Presidential stories often resemble tall tales. Occasionally, however, the legends are true, as is the case with the slew of “Washington Slept Here” signs that dot much of the Northeast.
“George Washington believed part of his job was to unify the 13 colonies,” says Bill Fawcett, author of "Oval Office Oddities: An Irreverent Collection of Presidential Follies and Foibles." “He traveled extensively and met with the local leaders, businessmen and townspeople. He would move on the next day. But he spent more than a third of his term traveling and slept at between 800 and 1,000 places in the 13 colonies while he was president. A lot of those ‘Washington Slept Here’ signs are accurate.”
Most of the spots our first president laid his head were likely small houses and inns. They’re unlikely to conjure up grand images of today’s presidential suites—a term that did not exist during Washington’s sojourn.
“The term ‘presidential suite’ came from the European tradition of royal suites,” says Fawcett. “We didn’t have royals, so we called the best room in the house the Presidential Suite. A president doesn’t have to stay there, and many of them may never have had one stay there.”
Some hotels use the term as inspiration, not proof of political pedigree. The presidential suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Palm Beach, for example, is decorated with shoes from designer Robert Tabor that were inspired by various First Ladies. The Jackie Kennedy shoe features a ‘60s style square-toe covered in pink (like her famous wool suit), topped with a JFK political button and a heel that's shaped like one of her pillbox hats.
Others serve as sober monuments to presidential legacies, such as the newly renovated U.S. Grant Hotel in San Diego, which Ulysses S. Grant Junior built in honor of his father.
Of course, there are several presidential suites in which our country’s leaders have actually stayed. In New York, the Waldorf=Astoria, part of the Waldorf=Astoria Collection, rightly boasts that every president since Herbert Hoover has slept in its presidential suite. The opulent maze of eight rooms features four bedrooms and baths, a formal dining room, a living room with a fireplace and even includes some signature items donated by former presidents, including one of John F. Kennedy’s rocking chairs. And every president since Franklin Pierce has also ensconced themselves in the nearly 3,000-square-foot, marble-decked presidential suite at the Willard in Washington, D.C.
Presidential visits aren’t always good for the hotels. In 1813, future president Andrew Jackson was in Nashville when he ran into Thomas Benton.
“Thomas Benton was spreading rumors about Jackson,” says Fawcett. “The two men met on the street and got into an argument. It developed into a brawl. It moved into the tavern of the City Hotel and they trashed the place. They really tore up the first floor of the hotel. Later the two worked together and got along very well.”
While the tag “presidential suite” is mostly an American convention, some international resorts employ the term. The Hilton Molino Stucky in Venice offers a 3,300-square-foot presidential suite—said to be the largest in Venice. It features a private steeple and observatory, 44 windows, showers with scented water and a private gym.
Clearly, when designating a room “presidential,” luxury is more important than historical cachet. Amenities might include private swimming pools, like at the Beverly Hills Hotel; or, personal concierge services like those at most of the Fairmont hotels. Personal chefs and private butlers are often available to cater to guests' needs. The spacious accommodations must include grand views, such as those from the two-story windows at the InterContinental in Chicago. Opulent décor, too, must come standard—Italian marble, silk rugs and high-thread-count linens—and offering latest technology doesn’t hurt, either. The Ritz-Carlton, Dallas, for example, features his-and-hers in-mirror TVs over the vanities in the master bathroom.
Whether you’re looking for historical significance or pampering worthy of a president, these are 10 great places for suite dreams.