History and modern flair mingle at West Virginia’s The Greenbrier.
By Alice Shapin
Photos courtesy The Greenbrier
I have always loved going to resorts, especially ones steeped in history. But there were two things missing; too few dining options and what to do after dinner. The Greenbrier has taken care of both.
In 2009, West Virginia native, philanthropist and billionaire Jim Justice bought the resort and rescued the American icon from bankruptcy. His mission was to restore the property, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, to its glory days. He proved to be a man who not only gets things done, but in record time.
Almost immediately, changes began to happen. He persuaded the PGA to bring a tournament to The Greenbrier; Prime 44 West, a high-end steakhouse opened; and a casino began to take shape. Most people would think about putting the casino in an addition or in existing space, but not Justice. He didn’t want anything to look different. He put it under ground — under the front lawn — in 10 months.
The Greenbrier Avenue
Today, the impressive white-columned hotel looks the same. Inside, you would think the lower level, The Greenbrier Avenue, where the casino, upscale shops, and many restaurants are, has been there since the hotel opened over 200 years ago. The integrity of the hotel has been preserved with Dorothy Draper’s outrageously chic style brought to life by her protégé Carleton Varney. Like the rest of the hotel, the design is imaginative and bold with vibrant colors and floral patterns.
Large flowers grace the walls and a beautifully carpeted double staircase with brass railings divided by a softly lit shiny clamshell fountain leads down to the casino. It’s often described as Monte Carlo meets “Gone With the Wind.” Ultra-high-end fabric on the stools, a floral carpet that makes you think you should take off your shoes, exquisite woods, and a rendition of the iconic springhouse generate the ambiance of the casino. Housed in the casino is In-Fusion, a modern Asian restaurant serving innovative Pacific Rim dishes; and Twelve Oaks, an equestrian-themed lounge.
While I’m not a gambler, I loved watching the action in the casino. There is definitely a young vibe here. For non-gamblers like myself, there is fun to be had with the 25-cent and even penny slot machines. Who cares if when the bells go off it’s only for $3. That’s a big return on a penny. (Maybe if I’d been at a dollar slot …) Those interested in higher stakes can choose from $1, $5 and $25 slots, and the poker, blackjack and craps tables. True high-rollers have a special VIP section.
If you happen to be lucky, there are plenty of high-end shops where you can part with your winnings. If you’re hungry from all that gambling, try one of two casual restaurants along the huge black-and-white marble tiled avenue. Drapers offers all-day dining, with such dishes as fried green tomato sandwich and scrumptious homemade ice cream. Café Carleton overlooks the Casino Club and features small plates and over 50 wines by the glass or bottle.
Talking about the food, The Forum, with its Mediterranean ambiance serves everything from lasagna to veal to Neapolitan pizza. At the golf club Sam Snead’s provides a relaxed atmosphere and an open show kitchen. The pièce de resistance is Prime 44 West. We were told you could put it up against the best steakhouses in Chicago and New York and it would easily hold its own. And it didn’t disappoint. Our filet mignon melted in our mouths, the lobster mashed potatoes were superb, the cornbread the best, and dessert, Bananas Foster, indescribably delicious.
With over 55 activities, it’s hard to say which one takes center stage. Being a golfer, I’m going with the three championship courses. All the golf greats — Hogan, Snead, Palmer, Nicklaus, Trevino, Faldo and Woods — have played here. Tom Watson is the Golf Pro Emeritus. The Greenbrier course was home to the 1979 Ryder Cup, three PGA Seniors Tournaments, and the 1994 Solheim Cup. And The Greenbrier Classic, a PGA Tour FedExCup Series tournament, has been held on the Old White Course TPC since 2010. The Old White Course was built in 1914 by Charles Blair Macdonald and updated in 2006. President Woodrow Wilson was one of the first golfers to play it. If you play the TPC course you’ll need to take a caddie. It’s a great experience, but pricey. For something more affordable, the Meadows offers a great experience as well with panoramic views of the mountains at a good price.
Non-golfers have a myriad of familiar resort activities at their disposal: golf, indoor and outdoor tennis (Pete Sampras is Pro Emeritus), croquet, culinary demonstrations, hiking, biking, swimming in the outdoor infinity or the spring-fed indoor pool. The resort also offers several unusual activities: carriage rides, bowling, falconry, skeet and trap shooting, fishing for trout and bass, horseback riding, and getting behind the wheel of a specially equipped Jeep Wrangler to explore the mountains of West Virginia. There are even activities for the more adventurous, including trying the extreme UTV (Utility Task Vehicle) through the mountains, going offsite and riding the roaring rapids of the New River or buckling up for a tree-top Canopy Tour taking you through 10 zip lines, five cable bridges and one rappel station, not to mention overviews of Mill Creek.
Spa and Clinic
Today the mineral spa takes full advantage of the natural sulfur springs that first enticed travelers to come to the mountains “to take to the water.” In addition to a variety of massages, facials and hydrotherapy, the spa offers laser and aesthetic services (Botox, spider vein removal, hair reduction and fillers). The Greenbrier Clinic attracts top executives for comprehensive physicals. Stay tuned, there is more health-related procedures and treatments to come.
Long, Long Ago
History buffs will be enthralled with The Greenbrier’s past. Stroll through the lobby halls and golf club to see photos of presidents, celebrities, royalty and the financial titans that have stayed at the resort. Take an interior and exterior tour and learn about the elegant architecture and renowned interior design as well as when the resort was used as a military hospital during World War II, and conclude with the Presidents’ Cottage Museum with wonderful pictures of yesteryear at the hotel. One of the most fascinating tours is the Bunker Tour, where you’ll learn about how the facility was maintained in a constant state of readiness as a safe, secret location for the federal government in case of a nuclear attack from the late 1950s until 1992, when its existence was exposed by the Washington Post Magazine in a cover story called “The Last Resort.”
To the Future
The latest news is that The Greenbrier will host the 2014 training camp for the New Orleans Saints. Once again in record time, Justice built three football fields and a 55,000-square-foot multipurpose building for the team.
With Justice at the helm, you can be sure there will be many more exciting plans for The Greenbrier.
The Greenbrier, 300 W. Main St., White Sulphur Springs, WV 24986, 855-453-4858. Rates start at $389 in season.