Grand Again in Downtown Toledo

With the coming of a new year, we will be welcoming loads of new hotels into the market in 2018.  The most exciting part for me is that the expanse is diverse – we’re seeing new independent properties, new brands and also new conversions.  One of the most anticipated conversions rounding out the end of 2017 happened a few months ago in downtown Toledo.  The new Renaissance Toledo Downtown Hotel has been brought back to its glory days with a complete overhaul and a new flag – Marriott.  If you haven’t made it to downtown Toledo since its opening early this fall, come along for a sneak peek with this week’s guest blogger, OHLA Executive Director, Joe!

A recent meeting of OHLA’s Northwest Ohio Lodging Council allowed me to stay as a guest of the new Renaissance Toledo Downtown Hotel, a first-class and exciting addition to this great city’s downtown hotel package.  This spectacular and monumental project brings a great upscale Marriott lifestyle brand into the site of the former Toledo Grand Plaza Hotel.

A complete-to-the-concrete $30 million renovation has resulted in a stylish and comfortable 13-story, 240 key property with 18,000 square feet of meeting space. This was shown to members of the public and special guests with great flair at the hotel’s grand opening celebration on Sept. 27.

The property takes design cues from the historic and hard-working city it serves. A prominent theme was Toledo’s role as the “Glass City.”  Entering through a prism doorway, guests are immediately presented with beautiful works from the Toledo Museum of Art.

The glass theme didn’t stop there. It was carried into the special experience the Renaissance created for the Grand Opening with a fun and funky blown-glass couture show, featuring a cadre of models who circulated among the guests throughout the event.

 

Similar touches permeate the property, from the unique flip-a-switch message board signage, to the dog tag-framed door numbers that give a nod to Toledo’s own Jamie Farr/Corporal Klinger, to the fashionable with a hint of industrial design lounge spaces.

One of my favorite things about Toledo is that it is home of the uniquely American icon, Jeep. As an unapologetic motorhead, I was blown away by the artwork which featured actual components of Jeep vehicles, and more subtle touches such as the elevator door pattern which is actually an authentic tire tread from the WWII-era Willys military jeep.

But those touches were topped with the inclusion of an authentic, vintage and near-mint condition military jeep on display right in the main lobby!

The first-floor Brim House restaurant was one of the favorite parts of my stay.

In addition to a great breakfast, the team was so welcoming and the location provided a comfortable, non-rushed place for me to catch up on messages before embarking on my day. The private dinning space features massive built-in wine racks, and a table that blended contemporary flair with Tudor castle grandeur.

The hotel’s rooms are immensely comfortable but also full of unique touches, including industrial-grade components repurposed for a more restful environment than they were originally employed.   The red iron hooks were a personal favorite and had me asking the FFE team where to place my order.

Drawing the most raves was the Renaissance’s new rooftop bar and dining experience, The Heights. This edge-to-edge venue provides true 360-degree views of the city and one of the most comfortable and usable rooftop environments I’ve seen. But it isn’t just about views.  The excellent service, top-notch food and drinks, and use of glassware from Toledo’s own Libbey Inc. made it a perfect end to a fabulous stay and off-the-chart opening event.

Congratulations to FHG President and CEO Robert Habeeb , General Manager Jeff Hassan and the entire Renaissance Toledo team for a successful opening and for all the success to come for many years.

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

Guest Blog: Beachfront Icon

I’m Megan, former OHLA intern! I know how busy the OHLA office can get and the team there has been on the road for two weeks straight. As any good former intern would, I thought I would lend a hand and tell you about a recent trip I made!

I’ve recently had the chance to explore the west coast. I am originally from Maine and I am no stranger to the coastline, but like many have told me and now I can confirm, the west coast is a different experience. I graduated from college in the spring and I am finally getting to travel more and now, I undeniably have the travel bug.

My trip began in San Francisco, where I was able to explore the bay area on foot. Which, by the way, I thought was impossible but 12 miles later, we did it. From there we traveled south down the Highway 1 to Big Sur and Monterey, then Venice Beach and finally San Diego. While we stayed in great places along the way, the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego was by far the most historic, luxurious and beautiful.

The Hotel Del Coronado opened in 1888 and resides on Coronado Island, right over the San Diego-Coronado Bridge, minutes from downtown. The

iconic red roof is the first thing you see when approaching the island. The grand entrance leads to a lobby of elegant original wood architecture met with a historic brass elevator and amazing service.

The Hotel Del Coronado had everything you could ever want when on vacation. Beach front, multiple pools and hot tubs, water activities, spa, five beachfront restaurants and bars and the famous Sunday brunch in the historic Crown Room (with a build your own donut bar!). We stayed in the King Resort room with a gorgeous view of the lush courtyard. Despite the cloudy day and breezy weather, we were able to enjoy the beach, pool, and hot tub before getting a front row beach view of the sunset.

My biggest thing I stress when I travel is making reservations. I spend a lot of time researching the best places to eat and drink, so I want to make sure I get to try them. Even when getting a bite in at home in Columbus, it’s always best practice to think ahead (I worked in the service industry for a long time..I know a few things!). So for our two Thursday night endeavors, I made reservations ahead of time in the Gaslamp Quarter at Searsucker and Noble Experiment.

Searsucker is upscale contemporary American fare restaurant, that featured lots of small plates (my favorite) and exquisite entrees. We devoured a savory beef tartar, a fresh salad with duck fat fries and shrimp and grits. The open kitchen, lively bar and rustic lighting was the perfect atmosphere for a relaxed dinner and a couple craft cocktails (pro tip: get the Moulin Rouge).

We made a quick pit-stop to try out a few more drinks at a bar our server recommended, Rustic Root. They had an extravagant roof top bar with a great view over Fifth Avenue and even better atmosphere. The gas fire pits, animal shaped bushes and street lamps on the roof showed character and gave a feel for the neighborhood.

