Weekends

The South’s Most Stylish New Hotels

Book a stay at one of these seven Southern escapes

photo: Patrick Cline

Faded pastels set the tone in Playa Grande Beach Club's cottages.

“Great hotels have always been social ideas,” Joan Didion once wrote in Life magazine, “flawless mirrors to the particular societies they service.” So what conclusions might we draw from the splashy new wave of Southern boutique hotels that have recently opened (or are just about to)? Apparently, that we’d like a hotel to dazzle us with surroundings dreamed up by the best design minds in the business. To romance us with an unmistakable sense of place. To tempt us to linger with alluring menus and clever cocktails and passionate chefs. To provide an intriguing backdrop for whatever story line, real or imagined, might unfold there. Here are seven inviting escapes worth checking out, and checking in to.

  1. 1. The Brice

    photo: Patrick Cline

    Savannah, Georgia

    Credit the designers behind the Brice, which opened a block from the Savannah River on the edge of the city’s Historic District last year, with both a sense of history and a sense of humor. Little nudges and winks of a sort are scattered around the property. The deep gray color scheme (punctuated by bright yellow awnings) evokes Savannah gray bricks, the building blocks slaves crafted from river clay and used to rebuild after much of the city burned in 1820. A concierge table features an inset from an old Coca-Cola cooler, in tribute to the 1860-built three-story building’s past life as a bottling plant. Artsy depictions of horses and butterflies in the corridors salute the livery that once occupied nearby Washington Square and Savannah’s location on a monarch migration corridor. Other contemporary touches make an impression, too: Red beach cruisers for guests to borrow. Seersucker robes (and even yoga mats) stashed in the rooms’ armoires. An inviting courtyard “secret garden” and pool—and a warm welcome extended to dogs. bricehotel.com

     

  2. 2. The Durham

    photo: Patrick Cline

    Durham, North Carolina

    First off, this place is local and they want you to know it. Your morning cup contains Durham’s own Counter Culture coffee, the blankets come from Raleigh Denim, and the kitchen for the restaurant and sixth-floor rooftop lounge is run by Andrea Reusing, the James Beard Award–winning chef behind Chapel Hill’s Asian-inflected Lantern. (Her menu here leans heavily on Carolina seafood, as in a tempting starter of fried shrimp heads with chile lime salt.) The fifty-three-room Durham opened downtown in July in the erstwhile Home Savings Bank, a midcentury-modern landmark built in 1969, and the conversion—orchestrated by Commune Design, a firm that has also overseen Ace Hotels in L.A. and Palm Springs—mixes and matches elements from the building’s past and present. Floor-to-ceiling ground-level windows illuminate a custom carpet with hip geometrics in red, white, and black. Hand-painted Moroccan tiles mark the entrance to a lobby with a soaring two-story ceiling and the bank’s sturdy safe, dial and all, enjoying its second career as a backdrop for the bar. thedurham.com

     

  3. 3. Hotel Emma

    photo: Patrick Cline

    San Antonio, Texas

    A century ago, what eventually became known as the Pearl Brewery was the largest beer maker in Texas. This fall, when the Hotel Emma is scheduled to welcome its first guests in the revitalized Pearl, a retail, residential, and, restaurant complex on the northern end of San Antonio’s captivating River Walk, it will arguably become the state’s coolest new refuge. The hotel is named after Emma Koehler, who successfully ran the brewery for decades after her husband, Otto, was shot to death in 1914 by one of his mistresses, also named Emma (it’s a long story). When the landmark brewhouse, built in 1894, shut down in 2001, all manner of industrial brewing artifacts remained, and the creative minds at the New York design firm Roman and Williams wove many of them into the hotel: An antique compressor adorns the lobby, for instance, and the bottom of a cast-iron hopper forms the ceiling of a suite. (Stephen Alesch and Robin Standefer, the firm’s husband-and-wife founders, previously left their mark on everything from high-end hostels in Miami and Chicago to sets for Zoolander.) Inviting details in the 146 guest rooms include margarita-stocked iceboxes, Frette towels, mesquite tables, and (in some suites) claw-foot tubs and fireplaces. And yes, you can still order a beer. thehotelemma.com

     

  4. 4. Playa Grande Beach Club

    photo: Patrick Cline

    Río San Juan, Dominican Republic

    “It was a free-form fantasy,” says Celerie Kemble, an interior designer who grew up in Palm Beach and now works out of Manhattan. “This was completely a passion project.” The result of her vision—Playa Grande Beach Club, a cluster of nine white bungalows centered around a clubhouse on two thousand acres of coastal forest and unspoiled white sand on the Dominican Republic’s north shore—is about as far from a bland vacation-factory megaresort as you can get. The architecture and decor play off island vernacular, with abundant gingerbread such as ornamental wooden fretwork, called tragaluz, over doors and windows, patterned concrete tiles, corrugated green metal roofs, and wide shaded porches. Kemble also layered in fanciful embellishments and homey touches: copper soaking tubs, palm trees crafted of hammered metal, salvaged wicker armchairs, and a soft palette “like the colors of faded bathing suits,” she says. “One of our overriding goals was to create a place that looked and felt old. There’s a grace and an ease that an old house has. We used as much reclaimed material as we could. We encouraged the craftsmen to leave their thumbprints.” playagrandebeachclub.com

     

  5. 5. Quirk Hotel

    Richmond, Virginia

    With the success of Southern gems like the 21c Museum Hotels (in Louisville; Bentonville, Arkansas; and now Durham, North Carolina), the era of the hotel as gallery has arrived, and the Quirk is going all in. For starters, the seventy-four-room property, in Richmond’s Arts and Cultural District, is something of an artwork unto itself—an Italian Renaissance Revival that debuted in 1916 as the J. B. Mosby department store, with a grand twenty-four-foot vaulted ceiling and a limestone-arched facade. “It’s a very Richmond-centric hotel,” says Katie Ukrop, who co-owns the property with her husband, Ted, a fourth-generation Richmonder, and their investors. “We have an artist-in-residence program. All the rooms have original art,” most of it from local talents. The beds, bar top, and coffee bar are all crafted from pine joists salvaged from the building next door, where Katie’s ten-year-old Quirk gallery has relocated and now connects to the hotel via a marble-floored courtyard. The crowning detail: an open-air rooftop bar that promises to become a downtown fixture. quirkhotel.com

     

  6. 6. The Spectator

    photo: Patrick Cline

    Charleston, South Carolina

    Opened in July, the Spectator isn’t shy about its retro ambience. The lobby and library-like adjoining bar lounge greet arrivals with an 1,800-crystal Murano glass chandelier, a burbling “wall of water,” strikingly lit arched bookcases, smoky antique mirrors on the ceiling, and a stuffed white peacock, already nicknamed Daisy (as in Buchanan, the Great Gatsby heroine). “I wanted it to have a slight twinge of glamour,” says Jenny Keenan, the Charleston designer who oversaw the elegant interiors of the new four-story building, just off Market Street and a short stroll from the Battery, East Bay Street’s restaurant row, and other Holy City mainstays. “I wanted people to go in there and feel like they were in Mad Men.” Upstairs, the forty-one bright rooms feature tall windows, gleaming white marble in the bathrooms, and local art on the walls. The hotel intends to distinguish itself in part by deploying roving butlers, eager to book a dinner table or polish up your wing tips on a moment’s notice. thespectatorhotel.com

     

  7. 7. Thompson Miami Beach

    photo: Patrick Cline

    Miami Beach, Florida

    Pity the poor hotelier in Miami Beach, where an ongoing lodging boom is only making it harder to outglam the competition. The recent or imminent newcomers include 1 Hotel South Beach, with a Tom Colicchio–helmed restaurant and a fleet of chauffeured Teslas; Faena, with interiors and “cultural programming” masterminded by the Aussie filmmaker Baz Luhrmann; and the Miami Beach Edition (basement dance club/bowling alley/ice-skating rink, menu by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and frequent Dwyane Wade sightings). The Thompson, which opened last November in the Mid-Beach area north of Twenty-Third Street, holds its own in part by hitching itself to local talent. The homegrown, award-winning chef Michelle Bernstein oversees menus in the Seagrape restaurant and 1930s House bar, converted from a vintage bungalow relocated near the hotel’s three oceanfront towers; Florida-tinged dishes include a rock shrimp po’boy and ceviche tacos. Ashley Leimer, a Miami designer, drew up the hotel staff’s fifties-inspired uniforms. Creature comforts abound: rooms cheerfully done up in crisp florals and primary colors, two outdoor pools flanked by abundant tropical greenery and bright nautical-stripe cabanas, and an open-air rooftop spa. thompsonhotels.com

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