The Jefferson was built by a Richmond importer, Lewis Ginter, who lost his first fortune during the Civil War, after serving as a major in the Confederate Army. He moved to New York, where he became rich again through banking, but lost most of his assets during a recession. At age 50, he returned to Richmond and made more millions in tobacco, sold the company, and entered real estate. He traveled the world and brought back art he planned to place in a new hotel. The Jefferson (named after his favorite president) was built at a cost estimated at $5 to $10 million (equivalent to $146 to $292 million today). It opened on October 31, 1895 and a week later, an engagement party was held on the rooftop for Irene Langhorne and Charles Dana Gibson, the famed illustrator of the Gibson Girl (the personification of female attractiveness at the turn of the century). Later guests included 13 United States presidents, among them Woodrow Wilson, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, both Bushes, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. Others who stayed were Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Sir Edmund Hillary, Gertrude Stein, Charles Chaplin, Elvis Presley, and Frank Sinatra.
We have stayed some of the world’s top hotels and while other reviewers might give a property a high ranking because of, say, its restaurants, exercise facilities, or room décor, those were not our priorities. This was our best overall hotel experience ever, for the following reasons in descending order of importance: the bed (we consider ourselves connoisseurs of comfortable sleeping); the quiet environment inside and outside that part of the building; the bathroom; the unusually experienced and helpful staff (they made no mistakes in their interactions with us and were proactive in offering services, such as access to a complimentary chauffeured car); the gorgeous lobby; value for money; and The Jefferson’s colorful history (especially in the context of Richmond as a fantastic destination for history buffs).
Class of Accommodation Luxury hotel
Connectivity There was high speed WiFi in the room and common areas.
Handicapped Access The hotel had five Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant rooms.
Head Concierge Jeanita Harris (with the hotel 30 years)
Length of Stay Two nights
Location The hotel was downtown, nine miles (15 minutes) from the Richmond International Airport and a few blocks from the oldest part of town, Shockoe Slip, whose buildings were well-preserved and had lively new businesses.
Managing Director Joseph Longo (with the hotel 17 years)
Owned Historic Hotels, Inc., owned by the Riverstone Group, part of Richmond businessman William H. Goodwin Jr.’s real estate firm.
Pets Pets were welcome, including all types of dogs, for a $50 per pet, per day fee, as long as they were trained and on a leash. Dog walking and pet sitting were available.
Size The eight story tall Jefferson was 292,000 square feet large and its land occupied an entire city block. There were 200 full-time and 100 part-time staff.
Year Opened-Renovated The hotel opened in 1895 and it had had many renovations since. In 1901, The Jefferson burned down. It reopened six years later, maintaining its original mix of Beaux Arts and Renaissance Revival architectural styles. A combination of factors caused the property to go into decline and it was closed in 1980, then restored and reopened by a developer in 1986.
In 1991, a Richmond investment group bought it and redesigned the hotel in time to host the Fortune 500 Conference two years later. In 1994, it was awarded the American Automobile Association Four Diamonds recognition. The hotel continued to receive it until another reconstruction began in 2013. The work was largely invisible to us because sections being remodeled were screened off (the plumbing, electrical, heating and air conditioning systems were completely redone). It was very near completion when we were there, turning the original 262 rooms into 181 larger ones (with an average increase of 31 percent), including 15 suites (in increasing order of price: Premier King Guestrooms, Grand Premier King Guestrooms, Grand Premier Queen Guestrooms, Richmond Suites, and Ginter Suites).
A chandelier lighted the room from a high ceiling. At one end there was a couch and overstuffed chairs around a low glass table with magazines like Preservation, the publication of the National Trust for Historic Preservation (Richmond has one of the nation’s largest number of designated historic buildings and is an architecture buff’s paradise). The table also held a Marble Queen Pothos plant (also known as Devil’s Ivy). Next to the bed was an iHome music system, which we turned off, and a dual-line telephone. The large flat-screen television had premium cable. It was about to be replaced by a 49-inch, high-def, slim-line LG, we were told.
While we appreciated room décor, which was lovely, what was most important to us was the comfort of the bed. The astonishing thing about most travel guides is that they typically fail to rate the beds, as if most people would be happy with whatever was offered, while we have found big differences. The Jefferson mattress was handcrafted and could be ordered from the gift shop, along with its extra comforter and the exceptional pillows (half feather, half down; hypoallergenic available). The sheets were 400-thread count Egyptian cotton. There was a padded bench at the end of the bed for convenience while dressing.
The next morning we looked out the windows for the first time (which we wanted to open for fresh air, but could not, the norm for hotels these days; fortunately, the air conditioning and heating controls were easy to operate). The view of the modern city was nice.
That night, we went to the Jefferson’s fine dining restaurant, Lemaire, which received the 2017 AAA Four Diamond award. We spoke with Patrick Willis, executive chef, who worked his way up the kitchen ranks for a decade before his appointment nearly two years earlier. He wanted to make the restaurant a destination for locally-sourced New American Cuisine and talked enthusiastically about the farmers who work with him to provide fresh and unique items. Our main dish was the Saffron Acquerello Risotto with oyster mushrooms, roasted garlic, pea tendrils, and spiced gastrique. We tried the Manakintowne Specialty Growers Fresh Cut Lettuces, with cherry tomatoes, English cucumbers, shaved radish, pecorino, and red quinoa. We also sampled Whole Roasted Romanesco Cauliflower (petite kale, semi-dried tomatoes, pearl onions, hard-boiled egg, and black truffle vinaigrette). Portions were small, as we expect from Nouvelle Cuisine. For dessert we enjoyed the Pecan Pie Bread Pudding and Butterscotch Bourbon Anglaise.
Facilities In addition to the two restaurants, The Jefferson had a spa (independently operated) and a swimming pool. A 3,000 square-foot fitness center was open round the clock. It had cardio exercise equipment with personal flat screen televisions, weight training machines and free weights, as well as massage therapy rooms, showers, and restrooms not open to the public.
Pool The indoor pool was 15 feet by 18 feet, five feet at the deepest end and three feet at the shallowest.
Other In 2017, the American Automobile Association (AAA) bestowed The Jefferson its coveted Five Diamond Award, which emphasizes outstanding service compared with elite hotels and restaurants worldwide. The Forbes Travel Guide (formerly Mobil) also awarded it Five Stars, making the Jefferson one of only 51 properties in the United States to receive both.
Date of Review April 2017
Photos and Article by Scott S. Smith
Service Our room was serviced twice daily. All staff we interacted with were self-assured and well-informed. During our stay we met Jennifer Crisp, who had been with the Jefferson for two decades (many of the staff, had served for many years, a rarity in the hospitality industry, which has an annual turnover rate of 72 percent, according to one source).
Would You Stay There Again? Yes