The next stop is a hidden gem in the Gaslamp Quarter – literally hidden. In the back of the bar neighborhood, you’ll find a wall of beer kegs that turn out to be a large door. The Noble Experiment Speakeasy is a fine craft cocktail bar that focuses on providing personalized experiences and delicious drinks. Some friends recommended we check it out and we were not disappointed.

Their embossed 17th-century font menus featured classics and their takes on those classics. For the second round we went off menu and the bartender, Nathaniel, crafted us drinks based on what we like. We were not disappointed and even got a 10% OHIO discount!

Overall the biggest thing that stood out to me, besides the obviously beautiful view that Hotel Del Coronado offered, was the customer service. From the moment we pulled up to the Hotel Del Coronado, the staff was more than accommodating. The quick and easy bag service, fast, pain-free check-in, the friendly and helpful staff is what made our stay.

I highly recommend the Hotel Del Coronado if you’re heading to San Diego, I feel like it’s the only way to truly experience vacation. It also doesn’t hurt that San Diego was my favorite city on this trip, even though I spent the least time there. It has a lot to offer and I am eager to head back at some point to explore further!

Cheers!

 

Travel Safe!

Can you believe tomorrow is July 1?  I can’t.  I always joke that I break my year into two main events: Christmas and our family vacation to Ocean Isle Beach, NC in July, and I cannot believe we’re almost there.  BUT.  This weekend, my friends, is THE weekend to travel.

This week I’m going to take a break from blogging, because in the 1 year I’ve been doing this, I’ve only had one other week off… Christmas! So what I leave you with today, is some super cool info about travel over this holiday weekend, provided to me by my friend, Matt Robertson of AAA Home & Away Magazine.

They say it’s going to be a record breaking year. Americans will be hitting the road to visit friends, family and celebrate Independence Day together. AAA Public Relations Manager, Julie Hall writes, “This Independence Day, a record-breaking 44.2 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more away from home, taking to the nation’s roads, skies, rails and waterways to honor the red, white and blue.” So where are you and your family headed this weekend? Share with us in the comments! Let’s see who is traveling the furthest.

Maybe it’s the extra long weekend for most, or the super low gas prices. Whatever the reason, I hope that you and your loved ones travel safe and have a fantastic holiday weekend.  I know we will. I’ll see you in July!

xo

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

Unique Lodging in the Ohio Valley

I’ve been routinely traveling to the Ohio Valley since early 2012. “That’s specific!” you might think. It is, but there is a good reason. My sweet husband is from the Ohio Valley, specifically Moundsville, West Virginia (yes, where there is an Indian burial mound in the center of town, conveniently right next to the now-closed penitentiary).  How confusing is that?  This is how people must feel when they arrive at the Cincinnati airport and see Kentucky license plates on the taxis.  Quick geography lesson – The Ohio [RIVER] Valley is roughly made up of most of Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, but also includes the SW corner of Pennsylvania, the NW corner or panhandle of West Virginia. I don’t know a lot of Columbus residents who consider themselves to live in the Ohio Valley, which is why I think it’s important to note that socially (not geographically) most people referring to the Ohio Valley mean that junction of eastern Ohio that runs along Pennsylvania and West Virginia or in technical terms the Upper Ohio Valley. Now that we all know where our adventure takes us today, let’s focus in on the remarkable work that owner Scott Dressel is doing in a town nestled very closely to the border of both WV and PA – Steubenville, OH.

I found Scott on a very warm Friday afternoon, awaiting my arrival. He had given me very specific instructions to meet him at 813 N 4th and we can “start there.”  Little did I know, Scott and his son have been restoring old Victorian homes (and much more, including the town theater) in Steubenville for years. For most B&B owners, operating the inn is their full time job.  For Scott, I sense that was an after thought.  Scott is here to restore beauty in some of the old homes that line the North Fourth Street Historic District.

Scott greets me on the massive front porch of the Westfall House, one of two of the beautiful homes that houses Scott’s B&B – Bayberry House B&B. This house has one of my favorite rooms, Myrtle & Ivy’s Room. I don’t know if it’s the colors or the placement of the window and the fireplace, but this room transports me to a palace I feel like I’ve only read about in historic fiction books.

We moved next door to the Garrett House.  This house, just a few doors down from the Westfall House really puts Scott’s restoration skills on display. The sitting area is absolutely draw-dropping.  The wood and meticulous detail is something you quite literally “just don’t see any more.”  One wall is lined with a handsome bookcase housing all kinds of interesting books, trinkets and antiques. My favorite part of this room, was the conversation… sofa? chairs?  I’m not sure exactly what you call it, but I’ve never seen anything like it! I asked Scott what he had to do to restore it and he said that he found it just the way it is! Amazing!

One of my favorite parts of the Garrett House was the kitchen. A different vibe from the rest of the house, the kitchen looks like it came straight out of a home design catalog, except the difference here? It’s authentic.  Scott told me that the crew working on the kitchen found the original hearth hidden behind a wall.  The discovery was a bit of a surprise, but Scott used it to his advantage, transforming the kitchen into a masonry-meets-wood, work of art.

I know that Steubenville isn’t on the main drag or somewhere you find yourself in many times a year, but Scott just might have me convinced it’s worth a special drive. He has convinced others.  He has regular guests that come to visit him often, traveling from across the country.  He even had a guest bring him an antique item to add to the inn because she felt it was “just what he needed.” . After stopping at Scott’s, I ventured down Rt. 7 to St. Clairsville. I was sharing with the front desk team my visit to Scott’s property and a woman there said, “isn’t what he’s doing amazing? He has restored so many places in the Steubenville community!” A friend of ours living in Columbus, but from Weirton, WV commented upon hearing of my visit, “the historic district of Steubenville is beautiful. I hear there’s a guy there that restores some of the old houses.”  For the small town of Steubenville, Scott is creating quite a reputation for it’s old Victorian homes. Next time you’re headed to the Ohio Valley or the Pittsburgh International Airport  stop by and stay a while – I guarantee you will be just as amazed as me.

