Monday, October 26, 2015

Baltimore Social Diary

The neighborhood around The Ivy is residential, with mansions and row houses and Baltimore's famous stoops.
Halloween, The City of Poe & A Cool New Hotel
by Carol Joynt

Here’s a story for Halloween week that combines history, mystery, literature, luxury, elegance, romance, sports, and the comeback of a great city that deserves our attention. It’s about Baltimore and about The Ivy Hotel, only a few months old and already part of the Relais & Chateaux family. For those of us in Washington, our neighbor to the north is one of the great getaways, an authentic mid-Atlantic port city that’s only an hour’s drive or 20 minutes on the train; it’s close enough, too, for Wilmington, Philadelphia and New York residents to enjoy the same way.

The Ivy is in the historic, residential Mount Vernon district, which with its architecture and communal vibe, such as neighbors out with their children or dogs, is not unlike Carnegie Hill.
The Ivy Hotel at 205 East Biddle Street in Baltimore.
Out for a walk near The Ivy, you see neighbors with their pets and children ...
The hotel was coming together last spring as Baltimore itself was coming apart. In neighborhoods to the west there were destructive and sometimes violent protests over the arrest and subsequent death of Freddie Gray. Cable TV broadcast live images of fires, looting and clashes between protesters and police.

During the unrest, the city was on lockdown -- a Baltimore Orioles game was played at Camden Yards without fans in the stands -- and by the time a lengthy curfew was lifted hundreds had been arrested, and about 130 police injured, according to the Baltimore Sun. Six police officers were indicted on a range of charges in Gray’s death; all pleaded not guilty and are out on bail, awaiting trial.
To Baltimore’s credit, after the riots its own citizens were the first to step out into the streets and begin the process of cleaning up and making and keeping the peace, a peace that gelled and held to this day, though the crime rate remains an alarming issue. One of our era’s most authentic crime dramas, HBO’s “The Wire,” was about Baltimore, yet it’s also the city where almost everybody calls each other “hon,” and with affection.

Baltimore is important in the biographies of two gifted artists whose works have a special Halloween appeal -- director John Waters for his wonderfully weird films, many of them filmed in his Hampden neighborhood, and Edgar Allan Poe for his poems and tales of murderers, mayhem and ghosts. The Hampden neighborhood, a cultural hub that’s often called “retro” and “hipster,” is an hour walk from The Ivy. Notably, it is host to the annual “HonFest.” Needless to say, Waters films make for an ideal Halloween binge watch.
Edgar Allan Poe's Baltimore house.
Edgar Allen Poe, as a young man, lived on North Amity Street with relatives. He moved to other U.S. cities, but died in Baltimore in 1809 at age 40. Baltimore is where he launched his literary career, and published his second volume of poetry, and met his wife. The Edgar Allen Poe house is about a half hour walk from The Ivy. Some rare Poe books are kept at the George Peabody Library, a half-mile from the hotel. The city’s Super Bowl winning football team is named after one of his classics, The Raven.

There’s little about the proud but subdued outside of The Ivy that gives away the luxury inside. It is in a handsome Gilded Age mansion, but the setting is among other mansions, and town houses, including one where Wallis Warfield Simpson lived during her Baltimore years. Step inside, though, and the eyes widen as they take in the swarm of decorative details: high ceilings, carved wood, stained glass, antiques, art that looms and sets the mood, rich and textured upholstery, Fortuny silk, area rugs from Westminster, murals, cozy nooks and potted palms.
Across the street from The Ivy, a house where Wallis Simpson once lived.
When we first arrived and walked through the hotel’s public rooms the ambience conjured memories, and each turned out to be attached in authentic ways to this new hotel. The style reminded me of stays at the remarkable Inn at National Hall in Westport, CT., which closed in 2010. It turns out The Ivy’s owners – Eddie and Sylvia Brown, and Marty and Lone Azola – acquired many of the period pieces and art from the closed hotel. But I was also reminded of two other amazing places -- The Point, in Saranac Lake, NY, and Twin Farms in Barnard, VT. I learned that Christie and David Garrett, who own/oversee The Point and Twin Farms, among other notable properties, also are the managing directors of The Ivy.

In other words, when it comes to provenance, The Ivy opened with one of hell of a resume.
Some of The Ivy's onsite staff: General Manager Robert Arthur, Reservations Manager Karen Jaswal, Concierge Rosemary Connolly, and Security Supervisor Maurice Price.
A smiling welcome at the reception desk.
Inside The Ivy, it is luxurious comfort.
A self-service bar for hotel guests. Make your own cocktails or the staff will bring them to you.
A cozy nook. The upholstery was collected from all over the globe.
This is part of the game room, where there are chess boards and other games.
A private dining room that is separate from the restaurant.
Fine cyrstal and silver are staples.
A hotel can have a great look, but to become highly rated it has to have a great feel, too. In this regard, The Ivy reminded me of the The Inn at Little Washington, an enduring luxury indulgence an hour and change outside DC in the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills. As at The Inn, the staff of The Ivy are everywhere, and there to serve, but they aren’t underfoot, or at least were not during my one night as a guest. Before dinner, we wanted cocktails by the game room fireplace, and they arrived in beautiful stemmed glasses. After dinner, we wanted to play pool, and it was set up for us. We asked for a couple of shots of whiskey. Presto, they came, again in lovely crystal glasses on a silver tray.

