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Hotel We Love: Windsor Boutique Hotel, Asheville, NC

By Liza Weisstuch
January 12, 2022
Cozy bed room at Windsor Boutique Hotel
Courtesy Windsor Boutique Hotel
Southern hospitality lives in this rejuvenated circa-1907 building featuring posh suites with old-timey charm and modern amenities.

With its cozy lobby arranged with old-timey furniture and antique décor and lighting, the Windsor Boutique Hotel, in Asheville, NC, does a terrific job at making you feel like you’re not actually entering a hotel at all. It feels more like the sitting room in a private home, and with the staffers helming a wide wood desk, it’s clear that all the formalities of check-in have been swapped for a laid-back personalized welcome.  

THE STORY

The Windsor opened as apartments in 1907, but over the years, downtown became quite unsavory, and many buildings, including this one, fell into disrepair. But an investment firm bought it and undertook an historical renovation, keeping as much of its architectural detail intact, down to the banisters on the staircases. It opened as a hotel in 2013, restored it to its former glory. And with 14 rooms set up like apartment suites, it’s a glorious accommodation indeed.

THE QUARTERS

Each of the 14 rooms has its own unique décor that includes playful antiques. This being an old building, that aesthetic perfectly suites the original design elements, like dark, textured wood floor panels, soaring ceilings, tall windows, and brick walls. Bed sizes vary, ranging from a king, queen, and double queen. Each suite has a rain showerhead in the spacious shower, a sleeper-sofa in the living room, a washer and dryer, and a complete modern kitchen with a full-size stove, fridge, and microwave. Most also have a dishwasher.  

THE NEIGHBORHOOD 

The Windsor is smack in the middle of downtown Asheville, on the same block as various cafes, a Thai restaurant, clothing boutiques, and local amenities aplenty, like a hair salon. Chocolate Gems, which offers decadent handmade chocolates and gelato, is a few storefronts away. The hotel does not have its own parking, but street parking is available and there are several city garages nearby, including a new one on the block. There are two more within two blocks.

THE FOOD

The Windsor does not have a restaurant of its own, but there’s a small fridge in the lobby with complimentary soda, water, and snacks as well as both a Keurig and N’Espresso machine. Asheville is a popular destination for weekend getaways because it’s within hours drive from Charleston, Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, and more. With guests’ ride home in mind, on Sunday mornings the hotel offers pastries from The Rhu, a bakery/café offshoot of Rhubarb, a celebrated locally minded restaurant from James Beard nominated chef John Fleer.  

One of the many benefits of its downtown location is that you’re never more than a few footsteps from a great place to eat or drink. Across the street, for instance, is Social Lounge, which is known for its rooftop dining. It’s open until midnight during the week and 2PM on weekends. Just around the corner, about a four-minute walk away, Sovereign Remedies, which serves elevated comfort food (bone marrow tater tots, anyone) and mixes some of the best cocktails in the city, is open until 2AM nightly. With a kitchen open late, expect to find plenty of industry people there after midnight.

ALL THE REST

The hotel lobby is connected to Desirant, a boutique that sells all manner of Southern living essentials (and a number of non-essentials) in a vintage Parisian flea market setting. Browse jewelry and accessories, books, home goods, cards, clothes, local crafts, and a few antiques that the owners handpicked in France. Hotel guests get 10% off. 

In a nice touch that gives the rooms a local flavor, each is stocked with a bag of freshly ground coffee from Dynamite Roasters a few miles away in Black Mountain. 

RATES & DEETS

Starting at $200.

The Windsor Boutique Hotel  
36 Broadway
Asheville, NC 28801
(844) 494-6376 / windsorasheville.com