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

 

New York, New York

As you know, TJ and I recently embarked on our first European adventure – my first time to Europe and TJ’s first time crossing the pond, we were definitely in for the ride of our lives.  Before we set our sights on Venice, Italy, our first stop on our trip, we spent two full days in New York City, exploring and eating our way around Manhattan.  I love NYC.  I know many people who say they tried it and didn’t like it or even crazier people who say they have no interest in going.  I find that sad, because NYC really is a great place to visit and each time I go, I find something new to discover.  A few years ago, I took TJ to NYC for his birthday – his first trip to the Big Apple.  And he fell inn love.  Of our entire itinerary for our anniversary trip – he only had one request, “can we spend time in New York?” If you haven’t been or you are planning to go soon, take some of our tips here- from hotels, to food (!) to Broadway.

On our first day in NYC, we had an early morning goal in mind – get to DO.  I certainly hope you know what I’m talking about, but I suppose there is a chance you don’t…if you’ve been living under a rock!  NYC recently acquired a new store that has all the bloggers, news channels and TV stations talking. DO is a raw cookie dough store located in Chelsea.  I’ve been keeping my eye on DO for a while, because one of my college classmates is its founder.  We arrived in Chelsea and were confronted with quite a line.  Sadly, it was topping out at 18 degrees and this line was certainly 30 minutes long.  But that’s OK, because I love dessert and I’m only in NYC every few years!  The line moved pretty quickly despite the chill in the morning air and we were rewarded by a fabulous prize – heaping scoops of edible, safe raw cookie dough in all kinds of flavors.  The store itself is BEAUTIFUL – full of bright colors, smiling faces and the sweet sweet smell of sugar. I tried the Cookie DO Sandwich – raw cookie dough packed tight with ice cream. TJ went old school with cake batter dough Both were out of this world and both products were fit for travel, so we took our DO out the door and headed to South Street Seaport. We were destined for the Tkts Tkts booth to find a pair of tickets for TJ’s first Broadway show where we scooped up two tickets to School of Rock.  We rounded out the trip of Manhattan with a quick self-guided tour of the World Trade Center memorial.  Every time I’ve been, it’s been in different stages of completion, so it was nice to finally see the nearly finished product.

You know one of the best things about NYC?  Your step count.  After hours of walking and miles of steps, we finally were ready for dinner.  Last time we visited NYC, we literally stumbled upon a restaurant called the Bluebell Cafe.  I remember it was pouring, pouring down rain and we quickly ducked into the first place we found.  Fortunately for us, it became one of our favorite NYC restaurants. We had a fantastic dinner and finished it off with a signature dessert- Red Velvet cake.

The next day we were set on two things – great brunch and Broadway.  We found a fantastic breakfast place called Meme.  The menu offers up Mediterranean breakfast specialties including a breakfast taco which was one of our favorites. With full bellies – we were ready for TJ’s Broadway debut.  We found our way to the Winter Theater and settled in for the best Broadway show I’ve seen. If you haven’t seen School of Rock, I don’t care how old you are, it is one of the best shows you will ever see. The music is lively and makes you want to dance and the talent of the children is inspiring. After the show, we made our way to one more meal before we headed to the airport. We specifically searched for best NYC burgers (the list was endless) and found a great spot called Dutch Fred’s.  I had a lavender (!) beer and a bison burger and TJ went with the traditional beef.  For a Sunday night, late, this place was hopping!

But before we leave the States, what would an InnLove post be without the skinny on a fab NYC hotel?  Which let me just tell you, was one of my best NYC hotel experiences.  We were staying at the Algonquin, one of Manhattan’s oldest, most famous hotels. The Algonquin opened in 1902 and quickly became a writer’s haven.  Now, it is operated as an Autograph Collection by Marriott, but still has the boutique, artistic flare of a place frequented by the Algonquin Roundtable:

My favorite feature of the Algonquin is the resident cat – Matilda.  She finally came out for some pets on our way to the airport!

And with some final pets and the flash of that NYC Yellow Cab at the door, we were off to Europe. For two weeks of fun, food and wine…And, we’re off to Venice…

 

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

New Kid on the Block

Trendy New Lodging in Greater Cincinnati

Feeling Refined @ Hotel Covington

I’m back!  First a quick shout out to my fantastic guest bloggers – my very own parents, Jack & Linda, and fellow OHLAer, Christi.  When you surround yourself with other people that love travel, it’s never an issue finding people that want to share their experiences when you’re out discovering the world!  In the next few posts I’ll be scattering amazing photos and stories from our anniversary trip to Europe among posts from around our great state.  To kick off my return, I want to share with you one of my favorite new hotels.  Sadly, it isn’t in Ohio, but it’s so close you can smell the bourbon wafting from its bar, you can feel the luxurious furs adorning its lobby and rooms and you can see the sparkle across the river, glittering from the chandeliers…I present to you the fabulous Hotel Covington located just across the river, within Greater Cincinnati in the town of Covington, KY.

Trendy New Boutique Lodging in Greater CincinnatiThe Hotel Covington is an example of my favorite type of hotel formula – historic space with luxury, modern amenities. If you haven’t been, downtown Covington,  has lots of great old buildings and the Hotel Covington is no exception. This building was the state’s first modern skyscraper and high-end department store.  If you didn’t know this going into the lobby you might have had an inkling – you’ll find touches of the past swept into the decor, including my favorite – a blinged-out manikin bust is the main focus of a floating wall full of fashion related knick-knacks, dividing the front desk area and the lounge.

