Airy + Activism-Driven: The Eaton Hotel, Washington, DC

A new hotel encouraging social and political action, wellness, diversity and inclusion

At the corner of K and 12th St NW in Washington, DC, the Eaton Hotel is open—after a weekend of exciting launch events. Situated half a mile from The White House in one direction and a Trump-branded hotel in the other, Eaton is focused on changing the world—but Eaton exists on the opposite end of the spectrum as the aforementioned property. “The original inspiration for me was how to use a conventional, commercial space like a hotel and subvert it into something like you see today,” CEO of Eaton Workshop (the umbrella that the hotel, co-working space, restaurants and bars and media company exist under) Katherine Lo tells us.

The brand is launching under Great Eagle ownership, a company for which Lo’s father is chairman. While that might read as nepotism to some, Lo’s father decided that he was somewhat out of touch in terms of younger generations’ approach to travel, and asked his daughter channel her previous work as an activist and artist into the new brand.

In a part of downtown DC that feels business-as-usual—with its long blocks and modern, capacity-accommodating architecture—Eaton really stands out. And, as the city functions in the shadow of the current administration, there are plenty of people striving for creativity, activism and community-building. “Our mission is to create the conditions for people to be their best selves,” Lo explains. “The values have always been the same: social and environmental consciousness, building community. But once the election happened, it made all the work we were doing have much more gravitas and urgency.”

That said, this project feels (and was, in reality) slowly cultivated and thoughtful. The press they’ve garnered for being “anti-Trump” overlooks the fact that the hotel has actually been in the works for over five years now. “I think our message is built around a hotel that makes the world a better place—so caring about things like equality, diversity, rights and the environment,” Lo says. “I’m sure once that context [of the presidency] is gone, it’ll remain that we’re a a pro-environment, pro-equality, pro-justice, pro-all good things place to stay.”

The grand opening was commemorated with the Human/Progress Festival—a weekend of events focused on looking “beyond the expected to utilize our physical spaces for a new arts, culture and impact festival that would mark our place as the home of a modern-day counterculture movement,” Lo explains.

The festival included a “Land Recognition Ceremony” by the Piscataway people (whom occupied the land that is now known as Washington, DC and part of Maryland), a group sound-bath led by The Crystal Ashram, screenings of M.I.A.’s MATANGI/MAYA/M.I.A. and Clément and Sophie Guerra’s The Condor and the Eagle, musical performances, art unveilings and pop-up dinners.

At Eaton’s most prominent dining option dishes like Impossible Large Mac or Asian Poutine toy with the experiences of growing up “American” when that identity is so diverse and ever-changing.

“I was at a Chinese New Year party and my mom—maybe she had introduced me like this before and I just don’t remember—brought me up to some Chinese people and she was like, ‘This is my American son, Timmy,” American Son (Eaton’s most prominent dining option) executive chef Tim Ma says. “She said this with a subconscious notion that I wasn’t Chinese enough to be introduced as their Chinese son.”

The 209-room Gachot and Parts and Labor-designed space includes rooftop bar Wild Days; restaurant American Son; speakeasy-style bar Allegory; coffee shop Kintsugi; a slew of event and meeting spaces; a sprawling wellness center, a nook-like, street-facing radio station, a 50-seat cinema, a library and a lobby-based international newsstand. Additionally, there’s Eaton House—a 370-person co-working space—an outpost determined to act as a catalyst for the like- and open-minded. It’s an extension of Lo’s experiences as an environmental and human rights activist. She isn’t afraid to claim left-leaning values. While she and her staff know that changing the world is a lofty goal, they’re also aware that it must start somewhere—why not within this building.

“It’s almost like a concentric circle thing. One is the hotel guests, one is the locals and one is the House members. And it’s the space in the middle that we care about,” Lo says. This philosophy reaches all the way to the top. “It’s super important to us that every single level—from the tiniest to the biggest—is partnering with like-minded companies.”

But like-minded isn’t a prerequisite. Eaton will be a place where guests won’t always be awarded complete comfort. Comfortable beds, favorable amenities, delicious drinking and dining options and kind staff excluded, the artwork and the programming the property plans to host will push people to become their best selves—meaning the art and screenings may encourage uncomfortable discourse.

At opening, three art installations stand out: AJ Schnack‘s Ritual, Political (a looping reel of election footage, played at different speeds on different, vintage screens in a tower at the center of the lobby), Erik Thor Sandberg‘s Alice in Wonderland mural (where Ruby Bridges replaces Alice) and John Deardourff‘s wheat-paste ceiling collage of hundreds of DC gig posters.

What the hotel’s busy first weekend shows is how needed this sort of is change is—and how welcomed it is. Lo, weaving between organizers, guests and artists, seems knows that all of this is an organic extension and expression of her ethos. Her team are all clearly grateful and enthusiastic. It seems the mission has begun in the space, but will be carried with guests long after they leave.

“We do a listening session, where we bring together key members of the community, and we ask, from Eaton, what would they need or want,” Lo says. As Eaton takes its mission to different properties and different cities (Hong Kong now, Seattle and San Francisco in the next few years), it’s feasible that it may indeed change the world. Maybe not the world in its entirety, but certainly its more immediate one.

Eaton Hotel DC and Hong Kong are both open now. Rooms can be booked online. American Son will officially open in the coming weeks, and Eaton House DC opens 1 November.

Images by Evan Malachosky