Hotel Zena’s facade is guarded by two fierce, larger-than-life warrior guardians. They look sternly over Thomas Circle, protecting what is inside: an oasis dedicated to supporting and celebrating women. The hotel, which opened in October 2020, is focused on inclusivity and female empowerment.
While women’s history is celebrated every month at Hotel Zena, the hotel is hosting a series of virtual and in-person events to celebrate innovative, trailblazing women for Women’s History Month in March. The events are centered around the four pillars of Hotel Zena – art, taste, giving and wellness – as extensions of the hotel’s everyday commitment to highlighting the accomplishments of women. The Women’s History Month events mark the first round of major programming since the hotel’s opening.
From a service project at the beginning of the month supporting Logan Circle’s N Street Village, a community organization providing resources to homeless and low-income women, to rooftop crystal healing on March 27, this month’s events celebrate women from all different backgrounds, experiences and walks of life.
“A lot of the speakers and series we have specifically [highlight] women of color and [are] minority-focused,” says Natalie Vachon, area marketing director. “We want to make sure everybody has a voice. We specifically chose that route because it is our responsibility to make that happen.”
On March 15, Hotel Zena is hosting an online panel discussion with the hotel’s designer, Andrea Sheehan, and two featured artists: Marilyn Artus and Chanel Compton. The hotel features over 60 pieces of original art in their collection, titled “Her.” The collection is divided into four parts: art representing ancient and mythological women, a portrait gallery, fashion-themed art, and sewing-themed art. Hotel Zena is one of few spaces dedicated solely to women in the art world, with all of its art created by women and feminists of all genders, and focused on the stories of women.
“It’s so valuable to have a space and say, ‘This is for women, this is by women,’” notes D.C.-based artist Michelle Chen.
Chen’s painting of Wai Wai Nu, a Rohingya Burmese political activist who advocates for equality in Myanmar, is featured in the hotel’s portrait gallery. Chen and other selected artists were presented with a list of influential figures in the history of women’s rights and asked to pick one who they connected with. Chen chose to paint Nu because of their shared Asian identities.
“I didn’t see representation from this particular country and this particular experience,” Chen says of the fight for equality in Myanmar. “I wanted to suggest folks like author and activist Grace Lee Boggs and other Asian voices, and I think I went with [Nu] because that’s who I feel more personally connected to.”
Chen often features women in her work, and believes that highlighting the voices of women through art is an important aspect of representation.
“There is no single story of Asian Americans. There is no single story of womanhood. When there are too few stories, the burden of representation ends up falling on those individuals. The more we can create and uplift in all forms of the arts – in painting, but also writing and media – the more we can be fully heard and seen and engage with the world.”
The stories of women are not only told through the art at Hotel Zena. The hotel’s Figleaf Bar & Lounge features a beverage-forward menu with cocktails inspired by strong women, with names like #ImSpeaking and Earhart. Menu selections were curated by Jasmine Diaz, assistant food and beverage director, and use ingredients sourced from women-owned businesses, like Civic Vodka by Republic Restoratives in Ivy City.
On April 2, the hotel’s second dining option will open as a conclusion to their Women’s History Month programming. Hedy’s Rooftop, a rooftop lounge named after actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr, will serve small bites and cocktails. The lounge will feature a brand-new menu utilizing women-sourced ingredients, also curated by Diaz.
“We really want to make sure we’re sticking to that story,” Vachon says. “That really threads through the entire hotel, whether it’s Figleaf [or] Hedy’s Rooftop. These are spaces that women in the food and beverage industry can shine.”
The March festivities were planned with Covid safety in mind, and while Hotel Zena’s programming got off to a slow start during the pandemic, the Women’s History Month events are the start of more regular happenings at the hotel.
“We are looking at this as the first month in activations we’re planning down the road,” Vachon says. “We’re going to be pushing a lot more events like this out in the future.”
Make a reservation and find a full schedule of Women’s History Month events at Hotel Zena on www.viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/zena, and follow the hotel @hotelzena on Instagram. Learn
more about Michelle Chen at www.shiyuart.com or follow her @shiyuart on Instagram.
Hotel Zena: 1155 14th St. NW, DC; 202-737-1200; www.viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/zena