If you’re like me, as soon as you’ve see sparkly things your eyes start to wonder, looking for more.  The public space is full of reminders of luxury – from the furs draping chairs and window seats to the immaculate lighting fixtures throughout the lobby and dining areas.  The bar sits dominantly in the center of the first floor, wrapped in dark woods with shining bottles of bourbon lining its shelves.  One of my favorite pieces on the entire first floor is the ode to our region, penned by Kentucky native, Jesse Stuart,

“If these United States are to be considered a body, then Ohio would be its Heart and Kentucky its Soul.”

Trendy New Boutique Lodging in Greater Cincinnati

 

 

So let’s step into the elevator and head upstairs, because the guestrooms are just as impressive.  I opened my door and the first thing I noticed was the floor. It’s not too often you’re greeted with

Trendy New Boutique Lodging in Greater Cincinnati

such fantastic entry flooring in a hotel room. The room was decorated in rich blues, grays and tans.  I was INN LOVE. At this point, it has been a very long day, and all I wanted to do was curl up in that amazing looking bed, but there were so many intricate details, I couldn’t close my eyes now!  The trash can was gold and looked like a

Trendy New Boutique Lodging in Greater Cincinnati

shopping bag; the shelves were lined with interesting local books and games; the hangers (!) had cute phrases like “simply lovely” and “hello handsome.”  I headed to the bathroom and was greeted by one of my favorite pieces of bathroom art (pictured below)- right up there with the wet dog photo at the Kimpton Schoefield in Cleveland. This piece is a picture of Cincinnati’s Roebling Suspension Bridge and it reads, “Sorry, Brooklyn, I was first.” (John Roebling built Cincinnati’s Roebling Suspension Bridge in 1866 making it the time’s longest suspension bridge, which came almost 20 years before his son built the nearly structurally identical Brooklyn Bridge.)

I wish on this particular trip I would’ve had more time to check out some of my favorites nearby Hotel Covington – the famous Mac n’ Cheese at Keystone Bar & Grill or a sip of that fine Kentucky spirit at the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar. But I guess this just means… I’ll have to go back!

Trendy New Boutique Lodging in Greater Cincinnati

 “People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

 

 

What’s in a Brand? Doubling Down

Understanding the Hilton family of Brands - DoubleTrees & Ohio Lodging

Have you ever thought to yourself while traveling – “ooohhh, this is a…{insert brand here} Hilton?!”  Sometimes I take for granted my vast and probably useless knowledge of hotel brands and families. If you’ve jumped on the brand loyalty programs, you probably have a better knowledge of the different brands within, say, Hilton, ChoiceIHG or Marriott (now includes Starwood!), but I’m surprised sometimes how little the consumer understands about a family of brands, so let’s talk about it!

In the past week(ish) I have spent 3 days in 2 DoubleTrees by Hilton.  It was in that time that I realized – these two hotels are both vastly different from each other. Don’t get me wrong, one of the benefits of a brand is the consistency a consumer can expect in service and quality. But it’s kind of cool when they’re unique, ya know?  Granted, that isn’t for everyone. I know some people that travel a lot like to feel like they’re “home” and the layout, rooms, etc., are identical from city to city. Don’t worry, Hilton has a brand for that too!

The first time I specifically realized I was at a DoubleTree I was a kid. This particular visit was in Nashville. The hotel there has a strange entrance.  If I remember correctly, you come in at street level, but need to go up a floor to get to the lobby. I walked up to the desk to check in with my dad.  After the check-in process, the front desk associate leaned over  and handed me a warm, delicious-smelling paper bag.  I was confused at first, but then it hit me! I looked at my dad and said, “Dad!  They do this at the Hotel Roanoke!” To which my dad, the wise traveler he is, said, “Yes sweetie, that’s because it’s a DoubleTree.”  This was my ah-ha moment whenI realized, at a young age, that not all hotels are equal. It didn’t look like the Hotel Roanoke, it didn’t feel like the Hotel Roanoke, but it sure smelled like the Hotel Roanoke – warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies at check-in – the signature DoubleTree move.

Fast forward to my life in the industry and now I understand a bit more about families of brands.  What I like about the DoubleTree brand is it used to be the solution for independent or unique properties that sought out a flagship.  And when it isn’t a branded, former independent hotel, they’re still unique. I learned recently that DoubleTree is the “conversion” brand for Hilton and this is why they are rarely alike.  Hilton will often convert and renovate a property and make it a DoubleTree. That explains a lot!

In Cleveland, I stayed at a massive DoubleTree with lots of event space.  There were standbys of the

Understanding the Hilton family of Brands - DoubleTrees & Ohio Lodging

SweatSesh @ DoubleTree CLE Beachwood

brand- nice gyms (my favorite treadmill made an appearance!) , the chocolate chip cookies and service Hilton stands behind.  But this hotel had a really cool copper (looking, at least) wall in the lobby dividing the lounge space from the hallways.  The restaurant, The Sanctuary, featured a fireplace and great, cozy seating. The following week, I spent two days back-to-back at a DoubleTree in Columbus.  The cookies and service were there, but not the copper wall! Instead, the wall separating the front desk from the atrium was a water feature.  This hotel lobby is enormously different

Understanding the Hilton family of Brands - DoubleTrees & Ohio Lodging

Bringing the Outside In @ DoubleTree Cbus Worthington

than the first, with a large elevated seating area in the middle of the hotel surrounded by big beautiful trees, making you feel like you’re outside. Both properties featured expansive courtyards, but on these particular days, I was avoiding a

typical Ohio-winter day.  These two properties had minor differences, despite the name, but some DoubleTrees have more noticeable uniqueness.

I wrote about the Hotel Roanoke a few months ago – it started as an independent, historic property and became a DoubleTree when I was a kid.  Eventually it dropped the DoubleTree flag, made a brief stint as an independent hotel again and eventually picked up the new Hilton boutique brand – Curio.  Some unique hotels, however, still rock the DoubleTree name, such as the historic Tudor Arms in Cleveland.  I haven’t had the chance yet to visit the Tudor Arms, but look forward to the opportunity – stay tuned!