I noticed a copy of Patrick’s latest book on the shelf in the private dining room. One of the staff mentioned that he’d been there only two weeks before. When I saw him recently at the Julia Child Award gala (next item), I mentioned The Ivy. “On, yes,” he said, smiling, agreeing that it was special. As Patrick is President of Relais & Chateaux North America, I was curious about The Ivy joining the family. Simple: the reputation of the Garretts.
The bar dining room at Magdalena.
The bar is cozy and connects by a walkway with the other dining rooms.
One of the other dining rooms that also connects with the wine cellar.
We (a welcomed getaway with my son, Spencer) lost ourselves in the experience of being there, including a hearty and satisfying dinner one level down in the hotel's restaurant, Magdalena, a warren of attractive rooms with different styles and moods. (The chef, Mark Levy, formerly was at The Point). We sat on a butterscotch leather banquette in the bar for a dinner of chestnut soup, oysters with caviar (and Chablis), grilled mushrooms, beef tartare with bone marrow, cured fluke and local crab, roasted chicken, lamb, country apple cake (that appeared in a puff of smoke) and sorbets, and a bottle of fine Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. The next morning, breakfast was just as sumptuous and included a view of the garden.
Freshly baked rolls.
Oysters with caviar.
Beef tartare with marrow.
Fluke and crab.
A puff of smoke and then, voila, apple cake.
A dining room off the bar at Magdalena.
The complimentary breakfast begins with fresh fruit and yogurt.
A bakery basket.
Smoke salmon with poached egg.
Eggs Benedict.
In between those meals was time spent in our rooms; I was in Suite #7, a relaxing avocado-hued living room and a lavish bedroom of apricot and tan, with leopard print and zebra stripes, a fireplace and tall windows fronting on Biddle Street. The bed itself was what marshmallow would feel like if made from an abundance of down and Frette linens.  Close the shutters and total darkness, and dreamland.

Spencer was in the adjoining room, #6, which had a sailing and seaport theme, a big four poster, and side-by-side club chairs facing the fireplace. Numbers 6 and 7 can be connected.
The living room of Suite #7, with a fireplace to the right.
The bedroom of Suite #7.
The bath in Suite #7.
The Barmoires, on the left, designed by student artisans.
Adjoining Suite #7 is room #6, with a sailing motif and a fireplace.
The living room of the Tower Suite.
Steps that lead to the boudoir of the Tower Suite. The bedroom of the Tower Suite.
A view from a room with a terrace ...
Rates start at just under $500 for rooms and climb up from there to over $1,000 for a suite. They include limo service from the train or airport, or to the Inner Harbor or the nearby Horseshoe Casino (I’ve been, and it's a trip); afternoon tea, cocktails, breakfast, valet parking, WiFi and so forth, and tips for the staff are included too.

Small dogs (under 25lbs) are invited to come along, and are offered crates, beds and walking services. Costs outside the room rates are meals and wine at Magdalena and the massage and beauty services of the Natura Bissé spa on the second floor.
A parlor has a pool table for after dinner competition, and also has a piano for impromptu serenades. 
You don’t need to leave the hotel except to walk, but you should explore the neighborhood, all that was already mentioned plus the Mount Vernon Marketplace (a 5-minute walk), the Walters Art Museum (at 15-minute walk), and make a visit to the Maryland Institute of Contemporary Art (a 25-minute walk), whose students painted the Barmoires in each of the rooms; they were just some of the 300 workers and 25 local artists who were involved with the almost 3-year renovation project.

Timing is everything and The Ivy seemed to open just when Baltimore needed it.  Halloween or anytime, you may need it too, hon.
The spa at The Ivy, and a massage room for two.
The Ivy
205 East Biddle Street

It says quite a lot about Washington’s impact on the national culinary scene that the Julia Child Foundation chose the nation’s capital, and the Smithsonian, as the location for presenting the first ever Julia Child Award. The inaugural honor was presented to chef and teacher Jacques Pepin by chef and businessman Daniel Boulud at a gala black-tie dinner at the National Museum of American History. Boulud also created the menu, working from Child’s own recipes and with caterer Bill Homan and his Design Cuisine.
The Julia Child Award gala dinner, with Daniel Boulud at the podium.
Alton Brown.
Jacques Pepin accepts the inaugural Julia Child Award.
The lottery winner that night seemed to be me, though, as I was seated between Boulud and Patrick O’Connell, along with Child’s nephew, Alex Prud’homme, Francine Farkas; the Smithsonian’s food curator, Paula Johnson; museum public affairs director Melinda Machado, and others. A fun table and adjacent to Pepin and the museum’s director, John L. Gray, and Cutthroat Kitchen host Alton Brown, chef Marcus Samuelsson, cooking show host Sara Moulton, “Bartender of the Year” Derek Brown, Eric Spivey of the Child Foundation, and Jim Dodge, chair of the award jury.
Jacques Pepin, Patrick O'Connell, and Daniel Boulud.
Patrick O'Connell, Derek Brown, and Daniel Boulud.
Marcus Samuelsson.
Francine Farkas and Marcus Samuelsson.
No need to circulate because everyone came by our table to say hello, sit for a chat, or pose for a photo with Daniel and Patrick, including the man of the evening, Pepin.

Everyone agreed that Pepin, 89 years old, was the right choice for the first award. His career began in Paris and included cooking for Charles DeGaulle, before Jacques arrived in New York in 1959 to work beside Henri Soulé and Pierre Franey at the legendary Le Pavillon. He went on to become an author and TV chef, and got his B.A. and Masters at Columbia, and co-starred with Child on the Emmy-winning PBS series, “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home.” 
The menu, created by Daniel Boulud from Julia Child's own recipes, and designed by Jacques Pepin.
Dessert of Poached Pear and Chocolate Sauce.
The dinner was a particularly warm and happy addition to the fall calendar of fetes and galas. It was a sell out and should be for years to come.
Patrick O'Connell, Jacques Pepin, CJ, and Daniel Boulud.
Photographs by Carol Joynt

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