Full disclosure: I love hotels. Nothing better than pulling into base camp without having to pitch a tent. And, while I also love the outdoors there are nights when humidity and mosquito levels out perform the bug spray and my rugged individualism. During these occasions, I’ve sometimes damned myself for having not booked a Queen size with French linen sheets. And, so it was, during that time of year when summer fades into autumn, the decision was made to forego a site beneath the stars for an adventurous weekend in Traverse City, Michigan.
The plan was simple, really. My lovely wife, Nette and I would check-in to a hotel, unpack, have a cocktail, and head out for dinner. My understanding was that the faded Holiday Inn Resort – an interesting piece of mid-century architecture that in its day was a fixture on the bay – had recently been purchased and, after extensive renovations, re-opened as the Delamar Traverse City. So, as a matter of course, we had to give it a try.
On the water, centrally located, the Delamar seemed an ideal place to base explorations. Our itinerary came together during the drive north. Many familiar with the area will know that while Traverse is a small town it does have an abundance of activities; the bar and restaurant scene is ever evolving, there is theatre and film, live music, shopping, coffee shops, with plenty to do along the shores of the bay. And, then there is the wine country.
Stretching 16 miles along Old Mission Peninsula are a number of vineyards and tasting rooms, offering timeless views of rolling hills set along Grand Traverse Bay. One could spend a day, or a week, sampling varietals from small batch wineries like Tabone Orchards, to the traditional Italian style red and whites of Mari Vineyards, to the modern facilities and green practices of 2 Lads Winery.
While on the peninsula be sure to stop at Old Mission General Store – established mid to late 1800s – where owners Jim and Marcy Richards provide travelers with homemade breads, pizzas, select meats and cheeses, penny candies, and local products from jam to distilled spirits. The market also offers antiques, classic toys, and rare vintage items. Jim Richards, a classically trained, Shakespearian thespian, made a living in the late 1970s acting in soap operas. In confident baritone, he has on more than one occasion given my party a historical account of the French traversing the grand expanse of land and water they called, The Grand Traverse.
Back in the SUV, Nette and I were finishing the perfect itinerary when we heard a thudding sound coming from the rear wheel-well on the passenger side.
I won’t bore you with the details, but for the curious, follow this Link. For all others, I’ll move forward by thanking the front desk of the Delamar for extending our 4pm check-in time, indefinitely.
Around 11pm, we entered the Delamar Hotel, where our disappointment over time lost turned into intrigue. The lobby was striking, featuring marble floors in a sophisticated setting. The night host handling our affair was kind and showed what seemed genuine empathy regarding our roadside emergency. I’m not suggesting this is going to happen for everyone, but she then presented us with a care package from the General Manager – who apparently had heard of our troubles – that included several selections from the hotel restaurant and a bottle of Michigan sparkling wine, from Black Star Farms.
On the lift, my wife’s bags in hand, I nodded toward the care package and said, “The hotel probably knows my work and wanted to make a good impression.”
“Oh darling,” she replied. “If they knew your work they would have declined our reservation”.
We entered a very well designed room; lovely desk, with ergonomic, white leather chair, large wide screen, mini refrigerator, plenty of closet space and drawers to unpack, controlled mood lighting, and a plush, comfortable Queen size, with extremely soft cotton bedding. The bathroom, a bright and gorgeous combination of marble and tile, with large walk-in shower, was stocked with Bulgari bath amenities.
Pop, went the sparkling!
We opened our care package: crudités, flat breads, chopped salad, with Chicken breast dipped in corn fritter, cauliflower-creamed kale.
Just what we needed.
The rest of the night was filled with hot showers, Turner Classic Movies, and the two of us, wrapped in thick, warm bathrobes, bouncing on the bed like British rockstars.
The Next Day
Plans for the day were discussed in the hotel’s ground floor coffee bar. Along with views of the outdoor pool, The Bistro, as it’s called, provides a rather nice, complimentary, continental breakfast. We enjoyed fresh pastry, yogurt with berries and nuts, and cappuccino, handled by a very pleasant barista.
The sun was out, suggesting a beautiful afternoon. Nette was busy checking her weather app, when a young man, with a welcoming smile, approached our table and introduced himself – Brandon Sheldon, General Manager.
“I told you not to bounce on the bed,” I said to my wife.
Brandon was checking on our stay, pleased we had safely arrived. We thanked him for the food and drink. After a few pleasantries, Nette excused herself for a Yoga session. I asked Brandon if he had time to show me the hotel. He said he did.
True to the rumors, the old resort had been significantly refurbished, while managing to retain the best qualities of the building’s original design. The project, built-out by Ghafari Associates, an architectural firm known globally for the development of everything from airports to workspaces, seemed quite successful here in providing the framework for a luxury environment. As Ive mentioned, the lobby is striking, but then all of the common spaces from the adjacent fireplace room, to the remodeled bar and restaurant, even the hallways and connecting passages, seem inspired by an airy sense of Futurism (But, don’t quote me on that). Ghafari’s use of natural light comes with views of the bay that seamlessly connect guests with the out of doors at every turn.
Detroit-based Kyle Evans Design was tasked with the challenge of making it all aesthetically pleasing. Combining expertise in both commercial and residential spheres, Evans added warmth through color, fabric, and a tasteful selection of art and furniture. All gathering areas offer a relaxed approach to luxury, from the restaurant, to the fireplace room, to the outdoor pool area. And, the placement of artwork, plant life, and interior lighting work to create a proper Boutique hotel experience.
A text came through from Nette: Done with yoga. Heading to the sauna and hot tub. XO!
“Where is the hot tub?” I asked.
Brandon gave directions and then excused himself to, I assume, do GM things. I started in the right direction but was sidetracked when I spotted two yachts moored at the end of the dock.
The morning was growing hotter than expected. Felt like summer. I stood on the dock flanked by two vessels, lone crew members making knots on both sides.
“Good afternoon,” came a voice from starboard.
On deck stood a young, bearded, blond. All smiles. California surf boy turned Norseman written all over him. Held a white cord in his hands.
“My name is Shane,” he said. “C-h-i-e-n; it’s a French spelling.”
“Captain Stubing,” I said. “I’m here to commandeer your ship.”
“Well then, let us first have a drink.”
At over 50 ft long and 30 ft wide, the Nauti-Cat is the largest commercial sailing catamaran on The Great Lakes. It holds nearly 50 people. But, on this day it was only Captain Chien, myself, and an Irish born First Mate/Bartender/DJ, who was quick to supply bright green cocktails they called ‘Catnip’. We exchanged stories of the sea and drank to the women in our lives. At some point, I asked Captain Chien if the rumors about the Lake Michigan fresh water Great Whites were true. He stopped polishing the helm, looked me dead in the eye, and …
A text came in from Nette: It’s such a beautiful day, darling. Would you mind if we just lounged by the pool?
“Gentlemen,” I said. “It has been a pleasure.”
“Alright, Cap’n,” said Captain Chien. “Last sail of the season leaves at three. I’d be honored to have you and your wife aboard as my guest.”
“Aye,” I said.
Several hotel guests laid sunning themselves around the outdoor pool in various styles of fashion forward swimwear. Nette, reading from Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha, wore a golden-bronze bikini, sipping every now and again on an Italian Spritzer. I listened to a Grandaddy playlist and observed my surroundings.
The exposed courtyard provides a fine opportunity to enjoy the work of original architect, Alden B. Dow. Consider how the angled windows give each room of the four story hotel a view of the pool or bay. Lines are sharp, the structure solid, but again the amount of natural light cast throughout the building blurs the space between in and out of doors. Certainly, there is a mid-century element to the structure but it seemed to me rooted in something else that I couldn’t quite identify.
I grabbed my iPhone for a little research.
“Each idea must be an expression of intimate care, a personal concern that all the details of the ‘Big Idea’ meet a standard of quality,” said Alden B. Dow, in a quote from the official website dedicated to his life.