If you’re still not sure what counts as a Hilton, check out their website to spot some of your favorites.  Here are some of mine: Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, DoubleTree, Hilton Garden Inn, & Curio, and I can’t wait to see the new Tapestry brand!

Understanding the Hilton family of Brands - DoubleTrees & Ohio Lodging

 “People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

California Dreamin’ Part I

California Dreamin - Great lodging, Wine Country and San Francisco

Alcatraz Island – San Francisco, CA

2017! What do you have in store for me this year?  2016 was amazing.  I got to wrap up 2016 with a fabulous trip that I eluded to in my last post.  It was 4 years since I was last in Napa, California.  It was also 6 months after college graduation, so I was on a post-college budget – which isn’t the best way to do California.  TJ and I were able to maximize our time there and we absolutely fell INN LOVE with San Francisco and Napa Valley.  This post is so jam-packed and loaded with pictures (and food) that we’re doing it in two weeks. Our trip started in San Francisco, so let’s go!

United takes flight with something fresh!

United takes flight with something fresh!

I’m not lying when I say I love to fly. It’s a cool experience. Of course, TSA and terrorists have made it less fun, but it’s always nice when an airline can find a way to WOW you.  I don’t fly United often (Cincinnati was a Delta hub and my new Sister-in-Law, Tracy, flies for Southwest), so maybe this isn’t new to all of you, but they really upgraded these in-flight snacks!  I could have eaten an entire box of these babies.  Apparently, they’re from the Netherlands. GENIUS. The lady told me to let it sit on top of my steaming tea for a few minutes and the insides MELTED.

California Dreamin - Great lodging, Wine Country and San Francisco

UBER Cool – San Francisco, CA

Also amazing was what happened when we got to the airport. OK, when we were leaving. We grab an Uber (not as easy as it should have been, mind you) and the Uber app asks TJ to play in their game. If you didn’t know, Uber started in San Francisco which is a hotbed of technology experts.  While riding in the comfort of your Uber car, they set up this program – if you can “hack” their code, they’ll give you a job! In theory, anyway…. BUT, as we quickly discovered, TJ isn’t a hacker and failed the aspiring-Uber-programmer test. So, moving on…

We finally arrived at our hotel.  We were so fortunate for the chance to stay at the Fairmont San Francisco.  This hotel is ancient and magnificent. Built in 1907, it has withstood earthquakes, fires and significant political & celebrity moments including the drafting of the United Nations Charter. With the history comes the class. The property exudes luxury from the doormen to the décor.  The concierge (yes, they still have those AND she was a Les Clef

California Dreamin - Great lodging, Wine Country and San Francisco

Nob Hill Cafe – San Francisco, CA

d’Or concierge!) pointed us to a “quaint Italian place” around the corner – Nob Hill Café. I was skeptical of the suggestion because she said there wasn’t a lot within an easy walk (it was pouring down rain) but, oh! was it fantastic.  We were able to snag a table in a little window for some hand crafted pizza and salads.

That night, I had the opportunity to take a peak into the lives of the rich and famous. Our party was in the Penthouse at the Fairmont SF. I must say, I will probably never have the chance to return. This room rents for $25,000 a night, I’m told, so it probably won’t be part of our next trip.  (You must check out the Visual Adventure Gallery to see these pics!) Other than the view from the patio, the coolest part of the penthouse is the hidden staircase.  I was caught taking pictures and escorted to the “secret” room.  Rumor has it that JFK snuck Marilyn Monroe out this secret door for a bottle of wine, unbeknownst to the Secret Service keeping watch.  The door itself is sealed off now, but you can still find the secret doorway in the bookshelves!

California Dreamin - Great lodging, Wine Country and San Francisco

Secrets at the Penthouse @ Fairmont San Francisco

Before our last night at the Fairmont SF, we visited the iconic Tonga Room for one of their famous Mai Tais.  I don’t drink a lot of cocktails, but let’s just say, it’s probably best I only had one of these bad boys. Whoooie! It was strong! If you haven’t visited or read about the Tonga Room, it rains inside. You should check it out!

When planning this trip, I had one place I wanted to make sure we saw – Alcatraz Island. I heard mixed reviews, we shouldn’t do it, we should, only if it’s nice out, blah blah blah. But guys, I’m fascinated with Alcatraz and the story of prisoners there.  We were lucky it was 62 and sunny on the December afternoon that we set sail for the island.  Did you know Native Americans inhabited the island after it closed?! I had no idea! You can find signs of this all over the island if you look closely. One of my favorite parts was the Agave Trail (the picture at the top of the post!).  Great views and less tourists. Originally, the Agave was planted to prevent erosion, beautify “the Rock” and specifically chosen because of it’s sharp edges to help discourage escape. While we were touring the penitentiary,we were treated to an unlocking ceremony of the doors, even with all the lights and the tourists around, it was pretty eerie. Check out the video (and make sure your volume is up for full effect!)

I know you’re wondering – “Halle. What is this? Did you not eat while you were in San Francisco – a food mecca?!”  Don’t you worry. We sure did! But, I was there for a conference, so a lot of my meals were provided.  Of course, we found opportunities to eat and I’ve got a list of them for you! As with any major city, it can be really tricky to figure out where to eat. If you’re planning a trip to SanFran anytime soon, in addition to those mentioned above, here are some great places we discovered to help you narrow down the options. OK, maybe we did eat a lot…

Aliment (Lower Nob Hill) – neighborhood restaurant featuring a seasonal menu with local ingredients.

