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Shabbat and Aufruf in Washington DC

Our son is getting married in DC in mid-June 2012. We are planning to do a catered Shabbat dinner for 30-40 guests as well as the Aufruf over Shabbat. The wedding will be Sunday night at a different venue in DC...
does anyone have any suggestions for hotels that would accomodate Kosher catering/ or a restaurant that would open up for us/ any ideas? that would work for Friday nite dinner and be walking distance to a shul for the Aufruf. Ideally would be a nice hotel that guests would be comfortable staying in for three nights in a good location walking distance to shul and sites in DC. Please any suggestions for where to start would be appreciated, as we live in South Florida and I need to do the legwork online and on the phone...
Thank you!

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    1. Mazal tov!

      The only shul with an mechitza is Kesher Torah in Georgetown, a wonderful place to spend a Shabbat with a warm congregation and the intelligent, learned, adn charming Rabby Freundel is always worth listening to.

      The second thing you should know is that the D.C. eruv http://www.kesher.org/community/eruv_... surrounds Georgetown, where the shul is, the Smithsonian and National Galleries of Art, and almost every hotel in downtown D.C. The Smithsonian stays open until 7:30 on summer Saturdays. You can walk form Kesher Israel right down Pennsylvania Avenue, past the White House and into the air-conditioned Smithsonian where they let you sit in the museum restaurants and eat the snack you brought with you or the sandwiches and fruit you packed for your small children. That's right, the Smithsonian is our museum and families, not just kosher families, are allowed to bring sandwiches into the cafes.

      I think the walk form the Kesher Area thorugh Layfayette Park and into the National Gallery or the Sackler is one of the most delightful ways to spend Shabbat afternoon. However, and this is a big however, it is a 2.3 mile walk. And D.C. can be very hot in June.

      So you can now make a choice. A hotel in Georgetown will be pricey, but several are a short walk to shul. Look at Kesher's excellent visitor page http://www.kesher.org/visiting/visiti...

      Or you can stay at any of the myriad hotels along the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor, trading a shorter walk to shul against a shorter walk to the Smithsonian and the monuments.

      While several of the hotels do kosher functions, the first phone call that I would make would be to Eli's Deli. It's a somewhat informal atmpsphere, not regularly open on Shabbat but able to open for a simcha. http://www.elisdc.com/

      Eli's is just outside Dupont Circle. There are a number of hotels in the neighborhood, very near, and the walk to Kesher Israel would be under a mile. They could probably bring your dinner in for less than a hotel. Though this is D.C. and there pretty much is no upper limit on what you can spend.

      The kiddush room in Kesher could also accomadate a dinner after davening in the kiddush room

      And, if you want a whole different option. The shul at 6th and I (not orthodox) is an unusual and flexible place in a wonderful neighborhood for tourists, near the Smithsonian. http://www.sixthandi.org/ it is a beautiful building and I would not be surprised if you could cut a deal with them to have a dinner and a minyan of your own and a dinner. The range of hotels nearby would offer you a much better price on rooms than DuPont Circle or Georgetown, although, some of the most expensive hotels in the city are also located nearby. Like the Willard and the Monaco.

      3 Replies
      1. re: AdinaA

        Addendum. Almost all D.C. hotels use key cards. Many also have automatic lobby doors, and some have those elevators where you have to put your key card in before it will stop at your floor, and several have locked staircases, staircases that set off fire alarms, and staircases that do not exit to the lobby area.

        1. re: AdinaA

          We are Marriot members. Any good Marriot, I would expect other good chains, will have security bring you to your room on Shabbos. You dont' have to ask them; only gently tell them what you need. It works especially well if you let them know at the front desk that you will need this when you check in.

          1. re: momrn

            This can work, but at a big hotel like the J.W. Marriott, and at busy times and, frankly, at many hotels you can explain it all before Shabbat, in writing and verbally. Then a few hours later, when you actually need to get into the room, the people at the desk have no idea what you're talking about.

            And then there was a time, at a Marriott resort in Florida, when it went perfectly smoothly. A nice young man escorted me up to the room, and as he slid the electronic key card into the lock and held the door open I thanked him and he said:

            "No problem at all, my sister is baalat tschuvah."