Born in 1904, Dow is a native Michigan man. He studied with Frank Lloyd Wright during the summer of 1933. He opened his own design firm in ’34 and received the Diploma de Grand Prix at the Paris International Exposition in 1937. Dow designed 560 projects throughout the United States. He designed homes, work spaces, worship spaces, schools, and civic buildings, believing that “good architecture responds to the land and its culture”. He worked successfully for five decades, with a philosophical and professional respect toward the ‘individual’.
“I have no idea what my next design for a building will look like, but I do know it will not look anything like the one I have just completed, and that is not because of me, but because of the individual or individuals that are going to use the next building.”
And, so there it was; diverging angles, soaring roof lines, geometric patterns, and abundant natural light; spanning decades, style, and technologies; seamlessly weaving the ingenuity of man and nature into this space, built in the mid 1960s.
I ordered a Negroni.
Self Imposed Lockdown
After careful deliberation, it was decided there would be no need this trip to explore the area outside of the Delamar. What first was thought a base for our adventurous weekend had become the adventure. We had no expectations, other than a clean room and bath, and now we found ourselves continually surprised by the resort’s amenities.
The Delamar has two pools; the heated outdoor and an indoor, which sits beneath a soaring wood-beamed ceiling, supporting a hanging installation of giant spherical lanterns. Here, guests will also find the hot tub and sauna. There is a workout and Yoga room. There is well curated artwork in every common area. Complimentary coffee service. A lovely fireplace room, with grand piano. There are two outdoor patios, with food and bar service, overlooking the bay. A sandy beach. There are two yachts moored in the bay that offer 3 hour sailing trips. And, there is a bar and restaurant on premise, helmed by Executive Chef Frederic Kiefer, aptly named, Artisan.
Of course, we love amical and Trattoria Stella – two of Traverse City’s best. We’d also heard from reputable sources about Slate, The Cook’s House, and The Towne Plaza and were eager to try one of those. But, after experiencing the Delamar, we gave in to the trappings of this highly relaxing, Boutique and determined not to leave the confines of its offerings.
So, after a 3 hour tour of Grand Traverse Bay (in a tale you can read Here), we showered and dressed for a meal prepared by a lifelong cook, who discovered his passion for food in the countryside west of Paris. But, not before we enjoyed cocktails in the bar – Red Eye to Paris (Bourbon, Orange Liqueur, Aperol, Fresh Lime, Bitters).
The dining area in Artisan is light and airy, with an elegant soft white palette. Floors are fashioned from reclaimed wood. There is a very nice fireplace, and all seating has views of the bay. We ordered a bottle of Artisan ‘Private Label’ Rosé, Provence, France ’19. It seemed the thing to do. We were not disappointed.
For dinner, the lady ordered Wagyu Hanger Steak (watercress greens, fries, sweet & sour shallot sauce); and the gentleman ordered the Michigan “Seafood” Roll (smoked whitefish, corn, fennel, coleslaw, home fries). Our compliments to the Chef, who excelled in combining French cooking with northern Michigan sensibilities. It was yet another pleasant weekend surprise. And, for dessert, Almond Cake (with Moomer’s Cherry Almond ice cream), and cappuccino.
Back in our room, Nette showered, fully enjoying the Bvlgari soaps and lotions. She wrapped herself in a plush, white robe, came out to classic French harpsichord playing from my device and laid upon the bed. She handed me a small bottle of polish.
“Would you do my toes, darling.”
On the silent wide screen, a pack of hyenas was busy taking down a lion.
“I miss the children,” she said.
“So do I.”
Good Morning / Good Bye
The alarm went off at 8. We laid beneath the covers until room service delivered breakfast – fruit, pastry, coffee. Afterwards, Nette did Yoga while I hit the pool. We met 30 minutes later in the sauna, then finished in the hot tub, where I studied the hanging spheres for a moment.
“I really had a very good time,” I said.
“It was fun.”
With an eye set on travelers who appreciate a sophisticated approach to hospitality, the Delamar clearly endeavors to be thee luxury resort in Traverse City. But, it has also given thoughtful consideration to its surroundings; evidenced by the restoration of a work, by an innovative designer, in a manner that properly represents this small city on the bay.
Featured image / Indoor pool at the Delamar.
Words and images by AB