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Inspiration

Why I Jump in the North Atlantic on New Year's Day

It started, as most unlikely things do, with a great deal of hesitation. But it was the gut-instinct strain of hesitation, the kind that morphs into gusto, not the kind of reluctance that’s grounded in reason, which could make you think instead of act. It was four years ago at a New Year’s Eve party in Brooklyn at my friend’s house, we’ll call her Celeste. Her friend, we’ll call her Gretta, went home early because she was meeting her Cross Fit group in the morning to go to Coney Island for the annual Polar Bear Plunge. She wasn’t going to jump. She was going to join the thousands of onlookers whose respect—or schadenfreude, depending on their sensibility—was enough to draw them out of bed and to the chilly shore of the Atlantic on the one day it’s acceptable, if not endorsed, to sleep until noon. The Coney Island Polar Bear Club meets once a week to go swimming in the ocean when the weather gets cold. It was founded in 1903, but their big day is January 1. I wanted in. Was it too late to join Gretta's Cross Fit team? Absolutely not, she said. She’d meet me there at noon. Immediately after midnight, I said my farewells, and headed home to excavate my bathing suit from one box or another. I bought fleece-lined leggings at the 24-hour CVS on the way. I have never skydived, run a marathon, or been within spitting distance of a wild animal on a safari. I have never ridden on a motorcycle, set off a firework, or attended a Black Friday sale. I eat kale, workout a great deal, and I cross to the other side of the street when I see a discarded mattress on the sidewalk. I don’t jaywalk. I make it a priority to keep my body out of harm’s way. But despite Celeste’s objections, throwing myself in 33-degree ocean water on a 24-degree day did not seem like a peril, it seemed like an inevitability. Any of my friends will tell you that I hate summer. No, really. Getting overheated just by walking two blocks or roasting in the sun while lying in sand as a sport is simply not my thing. Sand is just a classy version of dirt, the way I see it. If I must go to the beach, I’ve always enjoyed the chilly waters along Maine’s rocky coast to tepid, mellow Caribbean waves. I was born in November and I have a theory that people who take their first breath when it’s cold outside have a natural proclivity for winter. Vice versa for summer babies. Not sure if my theory is right across populations, but it’s true for me. At the launch of 2018, I’ll head to the beach at the southernmost point of Brooklyn and throw myself into the frigid Atlantic. For the fifth time. Please don’t tell my mother. A WINTER TRIP TO THE BEACH, VIA SUBWAY There are 45 stops on the F train, which runs from the center of Queens through the island of Manhattan and then on to the southern tip of Brooklyn, culminating at the Coney Island station. Each January 1, as the train rolls through Manhattan and its eastern borough, people with varying combinations of layers (ski parkas and shorts, wetsuits and sweaters, lycra pants and knitted sweaters) trickle onto each car. Most carry oversized bags filled with blankets and towels. Some tinker with their Go-Pro. People appear one of the following ways: eyes-down with controlled anxiety; visibly panicked; wide-eyed and grinning; blissed out and at one. Sometimes strangers talk to each other. (“How many is this for you?” a first-timer asked me last year. “My fourth.” “Does it hurt?”) Coney Island is everything you imagine it looks like in vintage imagery. The Cyclone roller coaster, the Wonder Wheel, the spires of the old Luna Park are all visible as you approach. They are thrills on pause, as they’re all shuttered