Muhammad Ali, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, and Bing Crosby all partied in the famed Crystal Ballroom at the circa-1927 Cavalier Hotel in Virginia Beach. Designated trains from Chicago and D.C. deposited glittering guests feet from the front door of the brick neoclassical tower perched on a grassy hill overlooking the Atlantic. Ten U.S. presidents soaked in the hotel’s claw-foot tubs outfitted with extra spigots to draw restorative salt water baths. A Prohibition-era speakeasy and casino reportedly operated out of the basement. Perhaps juiciest of all, Richard Nixon allegedly burnt the White House tapes’ missing eighteen-minutes in the fireplace of the hotel’s subterranean Hunt Room lounge. But by the early twenty-first century, the once-regal Cavalier was embroiled in a family feud and had deteriorated to the point that Stephen King’s Jack Torrance would have been right at home in its musty near-empty halls. Then in 2013, the folks at Gold Key PHR, a local hospitality and real estate management firm, purchased the aging grande dame.
“The first step was to appeal to have the Cavalier placed on National Register of Historic Places, so that it would never be torn down,” says Bruce Thompson, Gold Key’s CEO. With that accomplished, restoration on the terrazzo floors, portico columns, painted ceilings, and period ironwork began. What couldn’t be restored had to be recreated to match the period. No surprise, a two-year $40 million project ballooned to five years and $81 million.
The refurbished Cavalier officially opened to guests earlier this March, delivering on its tradition of retro glamour without sacrificing any twenty-first century comforts. The original 195 rooms have been reconfigured and enlarged to create sixty-two rooms and twenty-three suites. “Back in the day, even the finest guest rooms were only as big as a large walk-in closet might be today,” Thompson says. There’s also brand new spa, an on-site distillery and tasting room where the speakeasy once lived, and three restaurants—Becca, the Raleigh Room, and the basement Hunt Room, with its notorious brick fireplace. “The Plunge,” the hotel’s indoor saltwater pool is back in opening-day condition. And beginning this summer, you can go for a dip in the just-installed oceanfront infinity pool at the new Beach Club located steps from the Atlantic—one thing that needed no upgrade.