Welcome to Hotel Zena, the world’s first women-themed hotel. Set in Washington D.C.’s trendy Logan Circle area between downtown and the 14th Street corridor, the property is everything Sheehan envisioned—and then some.

By Laura Begley Bloom

Back in 2018, Andrea Sheehan, CEO of Dawson Design Associates, had an idea for a new kind of hotel: an interactive, emotionally impactful space dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments of women. She brought the idea to her client, Pebblebrook Hotel Trust, which invests in upscale properties around the world. “I had a PowerPoint presentation that started with the ancient warriors, then the Egyptians, the Greeks and all the women through history speaking out, fighting for change,” says Sheehan. “Then I showed them the new generation. At that point, the election had just happened and we had a new Congress coming in with so many women. And I said, ‘I think it’s time that we throw our hat into the mix. I want to create a hotel that’s stylish and cool, but at the same time, powerful and female. And I want to have the warriors be the art.’”

Right in the middle of her presentation, Sheehan recalls Pebblebrook’s CEO, Jon Bortz, telling her to hold. “I thought: ‘Oh no, I’m going to get canned.’ I’ve worked with him for twenty years, so I know him pretty well, but I really did not know how he would respond to this.” According to Sheehan, Bortz gathered all of his asset managers and his officers. “He said, ‘Let’s start over again,’” says Sheehan. “When I got to my concept for a portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg made out of hand-painted tampons, everybody in this corporate boardroom leaned back in their chairs and gasped.”

The result? “They loved it,” says Sheehan. “And they gave me a full artistic license, moving forward.”

Hotel Zena Washington DC first women-themed hotel
The rooftop pool at Washington D.C.’s Hotel Zena, the world’s first women-themed hotel. COURTESY OF HOTEL ZENA

Welcome to Hotel Zena, the world’s first women-themed hotel. Set in Washington D.C.’s trendy Logan Circle area between downtown and the 14th Street corridor, the property is everything Sheehan envisioned—and then some.

The exterior of the building is emblazoned with an epic seven-story painting of two warrior women by Cita Sadeli (a.k.a. Miss Chelove), a D.C.-based muralist. When you walk into the hotel, you’re greeted by pieces of women-inspired artwork that was hand-selected and commissioned by Sheehan, from a sculpture of Otrera, first queen of the Amazons, to an installation of upcycled high heels that lines the front desk.

“I traveled the world finding artists that were feminist, both male and female, that supported power and strength,” says Sheehan. “It was important to me that it wasn’t propaganda, that it wasn’t angry. I wanted it to be good, intense storytelling.”

Hotel Zena exterior mural
A mural by Miss Chelove on the exterior of the Hotel Zena in the Logan Circle area. COURTESY OF HOTEL ZENA

The lobby doubles as a Portrait Gallery with artwork dedicated to 10 legendary women who have contributed to gender equality, from Rosa Parks to Shirley Chisholm. Overlooking everything is that badass beacon of power, the Notorious RBG, whose show-stopping portrait was constructed from 20,000 biodegradable tampons provided by the socially conscious company Cora, which gives back to women in need in third-world countries.

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a personal hero of mine because I’m sure I wouldn’t be where I’m at without her. So I wanted to celebrate her,” says Sheehan. “To me, that piece was the perfect installation: a presence looming over the whole space. We created the architecture, the floor plans, the ceilings—everything—to curve toward her.”

portrait Ruth Bader Ginsburg made out of tampons
A portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg made out of tampons in the lobby at the Hotel Zena. LAURA BEGLEY BLOOM

It’s not just the artwork that carries through with the women’s theme. Figleaf, the bar/lounge, has a cocktail menu that pays tribute to female icons like RBG, Amelia Earhart and Marie Curie. (Check out the wall of Figleaf that’s covered with 12,000 protest buttons supporting the fight for women’s rights.) The hotel gift store is filled with products inspired by women, from books to games that are available for sale or can be used on loan while you’re staying at the property. The fitness center showcases powerful messaging (”Wake Up, Kick Ass”) and an Instagram-perfect pink punching bag with coordinating boxing gloves. The hotel also hosts events ranging from book launches by women authors to drag queen bingo.

Hotel Zena’s fitness center. LAURA BEGLEY BLOOM

No surprise, the hotel has become a favorite place for women travelers (though men love it, too). On my own recent visit, I met a woman who had come previously on vacation with her boyfriend and was so moved by the powerful messaging—like quotes from RBG in the elevators—that she decided to return with her young child for an inspirational mommy-daughter trip. I met a group of women who said they were here for a girlfriend’s getaway. Another guest who regularly comes to town on business told me that she started staying here after being harassed at a different D.C. property and chose the Hotel Zena for its safety and security.

In a guestroom at Hotel Zena. COURTESY OF HOTEL ZENA

It’s also popular with locals like Kaitlin Calogera, founder of A Tour Of Her Own, the first tourism company in Washington, D.C. to focus exclusively on women’s history. Her company has hosted events at the property and regularly brings its guests here on tours. “Hotel Zena is unique in its vision and its presence and also its execution,” says Calogera. “It’s a different kind of tourism outside of traditional museums. It’s interactive. It’s dynamic. And while there are hotels that have women’s history stories in their origins, I think Hotel Zena brings it to the surface and into the forefront in a way that’s extremely approachable and easily absorbed by visitors. Quite honestly, it’s Instagrammable, as well. This is the era of social media and people want to see a life-size RBG made of tampons.”

Another thing that Calogera appreciates is the hotel’s proximity to the White House. “People don’t often realize that the suffragists were the first people to ever picket at the White House. They were the first to stand outside with signs, demanding the right to vote,” says Calogera. “So when I visit the Hotel Zena I’m reminded that not only is the hotel a space for expression, but the surrounding area is rooted in feminism and activism.”

Hotel ZENA front desk
The front desk at Hotel Zena, with a high heel art installation. COURTESY OF HOTEL ZENA

Calogera launched A Tour of Her Own in 2018, right at the same time that Sheehan came up with the idea for Hotel Zena, and she says that there’s no better moment for both concepts and no better place than Washington, D.C. “This comes within a period where we saw almost 500,000 women at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. We’ve seen activists show up at the Supreme Court building. We’ve seen major events and movements like Me Too and Time’s Up and a wave of women working their way into elected office. We’ve seen the election of our first female vice president,” says Calogera. “D.C. is a hub for what’s happening in the moment, but it also helps connect people to the past and how we got here.”

And indeed, that is exactly the idea that Sheehan was going for in creating Hotel Zena. “The aim is to celebrate all women who dare to step up for change,” says Sheehan.