for the winter, reminders that Coney Island would be deserted any other winter day. The original Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand is one of the first things you see when you hit the boardwalk. Rather, the line is the first thing you’ll see, as people wait on a final jolt of fortification. Several ambulances are positioned in the parking lot, which took me by surprise my first time. I choose to ignore them. And, for whatever it’s worth, I’ve never seen them in action during or after the plunge. Each year, as I make my way through the crowd to register, it’s a dependable mix of hipsters, jocks (typically in sports team garb), burly men speaking Slavic languages or Russian, septuagenarians and even a few octogenarians, petite Asian women, women in mermaid regalia or Playboy bunny costumes posing with the aforementioned jocks and burly dudes, and the leather-jacket-clad Staten Island chapter of Hell’s Angels. Stern cops stand on, looking jaded. The Polar Bear Plunge is a fundraiser, but the first time you do it, it will likely be a bit of a revelation to learn the extent to which it is a thoroughly organized event. In the past the fundraising has been for Camp Sunshine, a facility in Maine for sick children and their families, but the cause changes occasionally. You wait in line to give your money (at least $25 is suggested), sign a waiver just in case, get a colored bracelet, then move along to the T-shirt station where you shout out your shirt size. I’ve learned that you need to be slightly aggressive. And hope I’m there in time to get one of the mediums. While on line everyone chats with one another, largely to psych each other up. PLUNGERS, TAKE YOUR MARKS A large banner indicates the jump time of each of the five colored wristbands. They’re spaced in 15-minute blocks. As the beach fills up, groups stake out their turf, spread blankets, and cluster together. Flasks are passed around. People strip down to bathing suits and take a deep breath, feeling the frigid air inside and out. Jubilant announcements come over a loudspeaker. A bona fide club member welcomes us invited interlopers, rattles off safety measures, and calls the green bracelets, the first group. They line up a few hundred feet from the water, surrounded by onlookers on both sides, cameras ready. A horn sounds and everyone runs down the beach, stampede-style. Some dally and wade to their ankles, their knees, their thighs, some charge in. I am not one to understand thermodynamics, but the reason I tell people this isn’t as drastic as a cold shower is because your skin is already cold. The temperature differential is not as dramatic. There is truly nothing like the sensation of lining up with fellow revelers and waiting for the horn. Having done it several times, I know exactly what to expect: the initial clash of giddiness and wariness, a flash of will-I-or-won’t-I. Reason tries to intrude, but it’s hushed by the buzz of the crowd. Cue: the adreneline-fueled fight-or-flight sensation, it’s do-or-die. The horn blows. Showtime. I go in slowly: ankles, knees, hips, deep breath, dunk. My group is nearby but I don’t hear them. The cracking shock that takes hold of my body is like a glacier’s icy embrace. Everything is scrambled, until it isn’t. Survival mode kicks in, reality returns, every cell in my body is working overtime, and a feeling of invincibility washes over me. This is what it is to be alive. People rush out of the water faster than they ran in. Strangers high-five one another. It’s a team victory. It’s a personal triumph. And as I dry off, all of a sudden, every one of my better-living resolutions for the New Year seems like a cakewalk. If nothing else, the plunge makes you understand that perspective matters. 

