Luxury Travel: The Art of the Staycation

by Catherine Trifiletti

The library holds a wide selection of books and boardgames along with one of the mansion’s 23 fireplaces. (All Photos Courtesy of The Ivy Hotel)

Baltimore’s five-star Ivy Hotel with its charm and approachable luxury will turn the staunchest vacationer into a reformed staycationer.

Staycation /noun/: vacations that you take at or near your home.

In the age of Covid-19, the slightly oxymoronic concept—once nothing more than a PR buzzword—holds some weight. My personal experience adapting to the concept was wrought with trial and error. After several Covid-related schedule changes, my husband and I arrived to The Ivy Hotel in Baltimore with few expectations. If nothing else, we figured getting out of the District would break up the monotony of months spent working from home. Upon arrival, we robotically set down our bags, glanced briefly but admiringly on the property’s whimsical rooms and then bundled up to stroll the streets of Charm City. We quickly brushed off Josh, our concierge, when he invited us to stick around instead. Sitting around a hotel seemed boring, we thought. Less than ten minutes into our walk we turned to each other, almost simultaneously, and decided to head back.

Each of the hotel’s rooms and suites are uniquely decorated. Pictured: Room 13

Suite 7

Were we just being lazy or did The Ivy exert a magnetic pull? As we unpacked the psychology behind our failed outing, we recognized our mental programming that equates vacation with exploration. We struggled to accept that a pampering, relaxing staycation might be just what we needed after months of hunkering down. Later, over aperitifs from the complimentary serve-yourself Mansion Bar, we laughed at our failed attempt to leave such a magical place. Josh politely refrained from saying “I told you so” after we recounted our epiphany. This was clearly not the first time guests had retracted their initial desire to venture forth.

San Francisco-based designer Joszi Meskan is known for her eclectic style.

The Ivy’s particular allure has roots in the late 19th century when wealthy industrialist John Gilman commissioned architect Charles Carson to design the corner brownstone with tradition and grandiosity in mind. Think tall leaded glass windows, carved wood wainscoting and 23 individual fireplaces. After trading hands among elite members of Baltimore, the city’s mayor eventually used the storied locale to host visiting dignitaries. The re-purposed mansion is known to many as a “hidden gem” in the city’s residential Mount Vernon neighborhood.

A view from the back of the hotel.

Well-known Black philanthropists Eddie and Sylvia Brown bought the historic property in 2008 and soon transformed it into the modern luxury retreat it is today. Since officially opening in 2015, the hotel’s legacy of high standards and warm hospitality has been maintained by Relais & Chateaux. Eight suites and ten bedrooms make up its 18 guest rooms, which are spread across the original house and a modern addition. Each space is uniquely decorated and overflows with character. Some regulars return to their favorite rooms time and again, while others are on a mission to stay in each once, The Ivy’s General Manager Robert Arthur tells us. The real jewels are the dreamy common areas spanning from the front entrance to the back of the original mansion. Whether you’re reading a book by a roaring fire in the mahogany-paneled library or shooting pool amid towering tropical plants in the game room, each area exudes a distinct individualistic maximalism. It’s as if you are spending time at your well-traveled but slightly crazy aunt’s home, Arthur says of the decor.

Pianists can tap the keys of a grand piano in the Music Room.

Complimentary breakfast is offered downstairs at the hotel’s restaurant, Magdalena (though with Covid restrictions, meals are delivered to each room). Management took advantage of the 2020 downtime and transitioned from a longer-coursed dining concept to more approachable bistro fare. Don’t miss the Chesapeake crab benedict for breakfast or fish’n’chips for dinner. Up one flight of stairs is the Ivy’s full-service spa, a mini mecca where a customized facial or massage reminds you that there is literally no reason to leave the house. The hotel hosts a complimentary teatime for all guests from 2 to 4 p.m. While washing down crustless cheese sandwiches with an exotic green tea, you’ll naturally wonder why you haven’t adopted this classic English tradition into your daily life at home. Around happy hour, take time to treat yourself to a cocktail at the free, fully-stocked, serve-yourself, Mansion Bar. A Negroni? Yes, please! A Manhattan? Yours for the mixing. This rare amenity is available from noon to midnight, further solidifying the property’s allure.

Magdalena’s tagline is “European traditions infused with Maryland Soul”

True to the hotel’s name, Magdalena’s courtyard is flanked by Ivy walls

The Ivy strikes a balance of high-end luxury and at-home comfort, aligning nicely with the laid back spirit of Baltimore. Service and amenities aren’t over the top where they don’t need to be. Dogs under 25 pounds are welcome. Kicking up your feet is encouraged. Understanding that hospitality there is not a one-size-fits-all approach, the Ivy team is adept at figuring out how much or how little guests wish to be coddled. From the homey feeling to the superior service, it won’t take long to realize that, contrary to popular belief and our preconceived ideas of what getting away should look like, sometimes vacationing is more about the destination than the journey.

The Ivy Hotel; 205 E. Biddle St., Baltimore, MD 21202; theivybaltimore.comGuest rates start at $429 per night; amenities include daily chef-made breakfast, a fully stocked in-room refrigerator, private car service, afternoon tea; In light of constantly evolving Covid-19 restrictions, the team at Ivy is taking all necessary protocols and exceeding guidelines in terms of cleanliness and flexibility. FAQs can be found on theIvy’s website.

The self-service Mansion Bar allows guests to be their own mixologists.

The original library of the mansion can accommodate up to 12 guests for meetings or private dining.

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