Eat, Stay, Love: Relax in style at the South’s best new hotels

After a pandemic-prompted lull, the South is experiencing an explosion of new hotels
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Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans

Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans

After a pandemic-prompted lull, new hotels (and freshly revamped ones) have begun to open at a whirlwind pace. “We have seen major investments in new hotels and renovations,” says Liz Bittner, president and CEO of Travel South USA, a regional marketing alliance. “The South is positioned for a record-breaking year.” From megawatt high-rises to intimate bed-and-breakfasts, here are some of our favorite new lodgings.

 

The Roof at Esmé

Photo by Jen Castro

Esmé • Miami

Trade the see-and-be-seen hubbub of South Beach for Jazz Age glamour at Esmé, located just a few blocks west of the trendy beach scene. The swanky Spanish-Mediterranean hotel is driving a new renaissance for Española Way, a picturesque pedestrian artery lined with pink stucco buildings and colorful friezes. Constructed in the 1920s as a bohemian artists village, the luxe property spans eight buildings connected by intimate paseos that wind through sun-splashed courtyards and patios. Guests can easily stroll between the hotel’s common areas underneath a canopy of crisscrossed cafe lights; the effect is meant to replicate an Old World Spanish village, as the Española Way district was conceived a century ago.

El Salón interior

Photo by Jen Castro

Inside, the hotel cocoons guests in sensuous ambience, with rich jewel tones (the hotel’s name is short for Esmeralda, or emerald) and debonair touches like leopard-print curtains and vintage art prints. The 145 rooms are split between Esmé Village and Casa Matanza, a stand-alone building across the street—accessible via private tunnel—where Al Capone once ran a gambling syndicate.

Hotel guest room

Photo by Patrick Michael Chin

Esmé adds five new bars and restaurants to cafe-lined Española Way, including El Salón (a seductive spot for cocktails mixed with proprietary spirits) and the Drexel (for coastal Mediterranean fare). The main event, though, is upstairs at the Roof, an aptly named space that stretches across four of the buildings’ rooftops. The chic spot is anchored by a checkerboard-tiled pool lined with fringed cabanas, with plenty of lounge spaces for lingering over a glass of handcrafted Sangria or a plate of ceviche. At night, the air hums with energy and music as guests mingle under a blanket of stars.

Sip in Style
New hotel bars that dazzle the senses

Thompson Savannah
Savannah, Georgia
Perched atop one of the tallest buildings in Savannah, Bar Julian offers 13-story views of the Savannah riverfront and masterfully mixed cocktails like the Georgia Julep, featuring rye, peach whiskey, and apple brandy. An accompanying menu of heavy appetizers melds Mediterranean and Southern flavors (think Carolina Gold rice balls and Sea Island red pea hummus).

The Memphian
Memphis, Tennessee
“Eccentric disco fever dream” is one way of describing Tiger and Peacock, the alluring rooftop bar at this hotel in Memphis’s Overton Square neighborhood. Another might be “Instagram bait,” thanks to the hand-painted starscape on the ceiling, walls crammed with trippy artwork (like gilt-framed close-ups of the Mona Lisa’s eyes), and the six-foot-tall giraffe clutching a chandelier in its mouth. Don’t be surprised when the bartender suggests a cocktail based on your astrological sign.

Hotel Saint Vincent
New Orleans
Wend through a neon-lit passage to access the Chapel Club, an intimate, guests-only cocktail lounge on the ground floor of this orphanage-turned-hotel in New Orleans’s Garden District. With dark walls, stained glass, and a collection of nude paintings, the space is meant to evoke the feel of an old-guard salon. Cozy nooks are perfect for a romantic nightcap.

The Ryder Hotel
Charleston
Sherbet-y pastels, tropical wallpaper, and oversized gingham umbrellas lend a boho-beachy vibe to Little Palm, an indoor-outdoor lounge in downtown Charleston. Set beside a small pool (a mosaic on the bottom spells out “A good time state of mind”), the alfresco bar offers craft drinks, including a few ABV-free options. Sample a frozen cocktail like Night Call: bourbon, vino amaro, mint tea, citrus, and berries.

