Last night I went to the Mandarin to have a look around their function rooms and have a drink at the bar. As I posted below on the earlier thread about the new chef, I have been in search of a wedding reception site which has great food and an outdoor area appropriate for 30 people. Hidemasa Yamamoto will be the chef for Cafe Mozu and catered events.
Leaving wedding stuff aside, I was pretty disappointed with the bar area (and I am a big fan of hotel bars). The Empress Lounge is actually a sunken area of the lobby, totally open, overlit and noisy.
While there were comfortable sofas and chairs the rest of the area is all hard surfaces and noise from the lobby invades the space. Not to mention the muzak which was not turned off even while the pianist played. After a day at school/work we did not find this a relaxing space. Drinks are more expensive than the Mayflower, Willard or Hay-Adams at $14 or $15 a pop for those on the specialty drink list. I had a lime drop which was tasty but nothing special, boyfriend's Potomac Splash tasted weird. Cocktails are served with an assortment of fancy rice crackers and a snack I have never seen before (green cheetos with a fish taste); these are beautifully presented in three glass bowls arranged on a silver bridge structure. It was not possible to order light fare in the bar. Cafe Mozu was open but we didn't stay.
After walking there from metro (L'enfant plaza or smithsonian) I don't see how they're going to get much foot traffic. Too many nasty underpasses to walk under and the doors to L'enfant plaza were locked at 8. The whole neighborhood was desolate and creepy.
As for the view, at least from the side of the building we were on, what view there was is marred by the freeway and traffic which whizzes past. I didn't find it picturesque at all and outside the noise from the cars on the terrace was quite loud. I didn't see any directional signs for the signature restaurant up yet so possibly it has a better view but so far I'm not impressed.