The Historic Riggs D.C. Gets a Modern Makeover

Reinvention is the main theme at the Riggs in Washington, D.C. The swanky new hotel is nestled in the refurbished Riggs National Bank, a Richardsonian Romanesque–style building built in 1891. Old and new come together at this modern luxe property, which is a refreshing addition to the American capital’s tired hotel scene.

While the legendary Riggs name may not ring bells today, the bank is one for the history books: 23 presidents—including Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and Richard Nixon—held accounts here. At one point, the financial firm called itself “the most important bank in the most important city in the world.”


Photography by Jennifer Hughes.


Under the Lore Group, creative director Jacu Strauss, also behind the refurbished Pulitzer Amsterdam and Sea Containers London, kept the integrity of the building, honouring the bank’s history throughout. For example, the original tellers desk has been repurposed into a long bar inside Café Riggs.

Dramatic Corinthian columns welcome guests to the navy blue–carpeted front lobby, and hotel staff check them in via booths reminiscent of an old-school tellers area right down to the cheque slots and gold lamps. Exquisite brass chandeliers hanging from the high ceilings bring an art deco vibe to the elegant room. An emblem for the Roman protectress of funds, sometimes dubbed the goddess of money, can be found on the original doors outside the lobby and on vault-inspired minibars in each room.


The glitzy Cafe Riggs bar. Photography by Jennifer Hughes.


The terrace at Cafe Riggs.


The bank’s downstairs vault has been transformed into the Silver Lyan bar. The moody, 1920s-inspired decor at this dimly lit speakeasy encourages a dressed-up crowd (but jeans are just fine, too).

Master mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana (dubbed “Mr Lyan”) has a boozy concoction for every palate: the Japanese Saddle (sakura-infused cognac, roku Japanese gin, leather bitters, and cereal orgeat) and Lucy Lemonade (Bacardi Carta Blanca,mint, Del Maguey Vida mezcal, layered citrus) are go-to before- or after-dinner sips. Notably, the D.C. outpost marks London-based Chetiyawardana’s first American venture, who also created the award-winning Dandelyan.


This Juno Moneta, goddess of money, medallion adorns the halls of Riggs. Photography by Jennifer Hughes.


Silver Lyan Bar.


Upstairs, the lobby-adjacent Café Riggs brings a European vibe to the very American hotel. Chef Patrick Curran has curated a menu of elevated classics. Plush-velvet magenta, blue, and chartreuse seats create an interesting play of texture against the marble and brass accents throughout the room. A dramatic encased floral arrangement adds a feminine touch near the masculine burgundy-leather bar seats.

For those seeking a cocktail with a view of D.C.’s most famous buildings, an elevator trip to the panoramic rooftop patio and garden terrace is essential. The space is set to reopen in fall 2021.

While all rooms at the Riggs include unique, quirky details, the First Lady Suites are the top draw. You won’t find a Jackie Kennedy–themed boudoir here: these 500-square-foot rooms are inspired by some of America’s lesser-known wives to presidents, including Caroline Harrison, Louisa Adams, Ida McKinley, and Angelica Van Buren. No two chambers are alike, as they were tailored to each of their namesake’s interests and personalities.


The living room of the Louisa Adams suite.


The yellow-and-black Louisa Adams suite, for example, includes a baby grand piano and violins to represent her passion for music. Adams, who was First Lady from 1825 to 1829 during the presidency of John Quincy Adams, was a talented pianist herself.

The Caroline Harris suite, named for the wife of the 23rd president, Benjamin Harrison— celebrates her love (and extensive collection) of fine china. Wedgwood Jasperware is displayed as a centrepiece on a light-blue living room wall, accented by an array of antique items from markets and shops. The Ida McKinley suite is perhaps the prettiest. The all-pink space represents McKinley’s love of flowers.


The Ida McKinley suite.


Finally, the Angelica Van Buren room is the most opulent. Outfitted in burgundy velvet and gold-coloured details, the lush room is fit for a member of the president’s family (Van Buren was actually the daughter-in-law of widowed leader Martin Van Buren).


Angelica Van Buren room.


Just blocks from the White House and walking distance from the National Portrait Gallery and the National Mall, the Riggs Hotel maintains its prime location. City Center, a luxury shopping destination, is also just a stone’s throw away and includes major players like Chanel, Dior, and Louis Vuitton (a vanilla latte at Dolcezza Gelato & Coffee is a must try).