Full disclosure – this week’s hotel is another one of my favorites. I’ve eaten there, I’ve slept there, I’ve drank there, I’ve been a meeting attendee there, and I’ve worked there. In every instance, they never cease to amaze me. This week, I’m taking you inside the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza (HNP). Grandly situated on the corner of 5th & Race in downtown Cincinnati, the HNP has sat for 85 years. It is one of Cincinnati’s (and Ohio’s!) oldest hotels. I think the team at the HNP would appreciate that I’m actually going to kick this post off talking about the food.
This hotel is massive. When it opened its doors in 1931 it had 7 restaurants and 800 rooms. But these weren’t just any old restaurants – the Restaurant Continentale (now the Continental Ballroom) had an ice skating rink and the Pavillion Caprice (now the Pavillion Ballroom) was a nightclub that featured Doris Day for her professional debut. Today, the restaurants at the hotel still aren’t just any old restaurant. Orchids at Palm Court is one of my favorite places for a formal dinner. Chef Todd Kelly and Pastry Chef, Megan Ketover, have been wowing guests for years. Megan might sound familiar, she can be seen on the rooftop harvesting honey from the hotel’s beehives or on Bravo’s Top Chef: Just Desserts! Not only is the food absolutely amazing and creative art, but the service is impeccable. If you’ve ever wanted a crash course in fine dining etiquette, you’ll learn it here. Now, if you’ve had a chance to actually take your face out of your plate (I’m kidding, that would not be acceptable restaurant behavior) you might have noticed the beautiful murals on the
ceiling. The hotel, and more specifically Orchids, has an interesting history.
Would you believe some, pardon me, idiot covered that up in the 60s? That’s OK, there were lots of questionable design decisions in the 60s. When the hotel underwent a 2 year, multi-million dollar renovation in the 80s, the paint was scraped from the woodwork, the murals restored and the original marble uncovered. What you see now is very similar to the original hotel design, classic art deco elegance (You can read more about the hotel’s history here. When you work there, you know these things!).
Speaking of elegance, the entire hotel is a walking museum and it’s gorgeous. You can quite literally get lost wondering the hallways. Actually, back when I worked there, you could ask the desk (or anyone with a uniform on) for a walking history guide (highly recommended!). So let’s start with the entrance. If you enter the hotel from the doors on 5th or Race you’re greeted by a sweeping, marble staircase that ascends to the lobby. There are elevators, of course, but take the stairs – they are part of the experience. You’ll notice Orchids and the Grille at Palm Court off to your right. If you have a chance to eat here, do it. It is so worth it. Just passed the Grille, it’s hard not to notice the beautiful wall fountain. If memory serves me right, this fountain was a contribution by another historic Cincinnati business, Rookwood Pottery! Just behind that is a long room that runs East to West along 5th St, this is the Continental Ballroom. If you close your eyes, you can imagine the ice skating rink!
Take the stairs to the right of the Continental Ballroom. When you come out of this hallway, you might notice all of the wood on the walls. I think this section of the hotel is the best representation of the Brazilian Rosewood. These trees are endangered, so you better believe the staff takes really good care of the walls, they aren’t easy to replace.
Keep climbing the stairs and you’ll find yourself on the 3rd floor, home of the famed Hall of Mirrors. I dreamed I would have my wedding here one day, that didn’t happen, but you can! This room can house hundreds of guests. I was fortunate to witness a miracle once while working at the HNP. That was to watch their staff flip
from a wedding ceremony to a formal reception in less than 2 hours. There were tables rolling and linens flying, but this team at the HNP has this down to a science. There is a ton of history and many famous people that have set foot in this room, and plenty of ghost stories. If you ask the right people, you might learn about The Lady in Green, a famed ghost of the hotel who is still searching for her husband who was killed during the construction of the hotel. In the time I worked there, I never saw her, but some swear by it!
If you have a chance to continue discovering the hotel, you might find this staircase between the 3rd and 4th floors. It’s super cool. In the daylight, you might think the paint job is a little obscure. If you’re ever in the hotel when the
electricity goes out, you can follow the glow from the windows in this painting – it glows in the dark!
You know, whenever I’m at the Hilton, I always walk around, hoping to discover something new. My trip this time was a whirlwind, in and and out in about 12 hours. While I was there, I was able to enjoy a perfectly set meeting, a good breakfast and excellent service. One thing that continues to amaze me is the retention at this property. The hospitality industry is notorious for turnover, but the HNP has many of the same managers from 8 years ago when I was there and a lot of the same staff. Kudos to them, because their dedication to staff shines through in how they treat their guests.
So, you’ve walked around the hotel, but you certainly haven’t burned off that exceptional meal at Orchids. If you’re like me, and you need a little more out of your day, hit the streets. Cincinnati is by far one of the most walkable cities I’ve ever visited and walk you should. I woke up that morning and ran, what I call, “the bridges.” It’s a great 3 mile loop from the hotel which takes you into Kentucky and back. If you take a moment to look over your shoulder, you’ll see the Queen City in all of its glory.
“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck