Seasoned hoteliers have seen just about everything. But even the most experienced concierge couldn’t have predicted 2020’s pandemic. In a testament to dogged and determined Southern hospitality, these five inns renovated, primped and spruced, or opened their doors for the first time despite every obstacle lobbed in their path (including, in one instance, a tornado). Whether it’s a bar studded with oyster shells at a historic hotel in Apalachicola, Florida, or pops of local art at a ten-suite inn in Nashville, the thoughtful touches at these little getaways prove that small can be full of big charm.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Inside this newly opened boutique hotel in a Queen Anne–style manse on St. Charles Avenue, almost every element nods to place. Cobalt-blue and turmeric-yellow chairs appliquéd with fabric cutouts of cats nod to the property’s feline residents of the late nineteenth century; massive secondhand armoires from the Crescent City Auction Gallery lead Narnia-like into tucked-away bathrooms; and a communal vinyl library celebrates famous New Orleanians from Louis Armstrong to Lil Wayne, with a record player awaiting in each of the fourteen guest rooms. “It feels like you’re over at a friend’s house—well, an incredibly artistic friend’s house,” says Sara Ruffin Costello, a decorator, author, and the hotel’s designer. After coffee on the front porch, poolside lime daiquiris, or dinner inside a nook lined with garden trellises, peruse the museum-worthy art collection amassed by Costello and her husband, the photographer Paul Costello, including an original Matisse cutout and sketches by Picasso.
The Germantown Inn
Sirens shattered the early morning quiet last March 3 as an EF3 tornado carved a path across Nashville, ripping part of the roof off the historic Germantown Inn and sending a tree crashing into the courtyard. No one was injured on-site—one guest even slept through the ordeal—but the circa-1865 Federal-style home and the surrounding neighborhood suffered extensive damage. A week later the pandemic began dominating headlines, but the folks in Germantown, home to a thriving food scene and nineteenth-century architecture, quietly set about rebuilding. In late summer, the Germantown Inn reopened—as charming as ever. The ten-suite property is a showplace for a roster of Nashville’s creative entrepreneurs, with colorful textiles by the artist Andra Eggleston, custom lighting from Southern Lights Electric, and bold portraits of historical figures by the graphic designer Caitlin Mello (one of which graces each of the rooms). You’ll find grab-and-go snacks in the parlor and complimentary wine and cheese every night, but you’re also just a stroll away from some of the city’s best restaurants. The parking lot turned patio at nearby City House, beloved for its wood-fired pizzas, is already a favorite.
The Gibson Inn
The Gibson Inn’s motto should be COME HELL OR HIGH WATER. Steven Etchen bought the run-down hotel in August 2018, and then partnered with his sister, Katharine Etchen Couillard, and their friend and now general manager, Cutler Edwards, to revive it. Two months later, Hurricane Michael hit, damaging the inn’s cupola and swamping the property. Undeterred, they made repairs, spruced up the lobby with antiques including a dramatic stuffed peacock, added a bar inlaid with oyster shells, and gradually tackled the forty-five rooms. Working from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. to keep down noise for guests, they made slow progress, until the pandemic led them to shutter the Gibson entirely in March. But instead of laying off their thirty-eight employees, Etchen came up with a plan. He told workers that anyone on-site at 8:00 a.m. the next Monday would be assigned to a team: demolition, construction, painting, or landscaping. All thirty-eight showed up. It paid off: The Gibson’s restaurant reopened this summer, and the rest of the completely renovated hotel began to welcome guests in October, with refinished pine floors and updated bathrooms that preserve their original claw-foot tubs. Says Edwards, “We made lots of lemonade from quarantine lemons.”
The Ivy Hotel
“You can just watch people’s stress melt away and their shoulders drop as they’re handed a glass of champagne at the door,” says Rob Arthur, general manager of the Ivy. The hotel spans just eighteen rooms across a nineteenth-century château-style brick mansion in Baltimore’s artsy, urban Mount Vernon neighborhood. Guests can recline with a book in the library, sip afternoon tea on the garden terrace, lounge with a cocktail in the light-filled conservatory, or just enjoy the rooms’ soaking tubs and fireplaces. Co-owners and Baltimore philanthropist couple Eddie and Sylvia Brown closed for the summer, touching up the hand-carved wainscoting and colorful wall-to-wall murals and implementing measures to social-distance with luxury, such as installing a state-of-the-art air filtration system, and revamping spa treatments and the private car service. They also transformed the hotel’s onetime French brasserie, the Magdalena, named for Eddie’s late mother, into a modern Maryland bistro where you can savor lump crab and local apple tarte tatin over a private table in the wine cellar.
Mount Pleasant, South Carolina
In the tradition of British public houses, the revamped Post House inn and restaurant is as much a neighborhood social hub as a welcoming retreat for travelers—just as Ben and Kate Towill, of the local design firm Basic Projects, hoped it might be when they bought the coastal property in early 2019. On nice evenings, out-of-town guests walk a block and a half to the Charleston Harbor to watch the sunset. Locals relax under the courtyard’s candy-striped awning, ordering plates of chef Evan Gaudreau’s crudo, made with whatever fish the folks at Abundant Seafood are hauling off the boats that day, and cocktails like the Affair, a smoky-sweet mezcal sipper that has quickly become a house favorite. Built in 1896, the three-story inn is located in the Old Village, a leafy waterfront precinct of Mount Pleasant, just across the bridge from downtown Charleston. Its seven bedrooms—outfitted with vintage rugs, archival Morris & Co. wallpaper, and new finds such as gorgeous Serena & Lily rattan beds—can be booked individually or scooped up en masse for small weddings and other events. Kate even stocks extra bow ties for forgetful groomsmen.