It’s safe to say that the luxurious Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia is not your average hotel. Built by a tobacco magnate in the 19th century, this impressive property has had a decidedly quirky history. From housing alligators in front of the hotel to surviving fires and downtimes, the Jefferson Hotel of the 21st century though has never been better, as I learned during a recent stay. Today I want to share a few reasons why this remarkable hotel should play an important role in anyone’s visit to Richmond.
The long history of the Jefferson Hotel could, and has, filled entire books so this one paragraph will in no way do it justice, but I think it’s important to understand a little of the property’s provenance. Opened in 1895, the hotel was the dream of Lewis Ginter who was a prolific businessman and who also thought that Richmond sorely needed a world-class hotel. Almost immediately the hotel became one of the country’s most important, and impressive hotels – a legacy that it has largely maintained ever since. Through fires, depressions and wars, the hotel has survived along with a certain quirky sense of humor. In the early part of the 20th century, hotel guests donated pet alligators to the hotel, which then lived on the hotel grounds. Although no injuries were ever reported, they did manage to surprise a few guests until the last one passed away in 1948. The Jefferson Hotel though is so much more than a few funny stories, it’s a true institution and you feel the weight of its legacy as soon as you enter. What’s truly impressive is that it doesn’t feel stuffy or detached, it’s a welcoming space and one that I loved calling home, if only for a few days.
Location, Location, Location
It should be no surprise then, considering this impressive history, that the Jefferson also enjoys the perfect location to enjoy the best that Richmond has to offer. Downtown Richmond of course has any number of great museums, outdoor experiences and restaurants, but for something a little different I recommend hopping in the car to visit the gardens named after the founder of the Jefferson, the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. Located in the Lakeside neighborhood of Richmond, the Gardens have earned the reputation as one of the best in the country and, as I learned, this accolade is certainly well earned. It’s so much more than just an assemblage of plants, it’s a massive 50-acre facility but more importantly, visiting is an immersive experience. You can go and hang out in the butterfly room as exotic species land on your shoulder for a while or take part in one of the many enrichment activities they run all the time. What really warmed my heart though was seeing so many kids there. In an age defined by the digital experience, it’s amazing to see youngsters getting excited by a botanical garden. They’re learning things about the planet that they’ll remember forever. Lakeside itself is also worth exploring, especially since they have a wonderfully quirky café that just about anyone will love.
The Love Shack opened just a couple of years ago and was the dream of owner Sarabeth Hagen, who wanted a neighborhood hangout where folks could go and feel at home. Many of the recipes are inspired by family recipes, even if they have B-52 names like the “Bang Bang on the Door” Benny and the I Got Me A Chrysler Melt. The real theme here though is love and inclusion, and walking into the small space that always seems to be packed with hungry guests, it’s hard not to feel welcome. It’s a brunch only restaurant and closes in the early afternoon, so arrive early, arrive hungry and be prepared to smile throughout your entire meal.
Incredible Rooms & Signature Cuisine
As soon as I walked into my room, I knew I was in for a treat. Each of The Jefferson’s luxurious guest rooms and suites has recently been renovated and now feature high ceilings, tall windows and incredible decor. It’s a nod to its past, but in a way that is decidedly contemporary. The star though, I think, is the bathroom that evokes the best of mid-century design. Add in luxurious Molton Brown bath amenities, oversized bath sheets, plush bathrobes and a television screen in the mirror and you have the perfect bathroom.
The culinary side of the house is just impressive and when you visit, be sure to check out their on-site restaurants. The flagship restaurant is Lemaire, a New American restaurant celebrating Virginia grown ingredients and the Southern influences of Richmond’s food culture. For something a little more laid back, then don’t miss TJ’s Restaurant and Lounge, which offers Southern American cuisine for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast was actually my favorite experience at the hotel and one that I won’t soon forget. Most famous for their decadent Sunday Champagne brunches, even their weekday breakfasts are a special treat. There are few things I enjoy more than a great breakfast at an equally incredible hotel and at The Jefferson that means classics like their savory bacon and cheddar scones, chicken and waffles, cheddar baked grits and so much more. Of course breakfast isn’t the only meal where The Jefferson excels, but it does make for the ideal start to anyone’s day.
The “It” Factor
Hotels are most definitely not all made the same and, for whatever reason, I have a special affinity for historic properties. It’s incredible to me to think of the generations of people who have walked through the same front doors as I have; to think about their lives and the role the hotel played in it for them. Historic hotels also tend to be luxury-focused, which is also important to me when I travel. The Jefferson is both historic and luxurious and my time spent there was as enjoyable as I can remember. Whether it was the incredibly friendly staff or just the comfort of the room itself, whatever “it” was made an impression on me and it’s a place that I know I’ll never forget. I feel bad for those people who say that where they spend the night doesn’t matter, because that can’t be further from the truth. If you choose carefully, a great hotel will enhance your trip in ways you could never imagine. It becomes an integral participant in your adventures and for me, I couldn’t have picked a better travel partner than the Jefferson Hotel.