California Dreamin - Great lodging, Wine Country and San Francisco

Hillstone – San Francisco, CA

Top of the Mark (Nob Hill @ InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel San Francisco) – Go here for a drink on top of the world. Ascend to the 19th floor for dizzying views, great cocktails and if you’re lucky, an awesome Motown Band (like when we were there!!)

Restaurant LuLu (South of Market) – set in a super cool converted 1910 warehouse, offering seasonal Provencal fare.

Hillstone (Embarcadero) – best choice near Pier 33. There are not a lot of dining options down by the piers. This is an upscale chain, but THAT BURGER. YUM.

Rogue Ales Public House (Russian Hill) – Rogue community hall – TJ likes their beer.

1st Amendment Inc. (South of Market) – Also a brewery, TJ recommends visiting for a great brew and good food.

Barrell Head Brewhouse (North of the Panhandle) – NOM. NOM. NOM. ‘Nuff said.

The first half of our trip was mostly business and kind of a whirlwind. That’s OK though, because the back end was all wine and relaxation.

California Dreamin - Great lodging, Wine Country and San Francisco

Alcatraz Island – San Francisco, CA

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

Pit Stops – What’s in My Backyard?

Visit this Columbus Landmark, an Historic Hotel of America

Something old, something new @ The Westin Columbus

Sometimes we take for granted what our own backyard has to offer. That’s part of why Staycations have become so popular! In last week’s post, you learned I’ve had a lot of backyards, but this week, we focus on three in our semi-regular “Pit Stops” edition.  Someone said to me this week, “you get around!” I used to take that as an insult, but now I know it means my blog gets around! You might be shocked where I’ve pulled out my laptop to write to you from, or where others have. Just wait until you see where Christi was this week!

But until then, let’s check out some of the neat things going on around Columbus & Greater Cincinnati. I visited all three of these places in the past week. We’ve got a little of the new, a little of the old and a whole lot of Buckeye. That’s right, I said it…

The Blackwell Hotel & Pfahl Conference Center – Columbus, OH 

Buckeye Fans Unite @ this Luxury Lodging in the Heart of Columbus

The Preferred Life @ The Blackwell Hotel & Pfahl Conference Center

“Halle, is that The Shoe? How’d you get that view?!” you might ask.  That’s a Stadium View Suite at The Blackwell Hotel & Pfahl Conference Center! The Blackwell Hotel is located in the heart of campus. As a member of the Preferred Hotel Group family, I was familiar with The Blackwell because of my time at a Preferred sister property, The Cincinnatian, but I hadn’t spent much time there until I moved to Columbus. The Blackwell is very popular for meetings. The Pfahl Conference Center is beautifully appointed and very well laid out for us

Buckeye Fans Unite @ this Luxury Lodging in the Heart of Columbus

The Preferred Life @ The Blackwell Hotel & Pfahl Conference Center

meeting planners. And to top it off, the food here is inventive and delicious.  When you’re a meeting attendee, the grand staircase and open lobby floorplan really makes for an impressive entrance if using the hotel meeting space.  If you’re in the neighboring Pfahl Conference Center, you’ll notice scarlet & gray touches throughout the hallways.  The Blackwell has been gracious enough to host me twice in the past few months for different events.

Buckeye Fans Unite @ this Luxury Lodging in the Heart of Columbus

Art and All Things Nice @ The Blackwell Hotel

Every time the food was something to remember and the service was impeccable. These factors aren’t a surprise though, Preferred Hotel Group sets a high standard.  The Blackwell is an independent hotel, but by being a part of Preferred Hotel Group, they have some backing and support for marketing and sales efforts.

Buckeye Fans Unite @ this Luxury Lodging in the Heart of Columbus

The Preferred Life @ The Blackwell Hotel & Pfahl Conference Center

Although I’ve visited as a meeting attendee a number of times, until this week, I haven’t had a chance to see the sleeping rooms.  The good news is, when you’re an independent property, you can make some fun additions to your room package.  You’re in the heart of OSU’s campus, why wouldn’t you want the ‘O’ to guide you at night? I’m told the hotel will undergo a major room renovation in upcoming years, but in the meantime you can rest assured a visit of luxury and style.

If they’re in your backyard too and you haven’t had a chance to visit, consider stopping by for lunch at The Bistro 2110!

The Westin Columbus – Columbus, OH

Oh, my. Hopefully you’re quick to realize that I love food and historic hotels. You could ask me to spend a week at The Westin Columbus wandering around and I’d be a happy girl.  To be honest, I don’t get there enough.  I was jumping up and down, clapping in my office when I realized I had the chance to

Visit this Columbus Landmark, an Historic Hotel of America

Luncheon of Champions @ The Westin Columbus

visit The Westin this past week for a luncheon.  Why? THAT BALLROOM.  What a dream, to get married in The Westin Ballroom.  Sadly, that dream has passed for me (my band and guest list were too big!), so I take every opportunity to visit it. In the spirit of all things delicious, we find ourselves at yet another

culinary experience.  You will never receive “banquet chicken” at The Westin.  Our table was seasonally dressed to impress and the menu followed accordingly.  After our luncheon was over I asked for a quick room tour.  Luckily, I was led into a complete surprise. I stayed at the Westin well over 5 years ago, so what I thought I was about to see was completely wrong.  The Westin recently began the process of transforming, and I mean transforming, the sleeping room package. When you have an historic hotel, trust me, I’ve worked in two, it can be very difficult to do a remodel. How do you move modern without upsetting the historic charm enthusiasts?  They nailed it. Picture this. You walk into one of the oldest hotels in the state.  From the outside, you aren’t sure what to expect. It’s simple and timeless building that leaves much to the imagination. All I can assume is that what stands on the other side of the doors is dignified. But is it old, or is it new? The lobby, a three story marble room with arching reception area and a chandelier the size of Texas, greets you. The staff is waiting to assist you at every turn.  There are hints of contemporary – a living wall, modern artwork.  You ascend the elevator. The doors open.  The carpet is new. Brand spankin’… This could be a ploy. You open your door and BAM! Never would have expected it. Somehow, the team at The Westin has managed to pull off a feat. Incorporating modern luxury into a (nearly!) 120 year old frame. Just look at it!

