The Hermitage - Nashville’s Grand Hotel

I travel the region looking for good stories and Nashville is loaded with them. Recently, I joined a few old and new friends for the reopening gala celebration of a genuine luxury hotel, The Hermitage. My expectations were that it would be a day or two of commercial pitches, much like those seminars that promise a “free” Florida vacation. Instead, this was an introduction to an architectural and artistic wonder that has had guests ranging from Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy to Gene Autry, Minnesota Fats and Steven Spielburg.

The Hermitage Hotel has a relationship to Nashville similar to the Georgian Terrace with Atlanta. It is a small luxury facility that has been renovated and modernized, but, because of cost prohibitions, could never be duplicated. To the credit of the new owners, the hotel’s original look wasn’t changed and much of what was there from the inception is preserved. The Hermitage is Nashville’s only remaining grand hotel and commercial example of a well-unified style in the mode of Beaux Arts Classicism.

The entrance into the lobby is spectacular, a showcase composed of Grecian and Tennessean marble featuring furnishings from the earth’s four corners. The grand ballroom, more intimate than modern versions, is paneled in Circassian walnut from Russia and is highlighted by an ornately handcrafted ceiling. This was the room where guests enjoyed gourmet dishes prepared by Executive Chef Sean Brock while tapping their toes to the music of Pat Patrick’s jazz trio.

One thing was fundamentally clear during my stay. Nashville’s business and civic leaders are unified in welcoming the hotel’s rebirth. Mayor Bill Purcell dropped by for a speech during my first evening, praising the efforts by The Hermitage’s new owners and observing that “almost everyone in Nashville has some connection or experience with this hotel.” My physician in Atlanta, a Vanderbilt man, and former Braves and Falcons front office executive Frank Spence, a Nashville native, echoed Mayor Purcell. The Hermitage is part and parcel of Music City’s heritage.

The hotel preview itinerary generously allowed for visits to Nashville landmarks. A morning at The Parthenon had us gasping at the 42-foot statue of Athena, the tallest indoor structure in the western world. A walk through the hallowed Ryman Auditorium was a reminder that this building where the Grand ‘Ol Opry began, is still the Mecca of country music. Around the corner in Studio B on Music Row, young Elvis Presley under the musical supervision of Georgia’s Chet Atkins, recorded over 200 songs for RCA Victor.

The Country Music Hall of Fame is also a short walk from the Hermitage. It is loaded with memorabilia and is perhaps the one place besides the Smithsonian where pure Americana is housed. The actual Hall of fame is in a rotunda where the words: “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” are appropriately inscribed just below the ceiling. The men and women from Georgia are well represented on the rotunda walls. I found Chet Atkins, the great guitarist from north Georgia, Avondale Estates’ Bill Anderson and Conyers’ native Brenda Lee, plus others. The dominant musician was the King. Elvis’ gold records could cover a barn and his gold Cadillac and gold piano sat side by side on the third floor.

The Frist Center for the Arts, (see below), a mega museum and fine art exhibition facility in the old post office around the corner from the hotel is a tribute to the philanthropy of one of the south’s most public-spirited families. This facility plus the nearby Tennessee Performing Arts Center is solid evidence that Nashville is much more than popular music and the recording industry.

Back at The Hermitage, we had one more evening of indulgence provided by Chef Brock, this time at The Capitol Grille, a first-rate restaurant voted by Esquire Magazine as one of the country’s best. Over the two nights of dining, the young and talented Chef supplied hungry guests with an array of his favorites. A sampling: Balsamic Roasted Bartlett Pears, Hazelnut crusted blackened grouper and the finest rack of lamb served this side of New Orleans. Each course was perfectly paired with appropriate wine, a certain indicator of attention to culinary excellence. Brock, a Virginia native and graduate of Johnson and Wales University, uses the influences of many cultures in his cooking, but his core principles are southern.

The Hermitage Hotel has set its own bar of excellence rather high by announcing that it intends to be the only American Automobile Association (AAA) Five Diamond Hotel and Mobil Five-Star Hotel in not only Tennessee but in most neighboring states. That would make it a perfect “10”. If my stay is any indicator, The Hermitage should garner these awards soon. The commitment to excellence and the follow through to make it possible is impressive.

While you're in Nashville, visit the Frist Center for the Arts

and enjoy a great dining experience at one of Doc's favorite restaurants, the historic Stock-Yard


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