Hotel luxe arrives in Old Town


It might be one of those Asian hotels with sumptuous rooms and restaurants in a class of their own, not neglecting history, and celebrating guests with those huge steamer trunks as if this were an essential stop on their world travels.

Did Kimpton Hotel Group forget this is Old Town? Not quite. From the San Francisco-based lifestyle boutique hotel company is a new inn at 480 King Street that swung open its doors Monday, after years of permitting and construction an investment by ING Clarion slightly north of $100 million.

Its owners boast the Hotel Monaco Alexandria brings a bold modern style to one of Virginias most historic destinations, placing its boutique-y imprint on a city thats been around well before the Boston Tea Party.

A joint partnership of Kimpton and ING Clarion, the 241-room hotel is a premier four-star hotel, something youre reminded of when the doorman calls out your name as you walk in for the first time. Attired in a hip, eggplant-colored corduroy uniform, you feel obliged to remember his name as well, and after seeing the nosebleed level of services, amenities and design, you probably wont soon forget it.

Thats just the point, says General Manager Nick Gregory, who greets me in front of a crackling fire in Monacos expansive lobby.  Were all about creating a moment with customers, making a connection, he said. Im big into freedom of speech. We dont put too many processes in place here.

With its blend of historic whimsy and contemporary style, Gregory said the Monaco will be right at home in todays Alexandria.

A 17-year veteran of Kimpton hotels in Portland, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, Gregory moved to Old Town a year ago with his wife and two children and quickly became integrated into the community, vowing skeptics that the hotel would keep the ever-popular doggie happy hours and successfully lobbying City Council this month to allow in-room massages until 11 am. Alexandria being Alexandria, they regulate that kind of thing here.

Raised in Oregon, Gregory dropped out of Portland State University to become a ski bum in Vail, Colorado, working as a car valet at a high-end hotel there. I was having too much fun in hotels to go back and finish my degree, he admitted. I found my passion in serving other people. 

The 228-room Holiday Inn Old Town, once Holiday Inns second biggest revenue generator after New York City, had become tired and worn over the years. After purchasing the hotel for $70 million in 2005, Kimpton embarked on a full cosmetic re-do of the hotel, gutting much of the interior and spending about $35 million to build out 241 new rooms. This was a pretty significant project for us, Gregory said. It was not a full gut, but it was close. A few walls were left intact but some public areas needed full cosmetic renovation.

The makeover sought to retain George Washingtons legacy and Civil War era subtly while inspiring the spirit and dcor of a truly boutique hotel, with a pampering personality and bold style very much in the present, Gregory said.  All of the rooms have a unique footprint, he said, with price points for every category.

At the high end, theres the 1,700 square foot Majestic Suites from $969 to $1599 per night. At the middle range there are junior suites and two-floored loft suites with Fuji soak tubs priced between $379 and $709 per night. For budget travelers like me, a 430-square foot deluxe category room could be had for between $219 and $509, with introductory rates starting at $169 per night.

On Monday, opening day, nearly 100 Curious Georges lined up to see the hotel. The first guest to check in was Peter Banks, the head of training at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in Old Town, a longtime Kimpton road warrior. 

Designed by Cheryl Rowley of CRD Design in Beverly Hills, the hotel makes its first distinct impression in the sumptuous living room, where travelers are greeted at the hotels reception desk, fashioned after a writers desk and wrapped in cardinal red leather.  Gregory said its held together by 14,000 nailheads, but I was too far into my Sangria to count them all.

Above, a stunning custom-made chandelier glows with multicolored silk pods and blown glass clusters of amber and olive green. From the wood paneled walls lacquered in a bright Adriatic blue, to the fireplace with its subtle leopard print motif, this is Old Town history illustrated with a contemporary edge.

The guestrooms and suites showcase a refined mix of new and old, pairing modern furnishings with design elements subtly inspired by Union soldiers uniforms, in a palette of dark charcoal and cream, rich reds and vibrant orange and a touch of blue.

On some of the walls, a mix of Civil War soldier portraits and contemporary art evokes a sense of Old Town, along with comfortable chairs upholstered with George Washingtons original survey maps.

The beds are plush, really plush. Theyre swathed in 100% Egyptian cotton Frette Zebra print jacquard linens accented by throw blankets. Theres Wi-Fi internet access, Flat panel LCD TVs, ergonomic work areas and iPod docking stations.

On the third floor theres an indoor pool, and joggers can take advantage of scenic surroundings with customized jogging maps and road bikes, also on the house. Theres an on-site fitness center, and something called the Mind.Body.Spa program, which includes in-room televised yoga, Pilates, core strengthening and meditation programming.

Starting next week, the lobby restaurant opens. Jackson 20 (Named after the $20 bill; Get it?) is a 92-seat contemporary Colonial style restaurant featuring regional American fare sourced from local waters and nearby farms, and the bar will offer a diverse wine and cocktail list with historic American influences.

Gregory has plans for it to become a bustling modern tavern designed with clean, simple lines that embrace reclaimed brick, stone, leather and wood. It also features an outdoor caf and patio where diners can enjoy the charms of a spring or summer day in Old Town.

A place, of course, to watch all those pampered pooches on their way to doggie happy hour, returning soon. Or so Gregory promises. But theres not much here hes promised and not delivered on.

Welcome to Old Town, Hip City.