Infinity pool at Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans

Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans

Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans

The luxury hotel company poured nearly $500 million into revitalizing this 34-story tower, a 1967 office building constructed by the same modernist architect who designed Radio City Music Hall and New York’s Museum of Modern Art. You can see every. Single. Penny. Each of the 341 rooms has floor-to-ceiling windows framing the city’s skyline or the Mississippi River; crisp, midcentury modern decor; and Carrara marble bathrooms with deep soaking tubs. The amenities are what you’d expect from a hotelier whose properties are synonymous with opulence: a 75-foot-long infinity pool overlooking the Mississippi, a 24-hour fitness center designed by celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak, a spa where you can get rubbed down with rye whiskey-infused oil. Not to mention perhaps the best views in the Crescent City, courtesy of a 34th-floor observation deck with sweeping, 360-degree views.

Chandelier Bar

Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans

The dining is, of course, exceptional—after all, we’re talking about New Orleans, a bucket-list destination for any gastronome. Miss River, helmed by award-winning Israeli-American chef Alon Shaya, is a “love letter to Louisiana,” with dishes like clay-pot dirty rice served with pan-roasted duck breast and the same special-occasion exuberance of the city’s grand old eateries. Chemin à la Mer, from James Beard winner and native Louisianan Donald Link, offers dramatic river views and a menu that blends French techniques with Cajun and Creole flavors. And there may be no more glamorous place to nurse a Sazerac or glass of Champagne than the Chandelier Bar, named for its striking central fixture made from 15,000 twinkling crystals.

Premier river-view room with Carrara marble bathroom

Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans

What really sends the hotel over the top, though, is its service and indulgent, one-of-a-kind experiences. Want a private concert at Preservation Hall? How about an intimate streetcar tour through the Garden District, narrated by a local historian? Or a personal music lesson from one of the city’s great jazz artists? For big spenders, the staff will make your wildest Big Easy dreams come true.

Bring the Kids
Family-friendly activities and amenities make these newly opened stays stand out

Margaritaville Beach House
Key West, Florida
With a lagoon-style pool, lawn games, and nightly campfires for s’mores, this oceanfront resort makes a great place to anchor your family’s island adventure. Don’t miss the complimentary fresh-baked cookies in the lobby each afternoon.

White Elephant
Palm Beach, Florida
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a whiff of traditional Palm Beach stuffiness here. Situated inside a 1920s landmark building with a massive white elephant statue out front, this charming hotel specializes in laid-back luxury. Kids will appreciate the board games and beach toys on hand, not to mention the daily afternoon ice-cream cart.

Delta Hotels by Marriott Virginia Beach Bayfront Suites
Virginia Beach, Virginia
This hotel’s all-suite setup is perfect for families, plus it offers access to the only private beach on the Chesapeake Bay. Outside, an array of activities awaits, including biking, horseback riding, kayaking, and mini golf, plus a sparkling pool with bay views.

River Street

Photo courtesy of Terry Allen Photography/Visit Savannah

J.W. Marriott Savannah Plant Riverside District

The Savannah Electric Riverside Station plant, a brick behemoth whose twin smokestacks have jutted over the city’s skyline since 1912, once generated power for Savannah’s homes, streetlights, and trolley cars. After it was decommissioned in 2005, the structure became derelict, an empty shell amid the bustle of River Street for more than a decade. Today, it’s the centerpiece of a new entertainment district, the product of a $375 million overhaul led by hotelier and Savannah native Richard Kessler. Spread among three buildings, the ambitious restoration is anchored by a stunning resort-style hotel from Marriott.

Generator Hall

Photo courtesy of Terry Allen Photography/Visit Savannah

The wow factor starts as soon as you step into the lobby, aka Generator Hall, located in the colossal original power-plant building. There, guests are greeted by a life-sized, chrome-dipped dinosaur skeleton (think A Night at the Museum meets Jeff Koons), enormous sparkling geodes, and other unusual artifacts (like the world’s largest copper nugget). These are just a handful of the natural science and Jurassic-era displays scattered throughout the property—a nod to its fossil fuel days. The industrial-cool aesthetic continues into the 419 rooms, some of which boast exposed brick walls, metal beams, and double-height ceilings.

