Saturday, June 16, 2012

Tales from the crypt.

Patton Boggs lawyer Vinoda Basnayake and KStreetKate's Kate Michael

by contributor Donna Shor

A recent private soiree celebrated the golden anniversary of the storied Georgetown Inn, whose style drew its inspiration from a time two hundred years earlier.

In the eighteenth-century colonial days, money flowed into the busy tobacco port of Georgetown from traffic along the Potomac, the watery highway of commerce that washed against the wharves of the town.
With the coming of railroads into the region, shipping gradually dwindled. While Georgetown was no longer a sea-going transportation center, the grace and elegance of the colonial homes that shipping built remained.

Washington developer Sheldon Magazine harked back to those times in 1962 when he opened The Georgetown Inn, on Wisconsin near N Street, as a gracious boutique hostelry.

It was the first new hotel to be opened in Georgetown in a century, complete with European guest-pampering features then rare in America. Magazine said he envisioned it as a national landmark, honoring the traditions of the past.

The Inn flourished under its president, general manager and eventual part-owner, the late Collins Bird. A third-generation hotelier, his genial personality served as a magnet for locals and international guests alike. He remained there almost thirty years.

One amusing incident during that time: a period portrait of a swashbuckling gentleman with long ringlets that hung in the lobby was stolen. How to replace it?

Collins had many artist friends and he asked one to paint him a similar substitute. The man, who was a pal, asked Collins for a snapshot of himself, and Collins obliged.

Nayan Patel and Mary Bird: photo credit: The Georgetown Dish
When the painting was delivered, there was Collins, ringlets and all, smiling down on the hotel guests, a merry glint in his eye. It is still in the Bird family.

At the party,  his widow - writer and columnist Mary Bird - reminisced about some of the events and wide-ranging celebrities the Inn had hosted.

Here are a few: the original Mercury seven astronauts, Kennedy family members; Hubert Humphrey, who enjoyed a friendship with Collins, and whose family stayed at the Inn when they arrived for his funeral; Clint Murchison and the Dallas Cowboys; the Duke and Duchess of Windsor; Andy Warhol and Marlon Brando.

Collins drew headlines in the Georgetown paper on his marriage to Mary, a theater major with a linguistic talent that eventually propelled her to head of the translation bureau of the State Department, responsible for overseeing every translation the Department sent out.

Mary said Collins told her that when he opened the doors to the first client, he threw the keys across the driveway bordering the entrance, saying those doors would never be locked. A lot of Potomac has flowed under the bridge since then, with changes of ownership. 

The anniversary party was hosted by tall, dark and handsome Nayan Patel, the CEO of Your DC Hotels, the present owners of fourteen individual hotels in the area.

Your DC Hotels acquired this six-story, 96-room inn last November, and Patel indicated ambitious renovations are underway to restore it to its original luster. 

Your DC Hotel's Kelly Curry and MoKi Media's Dannia Hakki
Guests enjoyed crab cakes, scallops and roast beef from The Daily Grill, the restaurant in the hotel, and listened to hot jazz as several recalled cool parties there.

Collins was a marvelous raconteur and this writer remembers one evening when he had his listeners in stitches with tales of the baseball great, Stan Musial. It seems he spent a lot of time at the Inn and particularly delighted in joining the musicians to fill in on the bass, which as Collins pointed out is a right-handed instrument, making for some interesting music when played by lefty Musial.

One night, a slightly befuddled guest asked “Did anyone ever tell you that you look an awful lot like Stan Musial?”

Without batting an eye, Musial answered “I just wish I had his money, I wouldn’t have to do this for a living.”