      2. Thank you so much. I spoke to Kesher Israel, and the Aufruf and a casual lunch there is totally doable. I am waiting to see where the wedding is booked before we start deciding on hotels. I will call Eli's.... do you think that it can be dressed up to make it a nicer venue for a Shabbat dinner? I also spoke to someone at Dahan's (who are also catering the wedding I believe) and they can provide food and service to almost any hotel. Thanks for your advice.

        2 Replies
        1. re: glosing

          Just as another option depending on your logistics/price, George Washington Univ Hillel has its own builfing with ample room for a shabbat meal. When last I was there it also had an in-house kosher kitchen. I do agree with everyone else's suggestions.

          1. re: glosing

            Eli's was, I think, converted into a kosher deli from a space that was previously used by a non kosher restaurant. There's a large wooden bar along one wall. It;'s a corner, so there are windows along two walls. It probably seats about 40. The tables and chairs are wooden. It's not posh, but neither is is the formica look usual to places called deli. Tablecloths and some flowers would dress it up very nicely.

          2. Here's a list of caterers (and other food options) for the area:

            In addition to Kesher Israel mentioned above, Ohev Shalom is orthodox and has a mechitza. Its further from downtown and too far to walk to the major sites but hotels might be cheaper. I think they have an in-house caterer, but not sure.

            1 Reply
            1. re: elmoz

              Ohev Shalom is a wonderful shul. Just, it's not walkable to things out-of-towners want to see. It's near the District line, adjacent to Silver Spring.

            2. I'm liking the idea of Eli's for Shabbat dinner, and Kesher for Aufruf and Shabbat lunch. Eli's seems like it will be alot less expensive than bringing a caterer into a hotel. I haven't been able to connect with the guy at Eli's yet, but will keep you all posted when I do. Do you know anyone that has actually used them for a Shabbat dinner?

              4 Replies
              1. re: glosing

                UPDATE: I spoke to someone at Eli's named Andres... he said that it will be expensive, that they will have to charge me $700/hour to open outside of normal hours (I think this includes the Mashgiach as well) plus the cost of the food etc. Does this sound right? How much is a dinner there usually?
                Another option is to order "food service" from a caterer where they bring in all the food prepared to the hotel but don't provide dishes, etc so I don't think that is really do-able...
                this is turning out to be pretty complicated! I will keep you all posted, thank you for your suggestions.
                Another question: Is the room in Kesher reasonably attractive? I suppose I could do a catered dinner there as they don't charge a fortune for the room. Any thoughts?

                1. re: glosing

                  I was just at Eli's in June. If I remember correctly we paid around $15 each for dinner with sodas but no dessert. (They have a web site so you can check it out.)

                  I rented a room at the local university for a party a few years ago and paid about half that, but the room did not come with dishes or any helpers. By the time you add all that up it doesn't really sound that bad.

                  FYI: The restaurant sales tax in Georgetown is outrageously high, something like 10%.

                  1. re: glosing

                    The room at Kesher is on the level where you enter the shul, you go upstairs to the main space. Typical for an urban shul from a century ago. The room serves as a combination Beis Midrash/kiddush room. Reasonably attractive. Bookcases on two walls. Renovated a couple of years ago.

                    1. re: AdinaA

                      Thank you all. I think I will make a trip up there for a couple of days once the muchetunim nail down a venue for the wedding and commit to the date 100%. We need to choose a hotel that is convenient, nice, and reasonable for all the out of towers as well as figure out the shabbat arrangements. I will keep you all posted..

                2. Hi I just wanted to update everyone on the plans. They are really turning out to be pretty complicated/expensive. The wedding will be Sunday night at the Willard catered by Dahan.
                  I went up to DC last week to see the hotels and Kesher Israel. We booked a block of rooms at the Westin Georgetown which was nice and very reasonable, the only nice hotel we could find for under $200/night. Our plan was to have the Shabbat meals at Kesher, but honestly I was extremely disappointed in the room. For lunch, they always have a kiddush, so we would have to wait around until they could flip the room for lunch. The room was sloppy and full of papers, books, tallitot, stacks of chairs, jugs of water bottles, etc. Just not attractive at all. Shoshana who works there was very nice and apologetic, but it doesn't seem that the room will work at all for us for Shabbat dinner or lunch. I think I called every caterer on the Vaad list. Most did not call me back. Many said that they would send me menus/ proposals, etc. But in the end no one responded. So it looks like we will use Dahan for the catering since they are the only ones that seem to want our business. Meals are tentatively booked for a room at the Westin, however the use fees are outrageous and I am still hoping to find a better option. Does anyone know of a facility within walking distance of the Westin and of Kesher, where we could rent a room and bring in Dahan to do the meal catering? Any advice would be appreciated. It is unbelievable how complicated this is all turning out to be. I really wanted to avoid spending $120-150pp for Shabbat meals. Thanks in advance.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: glosing

