The room where it happened: What it's like to stay in the $1,600-a-night ‘Scandal Room’ at the Watergate Hotel
The room is not a replica of what it looked like when Nixon resigned, but it is so much better.
The greatest scandal in American political history has its roots in room 214 of The Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. The famed room still exists and can be booked for overnight stays for an average nightly rate of about $1,600.
That's right: You, too, can sleep in the room where, in 1972, E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy stationed themselves while orchestrating the break-in at the Democratic National Committee's (DNC) headquarters. The fallout from the break-in led to President Richard Nixon resigning in disgrace. To date, Nixon remains the only U.S. president to ever resign from office.
The DNC's office was in a different part of the Watergate complex (a group of six buildings in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, D.C.) than the hotel, but Hunt and Liddy choose room 214 as their base because it had access to a walkway connecting the two parts, had a clear view of the DNC's office and was close enough to the office that they could stay in touch with the burglars on the ground via radio.
Hunt, Liddy and their co-conspirators were eventually caught. In the over 50 years since the Watergate scandal, the incident has become entrenched in pop culture. The scandal has spawned movies starring Robert Redford and Kirsten Dunst. Any political incident with even the hint of scandal now has "gate" tacked onto the end. Watergate's reach has even jumped across the Atlantic: Prime Minister Boris Johnson was taken down by "Partygate" for holding gatherings during COVID-19 lockdowns.
I'm a political junkie, so when I found out the Watergate had restored room 214 to its ’70s glory and added Nixon memorabilia, I had to book a night in the room where it happened. I must admit, I had a scandalously good time during my stay.
The Watergate Hotel's "Scandal Room"
Every key at the Watergate tells guests there's "no break in required" to access their room, but for guests of room 214, references to the scandal don't end there.
After a renovation in 2017, the hotel enlisted the help of Scandal (Yes, the ABC political drama) costume designer Lyn Paolo to redesign the room and make it distinct from any other in the hotel. Paolo included elements from the ’60s, when the Watergate opened, and ’70s, when the break-in occurred. The room is not a replica of what it looked like when Nixon resigned, but it is so much better.
The "Scandal Room," renumbered room 205 after a hotel renovation, is far from the biggest room in the hotel. It is, however, very luxurious and larger than a standard hotel room. But most guests don't care about the room's size or comforts — they're focused on its history and style.
The room has nods to the Nixon scandal everywhere. The door is marked with a scandal room plaque. The hallway leading into the room is covered with Nixon memorabilia — including framed magazine covers from the era, photographs, newspaper articles and Nixon quotes. The room has other nods to the scandal, including a reel-to-reel recorder as a nod to the secret recordings Nixon made from the Oval Office and an antique safe to remind visitors of the documents taken from the DNC's office.
The furniture in the room is all retro. I loved lounging on the ’70s-style red sofa in my exclusive scandal room robe, which was so plush I was tempted to take it home. I spent time flipping through the vintage books and spy novels stocked in the room, and found the ’60s-style nightstands and light fixtures to perfectly complete the room's vibe.
But my favorite part of the room was the work area: There's a throwback metal desk that really felt like it could have been used in the ’70s. The desk was topped with a working mint green manual typewriter, bright red rotary phone and Rolodex where previous guests had left notes and political jokes.
Another highlight of the scandal room is the large balcony with a view of the Potomac River on one side and the Watergate office complex on the other. Though the walkway off the balcony connecting the two buildings is now blocked off, I imagined sneaking back and forth in the middle of the night, just like Hunt and Liddy may have done when they stayed in the room.
As part of my stay, I also got a private tour that explained the artifacts in the room and received a full a run-down of the Watergate scandal from a Scandal Room guide. The Scandal Room offered an immersive experience in the Nixon era, but still boasted modern conveniences: Light could be adjusted to fit my mood with the touch of a button, there was a fully stocked minibar and coffee machine and I loved the modern marble bathroom with a deep soaking tub and rainfall shower.
How to see the Scandal Room
The $1,600 on average price tag — which does not include parking or breakfast — is enough to keep most people from booking an overnight stay, even die-hard political junkies. The good news is no one needs to shell out four figures to see the room. There's a more affordable way to gain access that doesn't require a break-in: Book a night in another of the Watergate's rooms and request a Scandal Room tour, which is available to any overnight guest. This will still cost a few hundred bucks, but it's a huge savings over the price of the Scandal Room.
A tour isn't guaranteed — since tours aren't available whenever the room is occupied — but my Scandal Room guide told me the room isn't often booked for overnight stays, let alone for multiple-nights. Instead, the room is most often reserved by Nixon impersonators for a few hours at a time, meaning it's very likely any overnight hotel guest will be able to take a tour, though they might need to wait for an actor or guest to check out first. Scandal Room tours are very popular — my room guide told me he usually gives 10 or more each day.
Other Nixon sites in the D.C. area
There are other Nixon attractions scattered around the D.C. area. The Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery has Nixon's portrait, painted by Normal Rockwell, on display. Nixon was a regular at The Monocle Restaurant, a steak and seafood restaurant located a stone's throw from the U.S. Capitol. The restaurant claims a patron who did not like the disgraced former president once removed his photo from the wall, tore it into pieces and left the evidence in the women's restroom.
Those interested in seeing where Nixon made his farewell speech before departing Washington, D.C. by helicopter can get a great view of the White House's South Lawn from E Street, Northwest. Just outside of Washington, D.C., not far from the Watergate, is the infamous parking garage where "Deep Throat," who was second in command at the FBI at the time, met with Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Deep Throat gave Woodward and Bernstein information that led to them breaking news of the scandal, leading to Nixon's downfall. Visiting these sites could make a great Nixon-centric weekend out of a stay at the Watergate.
While I didn't visit any of those locations during my stay, I did walk down to Martin's Tavern. This historic Georgetown restaurant is a short walk from the Watergate, and Nixon regularly visited to eat his favorite menu item, meatloaf. Martin's Tavern commemorated Nixon's favorite booth with a plaque and I was lucky enough to sit there, although I had a burger instead of Nixon's favorite meal.
Political junkies, Scandal fans and those with a deep appreciation for the mid-mod design evident throughout the Watergate should consider a stay. Probably only die-hard historians will be able to stomach the $1,600 price tag of a night in the Scandal Room, but staying at any room in the Watergate is like stepping into a piece of history that makes the trip worthwhile.