April 6, 2021
On a recent college visit road trip to Sewanee (University of the South) in Tennessee where our daughter may go to school next year, we stayed in two Best Westerns and a big Hilton. We also visited a legendary ancient hotel in Nashville to take in the atmosphere. Our first Best Western was a dud, its shortfalls I illuminated last week, but the other three properties—each perfectly-suited for serving its unique niche—left us wanting to return.
A BETTER BEST WESTERN
After our disappointing stay at the dreary and absurdly-named BW “Royal” Inn in Chattanooga, I was apprehensive about the following two nights at another Best Western, this one in little Winchester, Tennessee. My concerns disappeared after arrival. Check-in was polished, friendly, and swift at a real front desk (no bulletproof glass). I noticed right away that the property was clean, well-kept, modern and even boasted 6 EV charging stations (two per stanchion).
The room was spotless and comfortable, as well as quiet. The following morning heavy frost on a chilly morning (34° F.) blanketed our windshield and hotel roof.
A surprisingly good breakfast spread capped our upgrade to a large room with kitchenette (full stove and fridge) and a great shower (water pressure I only dream of at home). Heck, without my glasses, the modest place was almost like a one-story Waldorf!
And for train lovers like me, you can hear CSX freight trains blowing all night for a crossing in nearby Dechard on the old Louisville & Nashville rail line between Nashville and Atlanta.
I fell in love with that unassuming Best Western, so much superior to the dump in Chattanooga. A friend reminded me that the BW chain’s U.S. properties tend to wide quality variation due to a great deal of management discretion by individual owners and insufficient brand oversight.
The clean and affordable Winchester hotel caters to the construction trade, with big trucks galore down the parking lot Monday to Friday. At the end of the work day, the guys and gals lit up charcoal grills on the far side of the parking area adjacent to a muddy field and cooked their steaks while enjoying cans of beer from beat-up old coolers and smoking cigarettes. I enjoyed taking in that tableau of pure Americana.
A HUGE & IMPECCABLE HILTON
Still on our college visit trip, we stopped one night in Nashville. Our beds were at the giant Hilton Nashville Airport. It was an extremely comfortable, operating-room-clean, modern property, with a fine staff, even if sitting soullessly adjacent to thoroughfares, as the second picture below attests.
Everywhere at this big property—almost 400 rooms—the staff at all levels were smiling and spontaneously helpful. I interacted with managers, front desk clerks, housekeepers, and wait staff in both the bar and the restaurant and experienced friendly and professional attitudes all round. What a great difference the human touch can make, especially in such a big hotel as that one.
Our room (1303) was extraordinarily quiet and conducive to rest. Bed comfort was superb, and we slept well. The next morning’s breakfast pancakes with bacon and maple syrup were as delicious as my hard-to-beat standard, the perfect pancakes served at the Hay-Adams Hotel on Lafayette Square in Washington, DC. Although, I admit, the view of the White House from the Hay-Adams restaurant beats the BNA Airport Hilton’s of the interstate (a small nit).
The Hilton’s size and meeting rooms make it a natural meeting and conference property, and its close proximity to the Nashville Airport certainly attracts steady business as well (in normal times, of course, when we can travel freely, hopefully soon returning). Based on my observations, I’m sure it has a reputation for efficiency and cleanliness, too.
THE UNMATCHED HERMITAGE HOTEL
It’s unfair to contrast the BNA Airport Hilton and the Best Western in rural Winchester, each well-suited to satisfy specific hostelry niches, with the soulful, tranquil, and historic Hermitage Hotel in downtown Nashville near the Tennessee State Capitol. We didn’t spend a night there, but did enjoy the graceful mood of the old palace in the lobby bar. There I enjoyed house-made deviled eggs topped with chef’s recipe Tennessee chow-chow relish, complemented perfectly with a glass of heavenly Justin cabernet.
The Hermitage boasts one of the deepest bourbon lists anywhere. Note the one and two ounce prices on the single page I photographed of the bourbon and Tennessee whiskey menu. And that’s just one page. The Hermitage keeps an entire menu book of such local bourbon, many pages more like the one shown. Not a bourbon drinker, I chose not to partake of those rare distilled spirits, though I wondered whether the 1993 Buffalo Trace would knock my socks off or just dent my Amex card.
The elegant Hermitage ambiance was the highlight of a very pleasant afternoon we spent walking around downtown Nashville. Like the Hilton and Best Western, I recognize the unique lodging niche the Hermitage fulfills. It’s a one-of-a-kind Nashville luxury property steeped in history and holding its own in the 21st century.
The Best Western, Hilton, and Hermitage, each so distinctly different from one another, impressed me as places I’d happily rest my head and relax. Next time I have a reason to be in Nashville, I hope to splurge on the Hermitage for least a night or two. Truth be told, though, I liked all three hotels.