Guestroom

Photo by Brandon Barré Photography

Plant Riverside’s central location puts guests steps away from Savannah’s genteel charm, but you can easily spend hours meandering through the sprawling property, which has become a citywide destination with dozens of art galleries, bars, and restaurants, plus a concert venue and riverfront park honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Beneath the smokestacks, now bathed in pink and blue light, the Electric Moon Skytop Lounge draws local scenesters with endless river views and a playful vibrancy. Where else can you listen to live music while whizzing through the air on an LED-illuminated swing set?

New Hotels for Hobbyists
Accommodations where guests pursue their passions

For Horse Lovers
The Equestrian • Ocala, Florida
Part of the World Equestrian Center—the country’s largest horse complex—this refined hotel is a rider’s dream, with many rooms overlooking the Grand Stadium. After a day at the showgrounds, unwind with a “Rider’s Recovery” massage at the spacious spa, dine on steaks and Gulf-caught seafood at Stirrups restaurant, or cool off in the zero-entry pool.

Baker & Able at 106 Jefferson

Photo courtesy of 106 Jefferson

For Space Nerds
106 Jefferson • Huntsville, Alabama
With vintage-esque interiors inspired by the Space Race age and whimsical cosmic-themed touches, this property, part of Hilton’s Curio collection, caters to those making a pilgrimage to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Baker & Able, a rooftop cocktail lounge—the only one in Huntsville—offers would-be astronauts views of the moonlit sky.

For Foodies
Epicurean Atlanta
This food-focused hotel is home to three restaurants, including Reverence, which offers diners a bird’s-eye view of the action happening in the kitchen. But for true gourmands, the pièce de résistance is on the ninth floor at the “Epicurean Theatre”—a show kitchen and restaurant where guests can attend events (like a chocolate truffle and wine pairing) and master classes taught by award-winning chefs.

For Bourbon Snobs
The Samuels House • Samuels, Kentucky
Steep yourself in Kentucky’s bourbon history with a stay at this 200-year-old manor home, owned by eighth-generation whiskey maker Rob Samuels (of Maker’s Mark Distillery) and furnished with dozens of family artifacts. Those with deep pockets can spring for special VIP experiences like a one-on-one cocktail hour with Bill Samuels Jr., Maker’s Mark chairman emeritus, Rob’s father, and yarn spinner extraordinaire.

Emeline lobby

Photo courtesy of Emeline and Lindsey Shorter

Emeline • Charleston

It takes a lot to compete with the enchantment of Charleston’s historic cobblestone streets and Crayola-colored Georgian row houses, but Emeline rises to the occasion. Every detail of this 212-room property is thoughtful, from the specially made woodsy scent wafting in the lobby to the punch cocktails offered during check-in. (CBD-infused pet treats are available for four-legged guests.) The common spaces are warm and welcoming, with special touches around every corner—a hidden curio cabinet here, a vintage Spoleto poster there. Curl up with a magazine in the reading nook or relax with a glass of wine in front of a roaring outdoor fireplace, the focal point of the hotel’s narrow private courtyard.

Guest room

Photo courtesy of Emeline and Lindsey Shorter

The accommodations are just as carefully considered, with custom cane furniture, curated vinyl record collections, and Crosley turntables inside each room. (There’s even an album made just for Emeline, featuring tunes by Charleston artists.) Bathrooms feature outsized travertine rain showers, plush spa robes, and locally made ceramics.

The hotel’s restaurant, Frannie & The Fox (a sister eatery to Charleston mainstay Hank’s Seafood, located next door), serves wood-fired pizzas and Italian appetizers made from locally sourced ingredients. Instead of a traditional bar, there’s the “Foxhole,” a four-seat speakeasy inside the restaurant where patrons can sidle up to a wood-paneled window and press a button to order their next drink.

