Line, NoMad, Saguaro and the Ned.)
When the new owners entered the neoclassical building, they discovered a scene frozen in place and prayer, down to the tithe envelopes tucked inside the prayer books. The design team salvaged many of the furnishings and materials.
They painted the pews in Rothko shades and set them by the elevators. On each of the eight floors, they placed room numbers inside hymnal boards to help guests find their accommodations. And they preserved the arched milk-glass windows that diffuse the sun's light like a squeeze bottle of golden honey.
“The remnants and the relics of the church were very inspiring,” said Kathryn Bangs, the hotel's creative director. “We thought about the church as a sanctuary and a place of community.”
At the door's threshold, a savior in a stylish gray coat and fitted wool cap whisked me out of the cold and into the warmth. He led me to the front desk and carefully handed me off as if he were competing in an egg-and-spoon race. If he dropped me, I could have rolled off in any number of directions.
Multitasking main space
“Lobby” is too restrictive and commonplace a term for the Line's main public space.
The multifaceted (and multitasking) area contains Brothers and Sisters restaurant and bar by Washington chef Erik Bruner-Yang; the Cup We All Race 4, a coffee and pastry nook by Baltimore chef Spike Gjerde, who also runs A Rake's Bar and A Rake's Progress restaurant upstairs; and Full Service Radio, a podcast-recording studio and live Internet radio station created by Brooklyn expat Jack Inslee. (To listen, pop in your ear buds or turn on the TV in your guest room.)
If you time it right, you can meet — or at least rubberneck — one of the 30-plus hosts and their special guests. On a Sunday afternoon, James Scott invited me inside the glass cube to play fetch with his dog, Steve, before his show, OtherFeels.
The hotel's boundary-free culture extends to the guests, too.
Unless someone has luggage at their feet or pinches their vowels, good luck deciphering their provenance. Over one weekend, I saw pods of pals digging into octopus hot dogs and béarnaise-dipped French fries, and sipping cocktails seemingly inspired by refrigerator magnet poetry (ergo, “I'm Hip” and “Very Bitter”); a man exercising his sweater-wrapped terrier indoors; millennials hunched over gadgets at long wooden tables reminiscent of their college library days; and staff members weaving through the crowd dressed in casual threads from Redeem, a local apparel store, further clouding identities.
“I'm going to come back and wear all gray clothes,” said an overnight guest from Tenleytown, Md., as we tried to determine the status of a needle-thin man in a sweatshirt and baggy khakis. (After he delivered a pitcher of water, we had our answer.)
The Line brand
As a brand, the Line, which has also opened properties in Los Angeles and Austin, embraces the local scene, but not the souvenir-store version of the destination. At the Adams Morgan outpost, you won't see sunset-kissed photos of the Lincoln Memorial or stately busts of presidents.
“We wanted to give D.C. its due and not talk down to the city and label it as one thing,” Bangs said. “We want this hotel to be the B-sides of Washington, the countercultural capital.”
The hotel boasts a collection of 3,000 artworks by Washington-area artists, of which 90 percent are by women.
My in-room gallery included a collage of images of meat, roses and red lips; an intimate photo of a couple's interlocking hands; a framed doily; and a charcoal sketch by Svetlana Legetic, the co-creator of Brightest Young Things, who contributed original drawings for each room. The battered nightstand the color of persimmons came courtesy of Morgan Hungerford West, the founder of A Creative DC, who scoured flea markets, antique stores, curbsides and other furniture repositories for the bedside tables.
Studio apartment style
The guest rooms, which occupy the new brick construction behind the church, were modeled after a studio apartment in a District townhouse.
As someone who calls such a place home, many of the features looked familiar: the hardwood floors, the area rugs, the higgledy-piggledy display of artwork, the stack of used books from Idle Time Books and the plant from Little Leaf. (My greenery comes from Ace Hardware, but still.)
As an apartment-dweller, I was also inured to the sound of my next-door neighbors, whose voices pierced the shared wall. I could only hope that they would be as understanding when I invited friends over; I didn't want to find a Post-it Note on my door in the morning.
“They have Hello Panda cookies and Pocky sticks,” exclaimed one friend when she discovered Japanese snacks in the minibar pantry. (Also in the survival kit: bottles of Civic vodka and Bulleit bourbon, four types of beer, two flavors of Route 11 chips, coconut water, Advil and a six-pack of protection.)
“You have dimmers in the bathroom,” squealed another friend, setting the mood.
“The bed frame looks a little cheap,” opined another.
We wondered out loud how much the room would cost if it were a studio apartment, agreeing on $1,600 to $1,800 a month. But the room would need some renovations, because no urbanite can survive on a Nespresso machine and Gummi Bears alone.
Andrea Sachs is a Washington Post travel writer.