Independence Day Special: Jefferson Was Actually Far Cooler Than Hamilton
At a time when the very dignity of the US Presidency has been shamefully hijacked, it might be worth revisiting what the Founding Fathers actually intended for the nation’s highest office. Of course, the outrageous success of the really rather overblown Broadway musical Hamilton has only added to the zeitgeisty frisson of “Founders Chic.”
We’ve frankly always been partial to Thomas Jefferson…bon vivant, intellectual and Francophile that he was. Our third President’s presence and spirit remain profound amongst the D.C. political elite, who can often be found in the various corridors and rooms of his namesake hotel, where we recently spent a few nights.
Not only was the Jefferson Hotel conceptualized around the great statesman’s trend-leading proclivities and tastes – it even employs an in-house historian (coolest hotel job ever?), Susan Lagon, who is also a Senior Fellow at Georgetown University.
“Both men were passionate,” she tells us. “Jefferson was the diplomat who had a way with words while Hamilton was the scrappy fighter. But TJ was an accomplished violinist with an unrivaled book collection, and also a foodie with a reputation as a generous host. Who would you rather have dinner with?”
And so, with the Hamilton promotion machine spreading its questionable influence far and wide, we take a look on this Independence Day, through the lens of the hotel, at why – sorry Alexander – it was actually Thomas Jefferson who was the hippest of the Founding Fathers.
The only restaurant in D.C. to be honored with the coveted Forbes Five-Star Rating, it serves rapturous New American fare inspired by the gardens of Monticello, Jefferson’s estate. (Yep, he was doing the whole urban-farming, garden-to-table thing all the way back in the 18th Century.) The stunning interior also features several silver mockingbird statuettes. “TJ kept mockingbirds in his home and allowed them to fly freely,” says Lagon. “His fave, Dick, would perch on his shoulder and sing while he played the violin.” Quite modern of him, of course, to have free ranging birds.
The Wine Room
Jefferson actually tended his own vineyards at Monticello, making him a pioneer of small producer chic. And the hotel’s vaulted-ceilinged Wine Room nods to his oenophilic enthusiasm. When the Constitution was being drafted, he was Ambassador to France, and maps in the hotel trace his extravagant wine buying excursions. Indeed, he was known to keep quite a few cases of the good French stuff – and upon his death, he left a wine tab of $10,000 (his salary was $25,000).
Despite its general historic vibe, the hotel’s buzzy drinkery notably features a fibre-optic bar, which Lagon insists, “Jefferson would have loved.” To be sure, he was a full-on tech geek before there really was a such a thing. Quill’s specialty cocktails also use botanicals that he grew and cultivated – now a practice so pretentiously carried on in the rooftop gardens of trendy Brooklyn bars and restaurants.
The Book Room
A defining Jefferson quote: “I cannot live without books.” Indeed, Lagon reveals, “his collection rivaled any in the country at the time.” One imagines if he were alive today, he’d be hobnobbing with the McSweeney’s set and collaborating with some or other hip indie publisher.