Frannie & The Fox

Photo courtesy of Emeline and Lindsey Shorter

Exploring the Holy City is easy thanks to the hotel’s plum location (just a block from the historic City Market) and racks of complimentary cruiser bikes. Going farther than two wheels will allow? Reserve one of two Mini Coopers for jaunts uptown or to the beach. Find the perfect souvenir at Keep Shop, a chic boutique loaded with gorgeous collectibles, many custom-made for the hotel, like hand-stitched leather bags and scented candles.

Raising the Roof
The South’s most fabulous new views

The Loutrel
Charleston
Designed by renowned architecture and design firm Michael Graves, this hotel’s botanical decor was inspired by Charleston’s manicured gardens and fertile landscapes—and it also boasts one of the city’s most spacious rooftop terraces. Overlooking Market Street and the French Quarter, beneath the spire of historic St. Philip’s Church (one of several steeples populating the view), it’s an enchanting spot for a pre-dinner cocktail.

The Ray

Photo courtesy of The Ray

The Ray
Delray Beach, Florida
The vista stretches from downtown all the way to the beach atop this property’s stunning 22,000-square-foot roof, which houses a pool, bar, and restaurant, plus an open-air workout space. Verdant “living walls,” pergolas crawling with vines, and a canopy of trees provide a tropical feel (and much-needed shade).

Bellyard Hotel
Atlanta
Atlanta has three distinct skylines—Downtown, Midtown, and Buckhead—and the views from this hotel sweep across them all. Positioned in the hip Westside neighborhood, the property’s signature bar, Drawbar, is already a primo hangout among the city’s young and cool. A rooftop pool is also in the works.

W Nashville
You’ll find the city’s buzzy influencers at the bi-level outdoor lounge and massive pool deck (at 10,000 square feet, it’s the largest in Nashville) overlooking the Gulch neighborhood. But the real views are at Proof, a cocktail bar atop the 14-story building with a “sunset catwalk” that’s perfect for snapping selfies.

Heights House Hotel

Photo by Natasha Johnson

Heights House Hotel • Raleigh, North Carolina

Just a few years ago, this 160-year-old, Italianate-style mansion was moldering into water-logged ruins beneath an overgrowth of vegetation. Today, after a three-year preservation effort, it’s been restored to its original glory and reborn as a luxury boutique hotel in downtown Raleigh’s historic Boylan Heights neighborhood.

Drawing room

Photo by Natasha Johnson

From the arched pocket doors to the elaborate inlaid wood floors and carved millwork to the 10—yes, 10!—antique fireplaces, every corner of the house has been carefully rehabilitated. (Check out the hotel’s Instagram feed to see photos documenting the stellar transformation.) As you enter the soaring rotunda to check in, glass of bubbly in hand, look up to marvel at the cupola fitted with a rainbow-hued stained glass skylight. (It’s thought that the architect who designed the home was inspired by his own work on the rotunda of the nearby state capitol building). Inside the nine guest rooms and suites, find period touches like clawfoot soaking tubs alongside modern light fixtures and buttery Frette linens. Second-floor rooms have a lovely view of the one-acre grounds—a vast expanse by city standards.

Guest room

Photo by Natasha Johnson

There are also spaces built for entertaining: After all, the residence was commissioned in 1858 by a man whose father was a wealthy railroad magnate and mother a local bon vivant. Guests can recline on Italian sofas in the drawing room, enjoy complimentary wine and cheese in the parlor, or peruse built-in bookcases full of treasures and vintage literature. A dining room—featuring an original Salvador Dalí painting—serves fresh local eggs, yogurt, pastries, and Counter Culture coffee each morning. (Plus, there’s a fancy Italian espresso machine to whip up a cappuccino whenever you like.) And each night ends on a sweet note, courtesy of turndown treats from bean-to-bar chocolatier Escazú Chocolates.

Small Cities, Big Charm
Destination-worthy new hotels, minus the traffic

ATH | BNB, The Rushmore
Athens, Georgia
In a college town awash in hotel chains, this impeccably designed bed-and-breakfast stands out. Its 14 Instagram-worthy suites are filled with custom furnishings and artwork (like Douglas fir chairs with shaggy faux fur seats), plus a Smeg refrigerator stocked with Topo Chico. A complimentary breakfast spread and afternoon tea is sourced from popular nearby restaurant the Cafe on Lumpkin.

