Sunday, March 30, 2008

Flight of Fancy

Flying into the airstrip at Fredericksburg, Texas, is like flying back to the 1940s. Dick Estenson has created a little fantasy world with all the modern conveniences. No, that's not a hangar -- that's the Hangar Hotel. And next door is the Diner. Through the diner is a great conference space decorated with a 40s-style movie marquee and a mural of a plane landing. Entrances to two smaller meeting rooms are through quonset hut facades. In another part of the building is a nightclub that would have been right at home in the South Pacific -- they hold regular USO-type dances here. You don't have to fly in to enjoy the Hangar Hotel but what a great place to stay if you pilot a small plane. Or you can just sit in a rocking chair on the hotel's observation deck and watch the planes taking off and landing.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Cool Beans

When there's a gap in my google -- it's usually because I've been out of town. And I was. I just got back last night from a great five days in Fredericksburg, Texas. There's so much to write about but I have so much to catch up on! So just a quick note and a picture from Fredericksburg which inspired what's on my stove for tonight!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Brown Palace

I've discovered an interesting reaction when I mention the Brown Palace to someone else who's stayed there. They immediately begin to smile. It's a secret code. To stay at the Brown Palace is to love it. By today's standards, the outside is unprepossessing. However, it must have caused jaws to drop when it was built in 1892. Henry Brown built it in a field he'd used for grazing his cows. He spent the unheard of sum of $1.6 million on the building and another $400,000 on the furnishings. Glowing golden Mexican onyx dominated the lobby which was crowned eight stories above with a glorious stained glass ceiling. Lacy cast iron panels topped with a brass railing trimmed each balcony. Arches around the mezzanine held bulbs with metal floral reflectors mounted on hand-painted panels. And guess what -- all that beauty remains. For 116 years the lobby of the Brown Palace has signaled an elegant welcome to its guests.

Tours of the hotel are given each Wednesday and Saturday at 2:00 and provide a great way to see the sights and hear the stories of the hotel. Don't miss the antique silver water fountains which provide water from the hotel's own artesian well 750 feet beneath the hotel. All the hotel's water comes from this source. Antique silver pieces are on display by the entrance to the Palace Arms, the hotel's premier dining room. Inside, you'll also find a small private dining area, the Independence Room where chef's tastings and private parties are held. The wallpaper, created in 1834 in Alsace-Lorraine, is the same paper that hangs in the Diplomatic Receiving Room at the White House.

Every president since Theodore Roosevelt -- with the exception of Calvin Coolidge -- has stayed here. The three presidential suites honor Roosevelt, Reagan and Eisenhower. The Eisenhower suite is the largest. The first lady, Mamie Eisenhower, grew up in Denver and had family here so the Eisenhowers visited Denver often and stayed for weeks at a time.

For the town that's about to host its second Democratic National Convention (the first was in 1908) I was feeling a distinct Republican theme here. I was, however, taken to the Gold Room, an intimate and elegant meeting space, which once served as the Oval Office for President Clinton. I didn't ask if he made use of the Churchill Room -- the hotel's cigar bar!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Tea Party

I just returned from Denver where I was a princess. It can happen to anyone staying at the Brown Palace Hotel. What a marvelous hotel -- one of America's great historic hostelries. My ultimate indulgence was the afternoon tea -- a 115-year tradition. Seated at a small marble-topped table in the lavish lobby, I pretended I was a Victorian lady (sans corset, thank you) as Catherine Rogers poured jasmine tea into my lovely Royal Doulton cup (shades of Hyacinth Bouquet!).

In the background, pianist John Kite provided a beautiful soundtrack of music from classical to romantic favorites from "Phantom of the Opera" and Rogers and Hammerstein (I'm not bothered by anachronisms in my fantasies). Next to my table, a group of girlfriends celebrated a birthday while at another table two young mothers enjoyed a relaxed moment.

This was my final memory of a memorable trip. I'm back in the real world -- not a princess here -- but it was fun while it lasted!

Photos: Tea included Devonshire cream and (clockwise around the plate from upper right) chicken salad with walnuts on honey wheat bread, watercress with tomato butter on brioche, sliced cucumbers with pesto sauce on sour dough, a nine-layer chocolate and mocha centennial cookie, a vanilla plum petit four, the Brown Palace's signature almond macaroon and, in the center, raspberry chocolate mousse tart and berry cheesecake.
Birthday party
A peek at a bit of the lobby -- John Kite at the piano.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Power of the Pen

I'm sure historians bemoan the use of email. Think of all the wonderful things we've learned about our ancestors from their letters. To our descendents, we won't even be a flash in the cybersphere! When I was at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, I found the most marvelous letter. It was a fan letter to Henry Ford reading "Ford has got ever (sic) other car skinned and even if my business hasn't been strickly (sic) legal it don't hurt eny (sic and more sic) to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8." And as one to whom a fast getaway was important, Clyde Barrow knew what he was talking about!

The Henry Ford Museum is full of interesting items -- not just car history -- including the bus that made Rosa Parks famous (or visa versa), George Washington's camp bed and the chair Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot. If you're anywhere near this great museum, do not miss it.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Gracious Host

I get to stay at a lot of great hotels in my travels but every once in a while I find a place that really stands out. The Saint Paul Hotel is the newest name on that list. I arrived late at night, tired after a two-hour flight delay then two-hour flight and I was cold -- my usual winter complaint. I opened the door to my room (an Ambassador Suite) and the knots in my neck began to loosen.

The room was suffused with a warm glow -- peach taffeta draperies with elegant valances with peach, blue and gold stripes brought a summer feel to the room and kept the cold outside. A beautiful basket of fruit and cheese sat on the coffee table -- plump, juicy strawberries, grapes, apples, oranges and brie and crackers. The temperature was perfect, the furnishings plush and comfy and I was definitely a happy camper! French doors led to the bedroom where a massive four-poster, plush with a goose down duvet and pillows, promised a great night's sleep.

Before I could go to sleep, I had to play photographer with the night scene outside my windows. Below, twinkle lights covered the trees in Rice Park like dew-spangled spider webs. The castle-like Landmark Center was just to my right and in the distance, St. Paul Cathedral sat majestically on a small rise.

The rest of my experiences in the hotel -- touring some of the other rooms, hearing about the history, dining in both of the restaurants -- only confirmed my opinion. The Saint Paul Hotel is a very special place. I can always count on a great stay in one of the members of Historic Hotels of America -- this was one of the best!