March 17, 2017 at 10:26 am EDT | by Kevin Naff
24 hours at MGM National Harbor
National Harbor, gay news, Washington Blade

MGM’s new National Harbor is a stunning piece of modern architecture just outside D.C. (Photo by Stephen Wilkes; courtesy MGM)

The proximity of MGM’s National Harbor casino and hotel to D.C. makes it the perfect choice for a quick getaway. And if you’re looking for high-end restaurants and retail, a stunning spa and fitness center, a selection of indoor/outdoor bars, or a state-of-the-art theater, then you won’t be disappointed. Oh, there’s a casino, too.

A piece of advice before planning your visit: Skip Friday and Saturday, when the casino draws large crowds. Visit on a Thursday or Sunday for a quieter, easier time of enjoying the many amenities here. I arrived on a Thursday afternoon and departed Friday after lunch. Here’s how I spent a 24-hour staycation:

THURSDAY

1 p.m. Check-in. The hotel’s second-floor lobby overlooks a bustling ground-floor atrium and offers a VIP check-in lounge complete with Champagne and a buffet of snacks. It’s clear from the outset that this will be a pampered, high-end experience with five-star service. Opt for a spacious one-bedroom corner suite with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking D.C.’s monuments. It’s perhaps the only time bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Beltway below won’t stress you out, as you take in the city’s monuments and the planes taking off at National Airport. A peerless view of D.C.

1:30 p.m. Lunch at National Market, a food hall dining concept featuring nine upscale casual eateries, including Amos Los Tacos, Bahn Mi Vietnamese Kitchen and Honey’s Fried Chicken and Donuts. I opt for a sandwich from the District Deli but only eat half because the culinary options here are impressive — don’t fill up on lunch.

2:30 p.m. A workout at the fitness center, where cardio equipment is arranged in front of those floor-to-ceiling windows. Who needs TV when you have this view? All the latest cardio equipment is featured, along with free weights and a separate yoga studio. Dab your sweat on chilled towels.

4 p.m. After a shower and catching up on work (free WiFi in all rooms, natch), I meet my husband for a stroll around the expansive outdoor promenade, which circles the perimeter of the casino and ends in the back of the property where a towering video screen and upbeat music greet us on an unseasonably warm February day. We stop for a game of outdoor Bocce and watch a group of tourists play a round of corn hole. There are several outdoor bars and lounge areas and, again, that view of the city.

6:30 p.m. Next on our itinerary: a hand-crafted cocktail at Felt, a lounge in the center of the casino action featuring friendly mixologists, comfy couches and cocktails mixed tableside. There are oversized TVs for watching games and live music and DJs are featured later in the evening.

With a little liquid courage, we hit the casino floor for some poker and roulette. All the usual slots and table games are here, from separate areas for high-end gamblers (we met a guy who just lost $30,000) to penny slots. After winning $20, we’re late for dinner.

8 p.m. Dinner at Voltaggio Brothers Steak House. This is a splurge for sure, with filets starting at $50 and appetizers around $20. Don’t be intimidated by the impressive wine list as a wine steward will guide you. The setting is quiet and comfortable, meant to replicate a home; the food features Maryland influences. Bryan and Michael Voltaggio are best known for their stint on Top Chef; their Volt restaurant in Frederick, Md., remains a culinary hotspot. The steak house at MGM offers a range of cuts, including American Wagyu strips and flat irons and dry-aged ribeyes, NY strips and T-bones. We opt for eight-ounce prime filets and the sauces sound so tempting that we order all three: house-steak sauce, beer-naise and sea bean chimichurri.

The big-eye tuna starter is a take on steak tartar and not to be missed. An array of sides is offered a la carte; the young broccoli is grilled perfectly with charred lemon and garlic aioli, but the potato gratin steals the show with gruyere and thyme. After all that, we’re too full for dessert. If there’s a quibble here — and, really, it’s minor — the service is on the aggressive side. We had four servers helping us, they were all terrific, but a tad obtrusive. In all, a five-star dining experience. Make a reservation for a special occasion and expect to spend a few hundred dollars with wine.

10 p.m. After lingering over dinner, we decide to walk off some of those calories and stroll through the busy casino and again outside on the promenade before heading to a comfy king-size bed in our nearly 1,000-square-foot suite. The room features modern décor and those windows wrap around to the bathroom and into a massive shower the size of some city bedrooms.

MGM's National Harbor, gay news, Washington Blade

The Conservatory at MGM (Photo by Robb Scharetg; courtesy MGM)

FRIDAY

7 a.m. After a restful sleep, we order room service from a menu devised by celebrity chef and “Chopped” veteran Marcus Samuelson. We opt for the yogurt and egg white omelette, which are delivered within 30 minutes, hot and delicious.

9 a.m. It’s off to the spa for a 50-minute rebalancing massage. After changing into a plush terry robe, I’m escorted to the gentlemen’s waiting area featuring leather lounge chairs, big-screen TVs and the day’s newspapers. There are several massage options, including a sports massage, hot stone and something called “sensational fusion massage” with “percussive movement and customized flow.” Will have to go back and try that one. After your massage, retreat to the locker room area where you’ll find a eucalyptus steam room, dry sauna and hot tub. Showers are spacious and feature all the products you need to get cleaned up for the day. The spa is immaculate and well appointed featuring Clarins skincare products.

11 a.m. Property tour. By now I’ve seen most of the resort, but am curious about the specialty suites and, of course, the theater that’s already attracting A-list performers like Sting, Bruno Mars and, of course, Cher (March 17-26; Aug. 31-Sept. 10) .

With 3,000 seats, there’s not a bad vantage point in the theater, which features a hydraulic system enabling all sorts of seating configurations, from boxing in the round to stadium-style for concerts. If you can spring for the private box seats, you’ll find your own bar and catering and the option to watch from your perch above or to move up front and watch from the floor. Because of MGM’s connection to its Vegas properties, the National Harbor location is drawing big-name talent to this intimate venue. Where else can you see such big names in such a small setting?

If you’re a high-roller or looking for a spectacular way to wow clients, consider booking one of the MGM’s suites. The presidential suite is nearly 2,500 square feet with two king bedrooms and plenty of dining and lounge space. The chairman’s suite is a whopping 3,210 square feet and a one-of-a-kind place to impress clients.

12:30 p.m. Lunch at Marcus. After an indulgent 24 hours, it’s time to go but not before a quick lunch at Marcus. Start with Aunt Mabel’s cornbread and the deviled eggs with duck salame and chicken cracklin. Sammy’s chicken and waffles are tempting, but we opt for slightly more sensible salads. The service is friendly and efficient and the décor bright and upbeat. The modern American menu offers pork chops, blackened catfish, steak frites, paella, burgers and more.

MGM National Harbor is an impressive addition to this growing area of P.G. County that already offers Tanger outlets and the nearby Gaylord property. There’s a free shuttle to both from MGM. If you’re not a gambler, this modern urban resort features plenty to do. The outdoor lounge areas will surely be popular Sunday Funday destinations all spring and summer and with so many dining options, you can try a different restaurant on subsequent visits. Keep an eye on the theater schedule — it’s impressive and diverse (Sarah Silverman performs April 22; Ricky Martin is here May 5-6, followed by the Temptations and Four Tops on May 13; Idina Menzel arrives July 9).

The Theater at MGM (Photo courtesy MGM)

Kevin Naff is the editor and a co-owner of the Washington Blade, the nation’s oldest and most acclaimed LGBT news publication, founded in 1969.

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