Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Gratz Park Inn

LEXINGTON, Kentucky - I stayed in the renovating, century-old Gratz Park Inn for four nights on my first-ever visit to Kentucky's horse capital. I liked it - with one exception, noted shortly. The place is pretty, graced with flowers outside, and a warm, clubby bar and lobby inside, with antique reproduction furniture in the guest rooms and an unbeatable location.

Indeed, the hotel's location, location, location is a prime reason for staying there. (To wit: 120 W. 2nd St., tel. 859.231.1777, www.gratzparkinn). You can walk to the lively bars and restaurants in downtown Lexington, and the lovely, historic Gratz Park neighborhood is right there.

Unlike most heritage hotels, the inn is well-soundproofed; I heard little street noise or sound between rooms. Moreover, my room had a large, really comfortable four-poster bed with a first-rate mattress, set high off the floor.

That said, this vintage hotel - a member of the Historic Hotels of America trade association -
inevitably shows signs of age. The double latch on the door to my room didn't work (though the secure chain did), and I found it difficult to strike a balance between cool and warm; I never did figure out how to turn off the fan and keep the constant flow of air off me, though that's mostly my fault, as I should have just asked for help. The hotel staff was unfailingly polite and helpful.

The Gratz Park Inn falls somewhere between a three-star and a four-star property: a 3.5 maybe. The rating could be higher if a few things were fixed - and they may be when the current renovation is finished.

The aforementioned flaw has to do not only with the physical plant but also with the food: Specifically, breakfast. Served in a low-ceilinged, windowless room in the basement, with a big-screen TV playing, the breakfast was uninspired and service slow. I found the coffee, served with non-dairy creamer, undrinkable. But then, I'm a coffee snob.

This is a puzzlement, as the hotel hosts a first-rate fine-dining establishment: Jonathan's at Gratz Park; it is open only for lunch and dinner. The chef, Jonathan Lundy, looks like a college kid, but be not deceived; he is accomplished. Lundy's food is full of flavor, robust and hearty, and the restaurant has a good wine list with a fine selection of California wines. A Kentuckian, Lundy likes to tweak and update traditional Kentucky fare. He put his best recipes into an obligatory celebrity chef cookbook: "Jonathan's Bluegrass Table: Redefining Kentucky Cuisine.''

So, the hotel isn't perfect. I didn't expect it to be, and I didn't find its flaws off-putting. Not even the resident ghost that reputedly haunts the premises. In any case, I didn't see any ghosts, just generally well-satisfied guests, in this enjoyable heritage hotel.


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