Visit this Columbus Landmark, an Historic Hotel of America

Visit this Columbus Landmark, an Historic Hotel of America

Visit this Columbus Landmark, an Historic Hotel of America

Visit this Columbus Landmark, an Historic Hotel of America

But seriously, if you haven’t been to The Westin Columbus recently, stop by and check it out!

Hotel Covington – Covington, KY

Visiting Greater Cincinnati? Check out what's on the other side

Chic as Chic Gets @ Hotel Covington

Yep, I get around!  I’ve been waiting for a chance to check out the new Hotel Covington.

Visiting Greater Cincinnati? Check out what's on the other side

Chic as Chic Gets @ Hotel Covington

If you didn’t know, this little gem is located just across the river from downtown Cincinnati.  The Hotel is still finishing up construction, but I needed to see the public space. I’ve read so many articles about it!

The building itself was originally the home of John Coppin’s department store. Located on Madison Ave, it was in the heart of it all. The style of the hotel mimics the

Visiting Greater Cincinnati? Check out what's on the other side

Chic as Chic Gets @ Hotel Covington

buildings history- dripping in lux modern and fashion whimsy, the lobby is

breathtaking. Virtually the entire first floor is enclosed in windows. When you walk inside, you feel like your part of the display case. The stylish lounge chairs and banquets are lined with fur blankets and sparkling pillows. The bar sits in the middle of the lobby, tempting you for an afternoon drink.  Although I was visiting on a Tuesday afternoon, I would bet this place draws the locals and the visitors to the lobby bar nightly.  Stopping by for a drink or listening to some live acoustic, you will be transported to another time and another place. I cannot wait to go back to stay!

And with that, I leave you with some hot spots in my backyard. What’s in yours?

Visiting Greater Cincinnati? Check out what's on the other side

The View @ Covington, KY

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

An Adventure for Your Mouth

Ohio Best Kept Secrets

BEST ICE CREAM EVER @ The Dairy – Mt. Vernon, OH

I like food.

OK, you probably already knew that. A few weeks ago, a friend asked me what my favorite restaurant of all time is.  I panicked.  I actually broke a sweat and I’m pretty sure my heart started racing. What a question! My favorite restaurant? Of ALL TIME? Like, I only get to choose one?  Yikes. So this got me thinking. Fortunately, I’ve been to a lot of restaurants in a lot of places. Why not post about it?  After all, an excellent dining experience is like an adventure… for your mouth!

So let’s get started.  I did have to give my friend an answer, so I’ll give you one too. But, I do live in Ohio, and since I frequent the cities here the most, I’ll also tell you my favorite places in the Three C’s. If you’ve been there too, let me know. Have another place I should try? Share away!!

My first home – Cleveland (sort of… you get the picture)

This is a new favorite of mine and I’ve only been twice.  We’ve all heard of it, or at least the mastermind behind it. Lola (Michael Symon’s restaurant!). It’s located in the East 4th Street entertainment district. First of all, if you haven’t been there, shame on you.  Cleveland has done wonders to transform its social scene over the past few years and this area is the heart of it all. Lola is located on a small section of a pedestrian only street.  This is fine dining, folks. They welcome you in your game attire, but let’s not make a habit of it.  The service is impeccable and the food, top notch. The first time I visited Lola I was by myself. I took some study materials as I was teaching a class the following weekend. NOT RECOMMENDED. It’s hard to concentrate with good wine and low lighting.  Luckily, my food was out in minutes and it was phenomenal.  A sweet corn gnocchi. ‘Nuff said. The second time we visited, the item that stood out the most were the pierogies on the appetizer menu. I married a Pole, so I am required to like pierogies, but these were delicious. Better than any pierogi I’ve ever had – stuffed with beef cheek and mushrooms. YOWZA.

My second home – Cincinnati

Cincinnati has one of the best culinary scenes in the state. My guess is, this is the work of the chefs that led the iconic Maisonette – for the longest time, North America’s highest rated restaurant in our very own state of Ohio. One of its last chef’s Jean Robert de Cheval is still in Cincinnati, perfecting his skills as the owner of The Table. Since, many other great chefs have hit the ground running in Cincinnati and I was fortunate enough to indulge in their epicurean masterpieces for 7 years. Since its fall in 2005, the Maisonette building has at least been resurrected and thank God, not by apartments or a law firm or something boring like that, but a fabulous restaurant that also ranks high on my list of favorites – Boca. The atmosphere is one of my favorites of all time. You just have to go, people. I can’t tell you anything more.

A number of Cincinnati’s chefs have won awards, been on TV and more. But one chef in particular stands out in my mind – Jose Salazar. Everything he creates is amazing. He opened his namesake restaurant, Salazar, almost three years ago.  It is still, by far, my top pick when returning to the Queen City. Jose was nominated and a semifinalist for the 2016 James Beard Award. The restaurant is small and bustling.  Most nights, good luck getting a table. The menu is always changing and I could choose

Best Craft Cocktails in Cincinnati, OH by Mixologist, Andrew Rettig

The Best Cocktail. Ever. @ Salazar – Cincinnati, OH

something blindfolded and not be disappointed. Jose recently opened a second restaurant a few blocks south, Mita’s, named after his grandmother.  This restaurant has distinct Latin flair, but one thing you

can expect no matter which of his restaurants you choose – the food will be amazing, the drinks all handcrafted and beautiful, the service will be impeccable and he will be there, expediting in the kitchen. I swear the man lives at his restaurants, but it’s that love that shines through in everything he does.  If you haven’t been to either of these places, add them to your bucket list. You will not be disappointed.