Highlander Mountain House
Highlands, North Carolina
This 150-year-old clapboard home-turned-boutique hotel oozes homespun eclecticism. Find Cherokee artwork alongside Victorian-era taxidermy, original Sally Mann photographs, and lived-in antiques. A cozy bar and restaurant (The Ruffed Grouse Tavern) features overstuffed couches, marble-topped pub tables, and a wood-burning fireplace.

Hotel Morgan 
Morgantown, West Virginia
Dating back to 1925, this downtown hotel has played host to Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry Truman. A recent renovation kept the historic charm (like the cantilevered canopy over the entrance, wood-paneled lobby, and crystal chandeliers) while updating the guest rooms and adding an inviting restaurant and cocktail bar, Anvil + Ax.

The Beatnik

Photo courtesy of M2 Studio Design

The Beatnik
Ocean Springs, Mississippi
Embrace the tiny-house trend with a stay in these cypress-clad, Scandinavian-style cabins, located in one of the Gulf Coast’s prettiest towns. Each is equipped with a kitchen nook and wet bar, in-wall bunk beds behind a velvet curtain, a surprisingly spacious king bedroom and bathroom, plus a screened-in porch and outdoor shower.

The Grady Hotel

Photo courtesy of Starboard & Port

The Grady Hotel • Louisville, Kentucky

This hotel, housed in a 19th-century Renaissance Revival midrise, celebrates Louisville’s rich history. Named for Grady Clay, a renowned Kentucky journalist and urban designer, the beautifully preserved 51-room property is an easy stroll to some of Louisville’s most popular destinations, including the Muhammad Ali Center, Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, and Whiskey Row. Nods to the city’s heritage are everywhere, from the lucky horseshoes and shamrocks hidden throughout the decor to the flowing silk robes in the bathrooms inspired by Louisville native and boxing great Ali.

The Grady Hotel guest room

Photo courtesy of Starboard & Port

The design leans heavily on masculine elegance. Common areas—which include a library filled with vintage books—have herringbone floors, exposed brick walls, bold photographs of race horses, and lots of deep tones and patinated metal. Inside the rooms, 15-foot ceilings made of reclaimed wood planks lend a loft-like feel.

Hotel lobby

Photo by George Ferris

The building was originally commissioned by local pharmacist J.B. Wilder, who ran a medicinal bourbon apothecary and distillery in the basement. Today, head below ground, and you’ll encounter a clubby bar and restaurant, Wild Swann. It’s named for another of the building’s early tenants—the Swann-Abram Hat Company, known for designing some of the first extravagant Kentucky Derby headwear—and serves an impressive complimentary breakfast spread for guests each morning. In the evening, it’s the perfect place to cap off your day with a plate of Kentucky lamb chops and easy-drinking cocktails like the Apothecary, a rye concoction invented by Wilder himself.

New Incarnations
Recently reborn as boutique hotels, these buildings hold plenty of history

Newspaper Office
The Bee Hotel • Danville, Virginia
This refined hotel comprises two historic buildings that were early headquarters for the city’s newspapers: the Danville Register and the Danville Bee. You can spot original features like a spiral staircase that once led from the press room to the editor’s office. Decorative touches also nod to history, including an original newsboy figurine welcoming guests to the lobby. A rooftop veranda offers lovely sunset views of the Dan River.

Bank Headquarters
Liberty Trust • Roanoke, Virginia
This granite landmark was built as the headquarters of Liberty Trust Bank in downtown Roanoke, and it remains as dignified as ever. The marble banking hall now serves as a grand lobby with Doric columns and soaring ceilings, and guests can pass through the colossal vault door to clink glasses inside what is now a tasting room. Accommodations are equally distinguished, with antique copper doors, tufted leather headboards, and rotary phones.

