Note from Becca: I went to the Mansion on O Street nearly three years ago, when I had just arrived in D.C., for a friend’s birthday dinner and scavenger hunt. The food made me ill, the labyrinth of kitsch freaked me out, and I vowed never to return. Intrepid Guest Bitch Miriam offered to check out the brunch.
I have a friend who has been raving about The Mansion on O Street, saying it’s like walking through Alice’s looking glass. The place offers a big brunch, and it’s a must see, but not a must eat.
The day before brunch, I went online to make a reservation. I was about to click on the 12 p.m. – 2 p.m. Champagne Brunch when my eyes popped out of their sockets at the price tag: $65. That’s sixty five dollars. Per person. For brunch! Granted, it includes bottomless mimosas, as well as a sumptuous spread of brunch favorites and delectable desserts. But I would never pay that much for brunch, and I’m recommending you don’t either.
The online form provided 12 other Sunday options, including a $75 afternoon high tea. But I opted for the cheapest: the $30 breakfast, which is available 10 a.m. to noon and includes made-to-order waffles and omelets, as well as bottomless coffee and all-you-can-eat oatmeal, fruit, yogurt and toast.
At 11 a.m. on Sunday, I walked up the ancient steps of the mansion (which is really five conjoined row houses) and stepped into another world. I had no idea that I had been living around the corner from this gem. The Mansion on O Street is what you’d imagine your eccentric, rich aunt’s house to be. The 100 rooms are filled with secret doors and passageways. Every inch of wall space is crammed with mirrors, framed art, and old books.
Meandering hallways and themed bedrooms overflow with knickknacks like antique Santa Clauses, cherub sculptures, Pee Wee Herman and Betty Boop dolls, rare Beatles memorabilia, and Playboy bunny paraphernalia. All of it—from the chandeliers to the tchotchkes—is for sale to keep this nonprofit/restaurant/hotel/
I came hungry, along with my friend and her three-year-old daughter (children under five are free and children five to 11 are half price). The staff welcomed us warmly. After trying on hats that could have been worn to a royal wedding, we followed a hostess with an easy smile to our table.
On our way, she pointed out three small stations of breakfast food, and a grand space where three enormous tables were piled high with all the brunch food you could ever imagine. And the dessert table! It glistened with colorful frosting on cupcakes, a huge chocolate rendition of Congress, and full cakes almost too pretty to cut. That strategically placed smorgasbord was tempting, but off-limits for us breakfast goers.
We sat down to an intimate room of about 20 lace-covered tables and nearly as many chandeliers. While other brunch hotspots a few doors down were bustling, here just a few tables were filled with ladies in their 60s and 70s.
And the food? It was tasty and satisfying, but not outstanding. The waffles were moist and chewy, and came with your choice of staple toppings like maple syrup, Nutella and whipped cream. My whipped cream came out runny, but the staff promptly replaced the bottle. I like berries on my waffles but didn’t see any; the only fruit was brandied figs, a bunch of bananas, and slices of grapefruit and oranges. Regardless, the three of us chowed down on our waffles, toast with cinnamon butter, and steel-cut oatmeal with brown sugar.
Bloody Marys are my favorite drink, so I was excited to try one at the mansion. Upon asking our waitress for the drink, a man named Daniel appeared. He was the bartender serving table-side to personalize all cocktails. I requested medium spice, lots of olives and celery. Daniel delivered, but I was disappointed that my Bloody didn’t have spices around the rim. Daniel explained that he uses a special hot sauce that is more consistent than granular spices. It was good, but not yummy.
I like to drink my Bloody while eating eggs, so I got an omelet. The cook made it just how I like it: with lots of veggies and a bit of cheese. It was far better than what I could have made, and moderately above average for this city.
As the happy tunes from the bluegrass jam started up, my stuffed friend and her daughter went to a nearby room to watch the musicians. Meanwhile, as I was taking pictures of the forbidden brunch and grilling the kind manager with questions, I spilled the beans that I was reviewing for the Bitches. He offered me a free upgrade to the brunch, and I couldn’t refuse. I filled two plates with a little of everything: bagel and lox, peppered salmon, white fish, steak tenderloin, green beans, tortellini, and salad on one plate; and sweet bread, chocolate cake, trifle, fruit tart, tiramisu, a crepe, and a triangle of something fudgey on the other plate. Now we’re talking!
I also had the refreshing mimosa that came with the brunch. It all reminded me of the Bellagio buffet in Las Vegas, although a grade higher quality. My friend suspected that the desserts may have been frozen goods from an outside bakery, but the founder of the mansion—who was bustling about and is married to the manager—told me the desserts are baked in-house. Just like the O Street breakfast, the brunch food didn’t leave a strong impression on my palate. And it certainly was not worth $65!
By the time I couldn’t eat any more, I saw that the bill on the table included my credit card info from the online form. I just needed to sign, so I did. (This system proved a bit annoying later when my friend had to get cash to pay me back.) I was now free to explore. The manager gave me a tour, and that’s when my real experience began.
This Bitch’s bottom line: While the food is slightly above average for DC, it is overpriced and not anything to write home about. However, the bizarre/homey ambience makes for a brunch that’s as psychedelic as a tea party with the real Mad Hatter, and as comforting as grandma’s kitchen.
So, if you’ve got parents in town who want to go off the beaten path for brunch—but aren’t wild enough for a drag queen brunch—then have them take you to The Mansion on O Street. Warn them that they’ll be paying for the experience, not the food. And what an experience it is.
If you don’t have kooky parents who want to spoil you at brunch, just take a $5 self-guided tour!
The Bitches say: B-. It’s an A experience with a C- value for your dollar.
The Mansion on O Street
2020 O Street N.W.
The Mansion on O serves brunch on Sundays.