Inspiration

Hotel We Love: The Modern Hotel and Bar, Boise, ID

Over the last few years, Boise has become known as “Little Portland” for the independent-mindedness of its business owners, entrepreneurs, artists, and culinary types. Creative chefs prize local fare, stores feature items by local artisans and creators, and the JUMP Center, a massive sprawling incubator space opened by the Simplot family, known for their potato empire, sprawls at the edge of downtown. Though progressive, it cherishes its roots, its Basque traditions not least among them. In the 1930s is saw a wave of immigrants from the region and to this day it boasts the largest Basque population outside of Spain. The Modern Hotel and Bar taps into both the city’s lively, stylish vibe, but its origin is rooted in prized traditions. THE STORY The Modern, which is about a ten-minute walk from the heart of downtown Boise, opened in 2007. To hear owner Elizabeth Tullis tell it, the hotel business was, in a sense, her destiny. Her grandmother ran owned a boarding house in the 1930s after immigrating from Spain to Boise, which had –and continues to boast—the biggest Basque population outside of the region. Boarding houses dotted the city through the mid-1900s, as people would come from Basque country to do farming work for the season. These days, Boise boasts the biggest Basque population outside Europe. The Hotel is an overhauled Travel Lodge, one of the early motel franchises. The long, low-rise building, is classic motel architecture, with roadside-facing room entrances opening to an outdoor corridor. Most of the second-floor rooms are located along an inside hallway. THE QUARTERS The oversized, minimalist rooms are furnished with Midcentury Modern furniture, all sleek 1960s-style designs with crisp, clean lines. But that’s about all that’s throwback here. Each room features a large flatscreen TV (suites have two), and marble showers with both rain shower heads and a handheld. (Suites have a Japanese soaking tubs.) The suites feature a kitchen that’s compact yet complete, including cabinets and a full-size fridge. Mini fridges are available for the basic rooms on request. Elizabeth explains that not having refrigerators plugged in in every room curbs their carbon footprint. The minibar, features very rationally priced snacks and drinks (candy bars for $2.50, Pepperidge Farm cookies for $4.50, mineral water for $4), and toiletries like deodorant ($3) and a toothbrush kit ($5). There is no alcohol, and for good reason: if you don’t feel like going down to the bar for one of their exquisite cocktails, you can have it brought to your room.     In December, Elizabeth opened four fully-furnished and equipped extended-stay apartments across the way. There’s a studio, two one-bedrooms and one two-bedrooms, each of which is adorned with art from San Francisco-based Creativity Explored, a collective of mentally disabled artists. THE NEIGHBORHOOD The Modern sits in the Linen District, a six-block stretch on the edge of downtown that takes its name from the Linen Building, a former linen building for laundered that’s now an environmentally-minded event space. The once gritty blue-collar neighborhood is in the throes of a renaissance, so older businesses, like a basic liquor store, sit side by side with newer spots, like Big City Coffee, a vintage-accented café with homemade pastries and Eyes of the World, a cute boutique with antique-style jewelry, women's clothing, accessories, and sundry knickknacks. It’s also a stone’s throw from Woodland Empire Brewery, which features a relaxed tasting room and yoga classes in its sprawling space.  THE FOOD There’s a reason the Modern Hotel and Bar gives its eating establishment equal billing. On any given evening, you’re likely to find visitors from California or Denver or wherever at the bar swapping stories with friendly locals. The restaurant, helmed by a James Beard Award-nominated chef, focuses on classy yet casual creative renditions of familiar dishes that spotlight local, seasonal ingredients. The farms, dairies, bakeries, and roasteries they source from are listed on the menu. The bar is a destination for its inventive craft cocktails, the handiwork of France-born manager Remi Courcenet. Drinks are arranged in order of increasing body, so there’s no question that the Bedford, a gin drink fortified with apple shrub and bubbles, is a delightful aperitif to start the evening and a the rum-based, rosemary-crowned Frau Holle a soothing nightcap to indulge in before heading back to your quarters for some shut-eye. Breakfast is complimentary on weekdays and features fruit, handmade granola, pastries and fresh-squeezed juices. ALL THE REST The hotel is almost as focused on making sure guests are entertained and amused as they are comfy and nourished. The in-room film festival, 39 on 39, (Channel 39 in all 39 rooms, get it?) features a few dozen short films, from three minutes to 20 minutes, playing on a loop. Elizabeth homed in on short films because they’re easy to take in while you’re just, say, getting ready in the morning, plus there’s simply not enough outlets for talented short-film makers. They’re selected by the staff from submissions. The lineup changes each year. But Elizabeth’s commitment to art extends far beyond film. She brought over Basque muralist Judas Arrieta. Known for vibrant murals throughout Europe, he covered the hotel’s sweeping back wall with an electric-colored, dynamic, engaging work that blends all kinds of social commentary, pulpy, kitschy images, and history of the West. Be sure to spend time taking in the details. And see if you can spot the portrait of Elizabeth’s grandmother. And no discussion of The Modern would be complete without mentioning the record player on a gnome stool and the bin of '45s in the lobby bathroom. When they first opened, the bathroom became a hotspot to the point where there'd be a line in the lobby, Elizabeth says with a laugh.  RATES & DEETS Starting at $125 The Modern Hotel and Bar1314 W. Grove StreetBoise, ID 83702(208) 424-8244 / themodernhotel.com