Pharmacies
The Remedies Inn • Sweetwater, Tennessee
This boutique inn is fashioned from two 19th-century buildings that once housed a number of family-run pharmacies. Each of the five suites is inspired by one of the building’s prior occupants (such as the Archer Suite, named for the Archer Family Pharmacy that ran from the 1960s to the 2000s) and decorated with vintage touches like art deco light fixtures.

Keswick Hall infinity pool

Photo courtesy of Keswick Hall

Renovation Rockstar
Keswick Hall • Charlottesville, Virginia

As you approach the grand entrance of Keswick Hall, a sprawling mansion set among 600 acres of pastoral countryside and flanked by mist-capped mountains, it’s easy to imagine you’re at a historic château somewhere in the South of France. Inside, however, you won’t find drafty rooms and musty antiques but fresh elegance and lavish amenities, the work of a jaw-dropping four-year renovation and expansion that took the century-old building down to its studs. The serene atmosphere and central location—just 15 minutes from downtown Charlottesville and seven miles from Monticello—has already made Keswick Hall a popular getaway among the D.C. elite (Bill and Hillary Clinton were some of the first guests after the renovation was unveiled).

Marigold restaurant

Courtesy of Keswick Hall

Upgraded accommodations are decorated in creamy whites and blues, with original photography that celebrates the bucolic Blue Ridge foothills. (They are just some of the works commissioned by local artists that are scattered throughout the property.) Luxurious touches include Duxiana mattresses and Frette linens, spa-like bathrooms, and complimentary bespoke Thierry Atlan chocolates delivered each night. Outside the 80 rooms and suites, the property swings big on eye-popping extravagances, like European red-clay tennis courts, an award-winning golf course designed by Pete Dye, and a massive infinity pool with cascading waterfalls. Naturally, a luxury spa is on the horizon, set to open in late spring 2022.

Marigold

Photo courtesy of Keswick Hall

Dining on-site is a must, as the hotel’s owners coaxed culinary superstar Jean-Georges Vongerichten to open his first restaurant in the South, Marigold by Jean-Georges, on the property. The rustic-chic establishment (think stone fireplace, vaulted wood ceiling) features a seasonal menu with many ingredients sourced from nearby Oakdale Farm, which is run by the hotel. Before dinner, bring your wine glass onto the cocktail patio and watch the sun slip behind the velvety mountain peaks.

Spa-like guest bathroom

Photo courtesy of Keswick Hall

Shiny and (Like) New
4 more out-of-the-park renovations

Glenn Hotel
Atlanta
A $5 million spruce-up of Atlanta’s first boutique hotel takes inspiration from the city’s forested canopy, bringing in deep jade greens, botanical prints, gold tones, and dark wood. The hotel’s restaurant and SkyLounge terrace have also been refreshed with new interiors, and the rooftop—ensconced in the downtown skyline—still affords some of the best views in the city.

High Hampton Resort
Cashiers, North Carolina
This mountain retreat received a gorgeous refresh courtesy of the legendary team behind the famed Blackberry Farm resort in the Smoky Mountains. The century-old property has retained its rustic character (like weathered chestnut walls), but there are new luxe amenities such as a lakeside pool and Tom Fazio–designed 18-hole golf course. Blackberry Farm fans won’t be surprised to hear that the culinary offerings have also received a major upgrade.

Columns
New Orleans
History greets you everywhere you turn in this white-columned 1800s mansion, a Garden District social hub for decades. A two-year restoration burnished the hotel’s beloved features, including dark mahogany woodwork and a stained-glass ceiling. It also added new kitchen and bar menus from chef Michael Stoltzfus, whose restaurant, Coquette, has been nominated for 13 James Beard awards.

The Standard Hotel
Miami Beach
One of Miami’s most fashionable stays has added two new restaurants: Cafe Standard, a casual eatery with a plant-based menu and cold-pressed juices, and Monterrey Bar, a sleek cocktail lounge showcasing 1980s Pop Art and a Murano glass chandelier. The award-winning spa has also been redone to include a cold room, a cedar-clad sauna, and a spa lounge with views of Biscayne Bay.

For 9 more must-visit properties, click here.

This article appears in the Spring & Summer 2022 issue of Southbound.

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