The venerable Gratz Park Inn, which sold late last year, is reopening this month with a facelift and new name.
The new look is drawing raves. The new name? Less complimentary reviews.
Now called The Sire Hotel and a part of the Hilton Tapestry Collection, it has a sleek and updated look that offers travelers the comforts that they expect from a modern boutique hotel, such as 55-inch TVs and superfast wifi.
Gone are the fusty velvets and creaky furniture, now there's marble and plenty of it, as well as improvements that you probably wouldn't have thought about but as a traveler would appreciate.
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Such as wider doors and roomy bathrooms.
That's important, said co-owner Bimal Patel. Today's travelers expect bathroom vanities where they can put out all their stuff, and double vanities where possible.
They accomplished this by taking out the closets and replacing convention bathroom doors with sliding barn-style doors.
"What that enables us to do is to do a five- to six-foot vanity in most of our rooms, which is what a guest needs in this day and age," Patel said.
And give plenty legroom around the toilet. "Our big thing, as hotel operators, is we need to have ample space for someone to sit on a toilet," Patel said. "That may seem very trivial and minute, but we've got comfort height toilets in every room here. ... To us, from a guest service standpoint, these are huge things."
And the showers? Most have rainheads and all — that's right, ALL — have double body sprays so you can get an upper and lower back massage. "It'll be the best shower in the city of any hotel," Patel promised.
Patel, and his business partner Prakash Maggan, should know. Patel's Rolling Hills Hospitality owns eight hotels and Maggan's Rainmaker Hospitality will soon own 11. Both are Transylvania University graduates and when the opportunity came up to buy the venerable Gratz Park Inn and breathe new life into it, they jumped at the chance.
"We've looked at this property over the years but we feel very strongly that we need one of the major brands, Hilton or Marriott, behind it," Patel said. "When Hilton unveiled the Tapestry Collection last year that enabled developers like ourselves to find unique, history, beautiful old hotels or buildings to convert into a Hilton branded hotel but still keeping the independence of a soft, independent brand."
Over the last six months, they gutted the 42 rooms down to the studs as part of a $2 million renovation. "It was floor to ceiling," Maggan said. Closets were refitted in new spots or replaced with armoires.
Chef Mark Wombles, who owns Distilled, the restaurant and bar inside the hotel, approves.
"I believe the look is just what Lexington needs. They have created a hotel that looks like it should be in a bigger city. The look is modern and up-to-date without looking cold and sparse," Wombles said. "Everyone that frequents our restaurant loves the look."
Patel plans to offer internships for students in the Transy hospitality and tourism program, which is run by his mentor, Julia Truitt Poynter.
Patel and Maggan said they ran the new name, The Sire, past Poynter and other Transylvania officials to get reaction and they like the allusions to history and to horses.
To play on the equine theme, they have subtle equestrian touches throughout the hotel, such as artwork with riding crops and curtain ties that look like bridle bits. The hallways will have artwork based on stylized jockey silks.
"We undertook a lengthy and comprehensive re-branding process to arrive at the name of The Sire Hotel. Working with our branding firm, Intrinzic Brand Collaborative, and our franchise hotel partner, Hilton Hotels Corporation, we carefully considered many options when naming the hotel, including keeping the existing name," they said in a statement.
"Ultimately, we wanted to clearly indicate that this is a new experience for our guests, one that is truly unique as Lexington’s only historic hotel. Eventually through this process, the name The Sire was selected to reflect Lexington’s unique mix of thoroughbred spirit and bluegrass attitude — and a way of living that is at once sophisticated and rustic, exclusive and all encompassing."
So they were taken aback when a photo of the hotel's new awning, with the new name, drew criticism on Facebook. Several commentors saw it as unwelcoming, patriarchal and even a tad gross.
One commenter: "Ewwww ... so. much bad."
"I suspect they thought it had equine cachet but yuck," said another.
Poynter said that she has no problem with the name.
"I think it’s a nod to the fact we have an equine industry but it is not blatant," Poynter said. "Transylvania and Lexington, we’re more than horses, bourbon and basketball."
When Patel told her what the name would be "I didn’t even think twice, so I don’t see the concern. As far as I’m concerned, I’m very excited about having that hotel there. To expand the hospitality program at Transylvania, and even more excited about the fact that Bimal is one of our alums, so it's a nice full circle."
Wombles, the Distilled chef, said he thinks after time the new name "will fit perfectly."
As far as losing that "Old World" charm that the Gratz Park Inn was known for, Maggan said that "today's traveler requires a lot of these new amenities, and we didn't have that to offer in the old hotel."
They left the windows, which give lots of natural light to the rooms, several of which offer seating areas.
Rates will start on par with what guests were paying before, the owners said. The hotel's website listed a standard room with a king-sized bed at $184 a night.
While Keeneland's races and sales are important for business, they are only a few months out of the year.
"We're a Hilton branded hotel so our goal is to go after that business traveler," Patel said.
Especially those who don't want to stay in big-box hotels but want to be downtown, Maggan said. "It's a little more private atmosphere here."