Inspiration

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At most motels and hotels, if the restaurant is destination-worthy, it's an added bonus. At Gralehaus, in Louisville, KY, the dining option is a main focus, to the point where the locals who frequent the locally minded, beer-obsessed café often forget that there are lodgings upstairs. THE STORY The owners, Tyler Trotter and Lori Beck, partners in business and life, also own and run the Louisville Beer Store, which is two miles away. The couple has traveled through Europe extensively, and their Louisville B&B, which Trotter says stands for “bed and beverage,” is their way of further sharing their love for suds. “We fly brewers in from around the world and sometimes we have a hard time finding them a place to say,” says Beck, explaining the inspiration for the place. “In our travels to breweries, especially in Europe, we appreciated that a lot of them have inns on the property, even above the brewery. Now we can show them a similar hospitality.” Regardless of whether you’re in the industry, though, you have the option to purchase a beer or cider ahead of time so it's waiting in your mini-fridge when you arrive.  And in the spirit of a classic B&B, it’s self check-in and check-out. THE QUARTERS Each of the three lavish yet cozy rooms, which features either a king-size or queen-size bed, is designed distinctly from the others. That's a matter of happenstance, Trotter says. It turned out that way because as they designed the rooms, they discovered how differently the natural light affected each space. There’s a cowhide rug here, a vintage record player there. But while they look unique, they all share the owners’ love for Louisville. A local interior designer made all the curtains and local artists’ works adorn the walls. The fragrant bath products come from Peace of the Earth, a nearby boutique specializing in eco-friendly products; and the books that line the shelves, all chosen specifically to suit the vibe of each room, were purchased at Carmichael’s Bookstore, a longstanding independent shop. And if that doesn’t impress you, consider the decadent chocolates in the room from Louisville’s Cellar Door, which once was the featured chocolate at the Emmy Awards. THE NEIGHBORHOOD  Gralehaus is located in the Highlands, which is known as the oldest neighborhood in the city. It’s long been home to the city’s Restaurant Row. Today the whole area is jam-packed with bars and nightclubs, but standouts include Jack Fry’s, an historic restaurant known for its classic Southern fare and vintage photos of athletes, and Steel City Pops, an Alabama-based chain in the Southeast that peddles inventive popsicles made with fresh ingredients. There’s a Walgreen’s down the street. Street parking is available.  THE FOOD The ground-floor daytime café, a local hangout, features a fridge with about 75 bottled beers, from local brews to esoteric European options. There are also four taps and an extensive menu of coffee drinks. The from-scratch food leans Southern, but is thoroughly modern. (Think: country ham tartine, veggie hash, creative crepes.) ALL THE REST Beck and Trotter’s third business, Holy Grale, is an expansive beer hall in a church-like building that they opened in 2010. It’s right behind Gralehaus, so it’s really easy to hunker down with a brew or two and get back to your quarters without hassle. The only drawback is that with a bar outside and a cafe downstairs, it can get loud in the rooms, so each one is equipped with white noise machines. Look for the tokens in your room when you arrive. Each can be used for one of the expertly crafted coffee drinks in the café. RATES & DEETS Starting at $150. Extended-stay rates are available.  Gralehaus1001 Baxter AvenueLouisville, KY 40204(502) 454-7075 / gralehaus.com

Inspiration

3 Warm Places to Escape Winter

Sure, cold-weather fun is all well and good, and we love skiing, skating, and sledding as much as anyone. But when the mercury drops a little too far for a little too long, it's time to grab your beach bag, swimsuit, and flip-flops and head for a warm escape. Here, we share three spots where the temperatures are high, but the prices are surprisingly down to earth. 1. THE BAHAMAS Beaches, seafood, and cool outdoor markets. Although there are 700 islands that make up the Bahamas, we suggest you head to New Providence Island, home to Nassau, where rates at reliable hotels such as Holiday Inn Express and Courtyard start at well under $200/night. Nassau is a quick flight from major Northeast airports, and you’ll get your fill of gorgeous beaches, outdoor markets packed with handmade crafts, and, of course, seafood, seafood, seafood: Cracked conch with peas and rice is as close to a signature dish as the Bahamas can come -- you’ll love the deep-fried cutlet and the pleasantly spicy peas and rice. Wash it down with Sky Juice, a refreshing gin-and-coconut-water cocktail. 2. MIAMI Style, Cuban cuisine, and a surprisingly quiet beach (really!). First of all, let’s dispel a common myth about Miami: The city’s stylish, Art Deco-inspired hotels don’t have to break the bank. We’ve got swanky lodgings like the Hotel Breakwater, an Ascend Hotel Collection Member, starting under $200/night. Another myth: Miami’s beaches are packed. While iconic South Beach may be lined with high-rise hotels and fashionable crowds to match, you’ll find a decidedly quieter side to Miami Beach at North Beach Open Space Park, a white-sand beach with picnic tables, a dog park, and the kind of peace and quiet you left home in search of. When it comes to food, Miami’s legendary Cuban fare is available in Little Havana -- and everywhere else. Try the cubano sandwich (pork, peppers, and cheese), chicharron (pork belly), and ropa vieja (essentially Cuban beef stew). 3. COSTA RICA Eco-lodges, tropical birds, and an active volcano. Sure, Costa Rica is on everyone’s must-see list these days, but prices have not yet caught up with all that demand. You can nab reliable hotels like Radisson and Wyndham for under $150/night. If you’re craving a warm-weather escape that offers some opportunities to get wild (in a nature-appreciation kind of way), Costa Rica is one-stop shopping for the aspiring adventurer. National parks, hiking trails, monkeys, tropical birds, and even the chance to volunteer at an animal rescue center on the country’s Caribbean coast. Hungry? Costa Rica is best known for casados, meat or fresh fish served with rice, black beans, salad, and plantains. Yum!