My home – Columbus

This is a tough one. And I’m a tough critic.  As you can probably tell, I have high food and service standards.  I also do not believe in not taking reservations.  No place that doesn’t take reservations is so good it’s worth an hour or month long wait. Sorry.  There are too many excellent restaurants I’d rather go to that respect my time. In Columbus, this happens more than it should. Luckily, I have some favorites lined up for you (all take reservations!) and one in particular that you probably haven’t been to before! Because, heaven forbid, it isn’t in one of the Columbus entertainment districts.

Columbus is different than Cincinnati in that it has a lot of GREAT, bistro type restaurants. Restaurants that specialize in one thing or another.  Cincinnati on the other hand, has a handful of excellent, hands down best freaking restaurant, fine dining experiences you’ll find. Good news! I can afford more of the quick stops in Columbus.  Some of our standbys are Marcella’s (or anything Cameron Mitchell, really), Wolf’s Ridge Brewing (the brunch… oh, my…) and Hubbard Grille (Gorgonzola & Walnut Gnocchi – every. time.). We also love to brunch, so if you serve breakfast too… and before 11AM? SOLD.

This leads me to my favorite restaurant, situated on a busy little corner in Powell, OH – Kraft House No. 5 (KH5). KH5 was an accidental discovery. See, there’s this winery. It stole my heart. We go there A LOT. I don’t even drink that much, people, but set me up with a bottle of Jeff & Gina’s wine at Powell Village

Winery and I’m set… for life.  (The picture below is one for the history books. Who thought we could sit on the patio — without a fire and a coat — the last weekend in October?!) If you’re going to try KH5, you need to make this part of your trip. Great news, Powell is small. Park your car at one place or the other and you can easily walk between the two. Anyway, we’re here for food. KH5 has so many good things, it’s hard to pick out what to discuss. Here’s what you have to try: KH5 Burger, Muscles & Fries, and

Brunching in Columbus

Chicken & Waffles @ Kraft House No. 5 – Powell, OH

seasonally, if they have it, this quinoa, lima bean salad thing on the menu with skirt steak. MUST TRY. One of my favorite dishes at KH5 comes after the savory.  There is this dessert, that is mind blowing – their S’mores Creme Brulee. It’s seasonal. But when it’s there, they’re in trouble. It goes so fast. We actually went there once (for my birthday, of course) and it was gone. Ask when you get there if they have it and make that server hold it for you!!! OK, so I mentioned brunch. it’s important.  TJ and his man friends swear by KH5 brunch. Not only do they serve excellent craft beer, but look at the Chicken & Waffles!  If you plan it right, you might catch them on a Distillery Tasting morning. Gin and Breakfast?

OK, OK.  At this point if you haven’t already abandoned this post to find something to eat then you’re probably thinking, “And none of these are your all time favorite?” You’re right. They’re not.

How does a girl choose her all time favorite restaurant? Is it somewhere I frequent? Somewhere where I can always name my favorite entree or dessert? No. For me, it was somewhere that I always tell people to go. I’ve actually only been there twice. My first experience was so impactful that when I think about my first visit, it makes me smile.  Does this restaurant know how it makes me feel? Probably not.  Could it be skewed because of the time in my life that I found it? Maybe. But either way, I know if you go, it’ll make you happy too, or at least your belly.

My one-time home! – Charleston, SC

Slightly North of Broad (S.N.O.B.)

There! I said it!  That’s it. Kind of a funny name, right? Or at least its nickname is. Guys. This place is magical.  If you’ve ever traveled by yourself, you know what it’s like to eat alone. Sometimes it’s hard.  A restaurant quickly moves to the top of my list when they cater to solo diners. So here’s the story –

I lived in Charleston, SC for 4 months.  I was still in college and I was on the last week of an internship. My roommate had left a month ago. I was so homesick. I wanted to go home so bad. Don’t get me wrong, Charleston is my favorite city in the US, it wasn’t Charleston’s fault. I missed my family, friends, my boyfriend.  I decided I would treat myself that last week to what our hotel told people was one of the best low country dining experiences you could find.

I had a reservation, so they knew I was a loner, but I always find it hard to admit “it’s just me” when at a restaurant.  This is the moment of truth, folks. Where do they seat you? It’s the make or break of the experience. The hostess smiled at me and said, “would you like a regular table or would you like to sit at the community table overlooking the kitchen?” WHAT?! You mean, I get to watch the crew without paying for a chef’s table? You’re rewarding me for being alone?! (Well, that’s probably not what she was thinking, but whatever). I almost squealed at the opportunity.

This table overlooks the kitchen and had neat little stacks of books about Charleston. I flipped through

Best Low Country Fine Dining in Charleston, SC

My Favorite Restaurant of All Time – Slightly North of Broad (S.N.O.B) – Charleston, SC

some of them, but was immediately interrupted by a member of the kitchen staff who wanted to see how my evening was going.

This was at least 6 years ago, so I do not remember what I ate. I know, I wish I had a memory that good. But, I’m in the service industry, and that is what stood out to me the most. It’s why it’s my favorite restaurant. They took better care of a solo, not-yet-of-age diner with a very low bill than they would a royal family. It meant so much to me. Over the course of my dinner, multiple members of the kitchen staff stopped by to talk to me.  I left and quickly returned on my next trip to Charleston one year later with my friend, Sam (the same one that asked what my favorite restaurant is!).  This time, I know exactly what I had. My favorite was a Pork Belly appetizer that was the perfect balance of sweet and salty.  The wine was exceptional.  Needless to say, the service paid off, and this time, my tab wasn’t so low!

If you’re ever in the low country, make a stop at S.N.O.B. I hope that it gives you the same feeling it gave me.

And with that – I hope you can discover some great epicurean adventures and share them with me!

Best Local Winery in Ohio!

Wine. @ Powell Village Winery

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck