Photos courtesy of The Ivy Hotel
I ascend to The Conservatory of The Ivy Hotel and am instantly struck by its grandeur. A roaring fire radiates through the space, illuminating both the panoramic view of the downstairs courtyard and a handful of champagne flutes perched neatly on a side table. Dark and resolute among a smattering of eclectic baubles, a piano waits patiently to be played.
From The Conservatory, a hallway opens to the manor’s spiraling wood staircase and a host of entertaining spaces. I envision the life of these rooms come sundown—a solo guest curls up within the leather-bound walls of the library, a book and bourbon in hand; in the nearby Music Room, fellow visitors clamor over a round of pool beneath a ceiling made of 18K gold. It’s no wonder The Ivy Hotel has earned its reputation as one of the most exclusive, luxurious and intimate inns in the world.
The elite and secret nature of Baltimore’s Ivy Hotel has piqued the interest of many, but its experience remains a mystery to everyone other than hotel guests. Unlike most metropolitan inns, The Ivy’s lobby is inaccessible from the bustling streets of the surrounding Mount Vernon neighborhood. At curbside, visitors’ cars are whisked away by valet, bags are carried by concierge and guests are ushered into a manned elevator and escorted to The Conservatory.
Just one story higher, that same elevator leads to one of The Ivy’s premier chambers, Suite Eighteen. The elite suite spans two stories and nearly 1,000 square feet with a modern edge that juxtaposes much of the hotel’s Victorian décor. The Ivy Hotel seamlessly combines the old with the new to pay homage to its unique century-long history.
A Manor’s Memoir
Before opening its doors as The Ivy Hotel on June 19, 2015, the Baltimore manor assumed a number of identities since its commissioning in 1889. The manor existed originally as the Gilman House. Banking executive John Stratton Gilman recruited the architectural expertise of Charles Carson, designer of the nearby Mt. Vernon Place Methodist Church and Baltimore’s Grand Masonic Temple, to construct a residence for him and his wife, Anne Elizabeth Wely Gilman. Gilman passed just four months prior to the completion of the Queen Anne-style home, thus leaving Anne to inhabit the home alone until her departure in 1897.
William Painter, inventor of the bottle cap, purchased the property from the Gilman family that same year and resided in the manor until its transfiguration as a modest clinic in 1918. Dr. Thomas B. Futcher, a revered physician and professor, turned the Gilman House into his private residence, but reserved one room (recognized today as the Mansion Bar) to treat patients. Futcher operated his home clinic for 10 years and upon his retirement in 1928, moved entirely into the mansion’s upper levels and rented the first floor to practicing physicians.
Fast forward to 1938 when the North Calvert Street property belonged to former Olympian and first chairman of both Baltimore City’s Bureau of Recreation and the City’s Board of Park Commissioners, Robert Garrett. Garrett commissioned the Gilman House as an office space for the Department of Parks and Recreation, an identity it held for decades. In 1969, the city expanded the property to include two adjoining row houses which now make up a wing of The Ivy’s luxury suites.
In 1985, the manor assumed its first role as an inn. The city dubbed the property The Inn at Government House and utilized the space as a bed and breakfast for revered Baltimore visitors. Poor management and a number of other obstacles led to the demise of the Inn. Baltimore mourned the decaying building and longed for someone to breathe new life into one of the city’s most historical structures. That’s where Eddie and Sylvia Brown come in.
Birth of Luxury
The Browns gained ownership of the mansion in 2010 and were anxious to revitalize the space. Flooded with ideas and inspiration for the future hotel, the couple recruited the help of historic restoration specialist Azola Companies and Garrett Hotel Consultants to bring the concept to life.
The Ivy Hotel underwent five years of intensive reconstruction.
Salvaging as much of the mansion’s original charm was paramount. The reconstruction team polished the parquet floors, recovered rolls of the 19th-century wallpaper used in the Tea Room and repurposed wooden spindles from a neighboring home to restore the mansion’s central spiral staircase. Additional square footage was added on the Biddle Street side of the hotel to accommodate The Conservatory, Suite Eighteen and the Spa.
Hundreds of artists, designers and builders played a hand in the creation of The Ivy Hotel. Every space boasts elements of the traditional and modern, refined and comfortable, a jaw-dropping combination created by the illustrious interior designer, Joszi Meskan. Each of the 10 suites and eight rooms reveal drastically different designs. Some light and airy, others bright and romantic.
Their views also vary. The four Octagon suites overlook the courtyard while brownstone views and top-floor vantages are found in the Turret Suites and Suite Seventeen, respectively. General Manager Rob Arthur says that some guests choose to stay in the same suite during every visit while others long to experience a slumber in each of the eighteen rooms.
Defining The Ivy Experience
While an overnight stay at The Ivy carries a hefty price tag, it grants admission to a once-in-a-lifetime experience worth every penny. Included in your stay are a host of amenities designed to make you feel at home. The rooms and suites are outfitted with televisions, remote control lighting, fireplaces and a hand-painted armoire, lovingly referred to as a “bar-moire” by Arthur, filled with complimentary nibbles and hot, cold and boozy libations. The bathrooms mirror a spa-like oasis with heated stone floors and oversized soaking tubs. Guests can also stream two movies during their stay.
Finding myself tempted to pass the entirety of my stay in the lavish suite, I chose instead to descend to the common areas for Afternoon Tea. Tea is served daily in the Library and Tea Room from 2–4 p.m. Find your spot on one the mansion’s many chaise lounges, sofas and chairs and select from a handful of tea offerings accompanied by sandwiches, cookies and scones. I watch the subtle shift of energy as tea came to a close; guests have finished their afternoon break and head toward the Mansion Bar to prepare for a lively evening ahead.
The Mansion Bar is one of The Ivy’s most unique and frequently enjoyed services and is also the signature touch on all Garrett Hotel properties. The Mansion Bar is a self-serve drink station readied with every cocktail ingredient imaginable. From noon to midnight, guests may come and go from the bar as they please, garnishing an Old Fashioned with an orange slice or pouring a glass of iced-down chardonnay for a drink in the courtyard or in your suite. The bar boasts bottles of bubbly, white and red, as well as local brews, scotch, tequila, vodka and the like. Cherries, olives, pre-cut fruit wedges and mixers are readily available in the bar’s refrigerator, too.
After enjoying a pre-dinner cocktail, I stop by the concierge for my 7 p.m. reservation at Magdalena, a Maryland Bistro. The Ivy team and Chef Mark Levy reconceptualized the downstairs bistro and debuted its elevated offerings in October 2020. Magdalena resides below the hotel’s main level and invites guests to a romantic fine dining experience complete with white-painted brick and light wood accents. Levy’s menu is succinct and incorporates many local eats to create his beautifully plated dishes inspired by English and Baltimore cuisine. Gracing the October menu are mock turtle soup, potato gnocchi with smoked lamb, Southern-style Maryland ham and braised collard greens with smoked duck neck.
While Magdalena is open to the public for dinner, it is reserved as a guest-only establishment come breakfast. The bistro has been recognized for dishing out the best breakfast you can’t have (unless, of course, you are a guest of one of The Ivy’s 18 guest quarters). Lemon ricotta pancakes, eggs benedict, a pastry basket and a steaming cappuccino are just a few of the breakfast offerings to be enjoyed at Magdalena or in the comforts of your suite.
Not included in your stay, but well worth the time and money is a treatment at the Spa. The Spa at The Ivy stands directly above The Conservatory, making for a small and serene space to receive a facial, couples massage or reiki healing treatment. Select spa services can also be performed in your room.
The Black-owned hotel is thriving, even in a COVID world, and their team is excited to welcome you to this beloved Mount Vernon and Ivy immersion.
The Ivy Hotel is located in the Mount Vernon neighborhood north of downtown Baltimore, a three- to five-hour drive depending on your starting point in Coastal Virginia. Make a reservation for or learn more at TheIvyBaltimore.com.