Offbeat Venues & Historic Charm Win Over Attendees in Washington, D.C.

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Washington, meeting planners
Anderson House Ballroom, Washington, D.C.

Planning off-sites at atypical Washington, D.C., venues can be a bold move in a city known for its famous federal museums and art galleries. At the American Academy of Neurology’s 8-day event in April, however, the event team planned evening receptions at the Anderson House, Long View Gallery and Credit Union House—all of which are lesser known, adding a sense of newness to a city known for its meetings.

Roughly 13,000 people from the American Academy of Neurology met for its annual meeting this past April at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Marriott Marquis Washington, DC and Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel for about 180 educational courses and a variety of exhibits. The group chose D.C. for its 2015 conference 10 years in advance, mainly because it’s easily accessible by train and plane from the several medical institutions up and down the East Coast, according to Julie Ratzloff, the academy’s manager of housing and special events.

During the meeting, the president of the academy hosted an evening reception for the organization’s leadership team of about 140 people at the Anderson House. The historic mansion was built in 1905 as a winter home for Larz Anderson, an American diplomat, and his wife Isabel, an author and benefactress. The couple once used it to show off their art collection and entertain foreign dignitaries. Attendees experienced this same grandeur during the event, which started with appetizers and cocktails upstairs before concluding with a seated dinner.

“We chose that property because we knew it wasn’t a typical tourist location,” says Ratzloff. “We wanted to give the attendees an experience that they may not have had before. Plus, the president of the academy is really interested in history, so he appreciated the historical aspect of it.”

On a different night, the American Brain Foundation (part of the American Academy of Neurology) held an event at the Long View Gallery, an independent contemporary art gallery. Ratzloff says the blank-canvas vibe of the warehouse-like venue was its biggest appeal. For instance, the team created four pillars to hold up a four-sided bar in the middle, while uplighting and candles complemented the edgier brick walls and concrete floors. Passed appetizers—coconut shrimp, Caesar salad in a cone and shrimp sesame cucumber cups, for instance—and food stations were available to attendees as they networked and enjoyed the art-filled space.

The Credit Union House was also used for the academy’s Brain Pac reception. Ratzloff says the venue’s location—in the same building as the academy’s Washington, D.C., office—and patio overlooking the capital building was the main draw. A reception of about 75 attendees used both the indoor and outdoor space.

Attendees stayed at about 41 different hotels in the D.C. area during the event, which made it difficult to use shuttle buses. Instead, the event team encouraged people to use the Metro. The Marriott Marquis even provided the group with maps, which included the dollar amount of the ride from each hotel to the convention center. Plus, the convention center had a booth for attendees to ask questions about local attractions, which was always busy, says Ratzloff.

“I think the attendees felt like the tourism aspect of D.C. was very accessible to them,” she adds. “[Riding the Metro] gave them a real sense of what the city is all about.”

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