                    I'm feeling your pain. That just sounds unbelievably expensive. And it is also v. complicated. Is it possible to find out if there is a community center nearby, or are you near one of the universities in DC? My thought is asking any of the university Hillels if they have any suggestions. Also, if you do need servers, a university is a place to get help. Culinary Arts, Hospitality students are an option. Sounds like the Kesher room is not the best, but if it was cleaned up by them, (and surely if you're renting it they would clean it up?), would it be acceptable, at least for the dinner?

                    1. re: CookieLee

                      I just don't think Kesher will work. It will be great to have the aufruf there, but there is no way for me to be able to do a really nice meal there. I got the Westin down to $40/person but of course that doesn't even include the catering, that is just for the service/plate fee.... crazy!
                      These meals will certainly be well over $100/person. I just don't see a way around it. And I really don't understand why other vendors don't even get back to me! I know Dahan is probably on the upper end price wise but they seem at least somewhat responsive.

                    2. re: glosing

                      Space is at a premium in Georgetown, for many reasons. Both GW and Georgetown have some nice spaces, whether they are available and whether they may be somewhat further than you wish to walk are separate questions. I'm sure you've tried the other Georgetown hotels. From time to time event spaces appear in Georgetown (often in buildings being more or less landbanked) they tend to last for a coupe of ears before moving on to a more permanent use, but it's worth searching. Some lovely spaces, like Halcyon House, are even pricier than the quote you got.

                      I assume that you tried Dumbarton House? It's lovely. And a manageable walk.

                      A couple of possible dodges come to mind.

                      1.) check with realtors. Sometimes empty properties are available, albeit more often for things like fund-raisers that may help market the property.

                      2.) some of the Georgetown clubs like Chelsea's are evening only, and might lease out for a luncheon.

                      3.) You are in tent season, although where you'd pitch one in Georgetown...

                      Georgetown is a tough neighborhood to find a bargain in. Or even a venue.

                          1. re: AdinaA

                            Thanks I checked out their website and it doesn't look to feasible but it does look very nice... they want $500/hour with a six hour minimum.
                            We are only having about 40-50 people...

                    3. glosing -

                      If you go to Kesher on Shabbat, you'll find that there are many comfortable hotels within walking distance. But Downtown DC is quite expensive.

                      Ohev Shalom is in the Shepherd Park neigborhood of DC near downtown Silver Spring MD. There are a number of hotels in downtown Silver Spring. The hotels are generally less expensive but less fancy than downtown DC hotels. Ohev's social hall is large but generally pretty full and loud (lots of kids) on Saturday after services. Ohev may or may not have rooms other than the social hall suitable for catered meals. Ohev is in pretty good shape but is not really good-looking or at all luxurious.

                      Ohr Kodesh is a relatively conservative Conservative shul that is about a mile or two from both downtown Silver Spring and Ohev. (It's also about a mile from Bethesda MD where there pretty good hotels). Ohr Kodesh is a beautiful shul (it was thoroughly renovated in the 1990s, I think), I understand that Ohr Kodesh practices relatively strict kashrut and that some Orthodox famililes use Ohr Kodesh's facilities for weddings from time to time. If you need a mechitza, perhaps you could set up your own davening at Ohr Kodesh. Their facility could probably accomodate you space-wise, but if you need to avoid the sound of amplified Shabbat services it may or may not be possible.

                      Washington's largest Conservative shul, Adas Israel, is within walking distance of a very nice hotel - the Wardman Park (Marriott?) Hotel. Adas' kashrut policy/supervision has recently changed; before the change, my understanding was that Orthodox folks would not hold kosher-catered events there. Also, there's no mechitza davening at Adas.

