Sometimes the best retreat is in the heart of Dallas
by Hannah J. Phillips
Photographs by Steven Visneau
A two-night stay at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas recently amplified my budding fondness for the Metroplex into a full-blown love affair. Much like the city itself, the hotel blends modern luxury, historic charm, and contemporary art in surprising ways that refresh both mind and body.
Since one pillar in my personal life philosophy is to never refuse Champagne, I accepted a glass upon arrival, admiring the Wes Anderson vibes of the iconic key wall behind the front desk. Long since replaced by electronic cards, the brass keys are the first hint at the hotel’s effortless equilibrium between embracing their rich history and catering to millennial taste.
Ascend the escalators for the next clues in that theme. Sparkling in hand, raise your glass to the portrait of the hotel’s founder, Adolphus Busch. Co-founder of the Anheuser-Busch empire, Busch opened the hotel in 1912, when he noticed a lack of luxury accommodations and gathering spaces in the city. At the time, the property was the tallest building in Texas, designed in the Beaux Arts style of German castles from the beer baron’s homeland.
Relics of the brewery empire remain scattered throughout the upper lobby: Beer hops replace grapevines in the Bacchus mirror facing the Busch portrait, while hop berries and leaves hang from the talons of the brand’s signature eagles in the bronze chandelier nearby.
Around the corner, note the neoclassical nod to another empire in the portrait of Napoleon from his 1804 coronation (hard to miss, since the six-foot painting is taller than the emperor himself). During the hotel’s recent renovation, the portrait played a central role in connecting those often-competing themes of tradition and innovation. When the hotel’s design firm, Swoon, tapped Lucia Simek of the Nasher Sculpture Center to curate a contemporary gallery for the French Room Salon, she turned to Napoleon for inspiration.
For Simek, the portrait links the grand gestures of myth-making associated with the legacies of both Napoleon and Dallas. This theme of empire-building led Simek to select works by artists with deep connections to Texas that could play with those same notions of grandeur, romance and drama. With a colorful range of geometric shapes, fabrics, photography, drawings, collage, and painting, the salon’s 42-piece collection is a rendering of Texas that simultaneously disrupts and satisfies stereotypical concepts of “western” art.
But an appetite for art is not the only craving satiated in the French Room. Cozy up with cocktails and elevated snacks under the lacquered chinoiserie fireplace in the French Room Bar. Against the hotel’s trademark blue walls, the contrasting red of this 18th-century French interpretation of Asian design creates a chiaroscuro effect with its floral-looking dragons (or are they dragon-looking florals? Your answer may change after one boulevardier).
Save room for dinner in the French Room, or opt for the more-casual but equally ambitious offerings at City Hall Bistro. Among other notable names on his resume, chef Jeramie Robison hails from Uchi, whose influence is laced throughout the restaurant’s Southern-Mediterranean menu. Spicy turmeric scallops were a favorite, as was the chargrilled octopus that was almost too beautiful to eat (almost).
In the morning, sample the sugar-crusted Belgian waffles downstairs at Otto’s Coffee. I opted to call the waffle to me through the wonders of room service (i.e., the Tooth Fairy for adults). True magic is leaving a card outside your door that makes food appear in the morning.
Between the dining options, art, and amenities — not to mention the spa and barbershop — you could avoid venturing out altogether. If venture you must, the Nasher Sculpture Center is a quick ride away. Despite the steady drone of Dallas traffic and surrounding high-rises, nature meets art in the Nasher gardens for another unlikely haven of solitude. Time slows beneath the oaks and willows here, where musings on Matisse, Picasso, Judd, Calder, and de Kooning are interrupted only by the chiming bells of a nearby church.
The adjacent Crow Museum of Asian Art is equally tranquil with its assorted ceramics and samurai artifacts, but if your preferred artistic expression is through fashion, you can complete your Nasher inspired tour at NorthPark Center. The luxury retail space was specifically designed in the 1960s to share museum founders, Patsy and Raymond Nasher’s, growing contemporary art collection with the public.
On your last day, be sure to enjoy tea in the French Room before hitting the road. The 2017 overhaul restored the room to its original design, brightening the space with authentic Venetian plaster. Best enjoyed on a slow Sunday morning, sip Earl Grey and marvel at the multicolored, handblown glass of the Murano chandeliers overhead.
Restored and refreshed, bid adieu to Adolphus and Napoleon at checkout — until next time.