                      Catering is pretty expensive in the DC area, of course (and in general you should not expect the food to knock your socks off).

                      dfsny613 mentioned the GW (George Washington University) Hillel. I don't think GWU Hillel would be a good option for you. Its building (at 23rd & H NW) is very run-down; I have heard that it will soon be either rehabilitated or replaced. It is a facility that (in my opinion) is far inferior to Kesher Israel's social hall in both functionality and appearance. And you wrote that you did not want to use Kesher's social hall. So GWU Hillel is out.

                      A number of other shuls/hotels in the Maryland suburbs (Silver Spring, Kemp Mill, Rockville) may be able to accomodate you. You would need to be careful about the distances between the hotels and shuls, however.

                      I hope that you and your guests will all enjoy very much your son's wedding, and the rest of your stay in the DC area.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: gonzogarbonzo

                        Hi gonzogarbonzo I really appreciate your lengthy reply. We really need to be in DC because the wedding is at the Willard on Sunday night and we want to be somewhat nearby. Also we want to be able to walk to some of the touristy sites on Shabbat...anyhow here is what we have decided to do:
                        We are staying at the Westin Georgetown which is at 23rd and M. They have a very nice room which will accommodate our party for Friday nite dinner. We are using that room, and Dahan for the catering of the meal. We can daven Kabalat Shabbat at the hotel. It is going to be pricey as the hotel charges a hefty per person fee on top of the catering charge. But I just couldn't find any other options that would work for us. Shabbat morning we will go over to Kesher for the aufruf, and then return to the Westin for lunch in the same room which will again be catered by Dahan. In regards to your comment that we shouldn't expect the food to knock our socks off I hope that is not the case as these prices are very high so my expectations are as well.

                        Anyone have any specific recommendations for menu items from Dahan? They are doing the wedding as well. From what I understand, they are the best in the area, I hope that is true.

                        I found it interesting that i called many of the local caterers, food markets, etc. about the weekend, and although I was promised emails of menus, prices, etc. No one and I mean no one responded. I guess business is pretty good in the DC area for Kosher caterers as we are spending alot of money and no one seemed to want our business!

                        Thank you all for your suggestions but in the end we need to go with something that will be manageable for us since we live in South Florida and really need to have it all taken care of.

                        1. re: glosing

                          The Westin at 23rd and M -- nice location. About 6 or 7 blocks from Kesher and well-situated for Shabbos walking tours.

                          Regarding the catering, Dahan is the best in town as far as I know (I'm not including Baltimore caters here). I don't think that's saying very much though, becuase I find DC kosher-catered food pretty boring overall. As the saying goes, it ain't New York.

                          We went with Dahan for our wedding (relatively recently), and we were satisfied overall with both the food and the service. The level of service may depend in part on which manager oversees your event. Also, I recommend that you always double-check the menus, rental item lists, etc. Because of the owner's Moroccan heritage, Dahan's Moroccan food items are pretty safe choices, provided that your guests enjoy that sort or cuisine. The guests also particularly enjoyed the desserts (parve pastries/cookies).

                          1. re: glosing

                            Dahan is pretty good, just not always as consistent as you might like since he charges alot. For my wedding in Baltimore, we ended up bringing in a caterer from New Jersey....

                            1. re: glosing

                              Have you talked to/looked at the Park Hyatt at 24th and M? When my husband and I were married (granted 14 years ago) they had a kosher kitchen. It looks like according to at least one source they still might. That way you wouldn't be paying both for a caterer and a location.

                              Good luck!


                          2. Another idea, the newish restaurant in the JCC Distrikt Bistro, caters. http://www.distriktbistro.com

                            It's an easy walk form Georgetown, and a lovely one, through DuPont Circle and a charming neighborhood. To a pretty special venue for a DC simcha..

                            The JCC is a wonderful classical building just north of the White House. Grand steps lead up from 16th street to the grand doors. Pass through them into the stately lobby, where I have attended smallish seated dinners. Perhaps 50 people? The JCC staff will know. (this entrance and lobby is little used, there is a side door used for most events, but they will open the grand doors for you, and the lobby is used for events.)

                            The space has presence. After lunch, Your guests could walk to the National Gallery or whichever branch of the Smithsonian suits their fancy, or drop in on the Obamas. Its just down the street.

                            The caterer also seems to travel to other venues.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: AdinaA

                              Thank you for both suggestions: Distrikt Bistro as well as Park Hyatt. I have left message for both, so we shall see! I'll keep you all posted.