When choosing a vacation getaway, it is customary for one to select the destination first, then search for the accommodations. But not this time. I knew who I wanted to “accommodate” me; I just had to decide where it would be.
I had always heard rave reviews about the Loews Hotels — from word of mouth and, of course, on social media — so I wanted to see what all the “fuss” was about. So it didn’t really matter which hotel I would choose for my relaxing “Girlfriends Getaway” weekend as long as my friend and I could enjoy the first-class treatment that the Loews staff famously provides.
There is nothing that a single gal loves more than a little pampering and feeling like “Queen for a Day.” Well, in our case, “Queens for a Weekend.”
The beauty about the hotel chain is that no two locations are alike, but one thing remains consistent: the five-star customer service. So while researching every Loews from Santa Monica to Miami Beach, I decided to set my sights on the perfect location right in the middle, not too far from home and overflowing with Southern charm and hospitality. Where did I end up? The Loews Atlanta, headed by General Manager Mark Castriota and the crew.
After booking my reservation, I received an email from Jonathan Vendrick, who informed me he would be my concierge for the weekend. Well, if that is not the way to kick off the royal treatment, then what is? I was so excited, I think my “accent” began to change instantly and I developed a Scarlett O’Hara meets Queen Elizabeth fused dialect of “I do declare honey chile’, pass me some tea, crumpets and some fish and grits!”
One particular reason that I chose Loews Atlanta is the hotel’s close proximity to eateries and attractions. When traveling, it is very important to get to know the city by foot, not whizzing by in an automobile, so you can enjoy and appreciate all it has to offer. Atlanta is a beautiful city, rich in culture, overflowing with green space encouraging walking toward a healthy lifestyle and has a bustling economy which nurtures the entrepreneurial spirit. A vacation should be an “experience,” and Loews + Atlanta is an experience like no other.
Upon check in, Jonathan greeted my girlfriend and I with champagne, took us on a tour of the facility, then gave us a map highlighting his suggestions of where we should visit for food, sightseeing and overall entertainment. Most of the places were walking distance from the Midtown hotel, and for those that were a little farther away, Jonathan arranged for us to enjoy the complimentary car service. Loews drivers graciously drop off and pick up guests at places within a reasonable distance of the hotel.
Loews Atlanta has 414 luxurious guestrooms and 44 lavish suites. No need to ask, the red carpet was rolled out in high style as I entered my Grand King Suite on the 16th floor. I had a floor-to-ceiling view of Midtown, premium Wi-Fi connections and flat screen televisions in the living room, bedroom and the bathroom, where I enjoyed both my oversized tub and separate shower.
For dinner that evening, we decided to dine in-house at Saltwood, a charcuterie and bar located on the first floor of the hotel. Jonathan introduced us to Saltwood’s executive chef, Olivier Gaupin, who got us excited about tasting the menu inspired by his French roots, fused with a Southern twist.
Named for its emphasis on salted, cured meats and classically rustic presentation on wood blocks, this casual eatery features a charcuterie station that serves as the restaurant’s centerpiece. Diners can pull up bar stools to sample house-made and locally-sourced items, and sip on handcrafted cocktails and local microbrews while watching the restaurant’s chef hand-carve meats and assemble plates.
To be honest, when I first glanced at the menu, the unfamiliarity of the items caused me to give a little push back, reminiscent of my bratty youth years. But our wonderful server Nakita encouraged us novices to dive in, and helped us select delicious food paired with the perfect cocktails.
We started off with a mixed appetizer of aged cheeses and ham and salami selections. Thinly sliced and packed with flavor, the meat mixed with the spicy mustard is a must have!
My second-course selection was Alabama grass fed rib eye with duck fat frites (fries), black truffle oil and parmesan, charred ramps and cracked pepper hollandaise. What else would any self-respecting Southerner dine on? And before I put my palate to rest, I had a dessert mixing chocolate, peanut butter, ice cream and nuts made in that special way only Saltwood can present. But instead of being weighed down, the small-plate meals at Saltwood left us feeling full and satisfied. It’s about indulgence, not overindulgence.
The next morning was all about filling up on a Southern-inspired breakfast! We found a restaurant where the specialty is chicken. Had I died and gone to heaven? Well, just a two-minute walk from the front door of the Loews is all it takes to make it to a haven dedicated to the South’s favorite fowl.
Bantam + Biddy is a southern diner and chicken rotisserie featuring local free-range, all-natural and pastured poultry. Shaun Doty, co-owner and executive chef, wanted a place that offered simple bistro fare. He and Lance Gummere teamed up to present the utmost in high-quality food in an enjoyable, family-friendly atmosphere. So what did I dine on? Chicken and waffles, of course, but the surprising thing is that Bantam + Biddy chefs managed to create a lightweight recipe for what normally would be a heavy meal. Do I recommend this place? Absolutely!
For lunch we went to Tin Lizzy’s Cantina to load up on the spiciest “FlexMex” our taste buds could handle! What is FlexMex? Welp, Tin Lizzy’s says it’s Tex-Mex with a little more flair. And this Texas girl has to agree. I am a lover of spicy food and the food at Tin Lizzy’s goes overboard on flavor with their gourmet tacos, seasoned chips and salsa. The cantina serves refreshing margaritas, and mixed with the friendly service, lively music and the cuisine, it is a place you would stop by anytime you’re in town and dream about when you leave. Our server Hannah was pleasant, fun and kept the good stuff coming! Once again, Tin Lizzy’s is just a block away from the Loews Hotel, and the patio is the perfect place to dine and people-watch.
Now for dinner, we had to take a little drive away from our sanctuary even though it was hard to tear us away. But trust me, it was all worth it!
Leave your notions at the door and step into a new world — where the streets are lined with nothing but beef — because FLIP Burger Boutique in Buckhead was unlike any other place I’ve seen before. A “unique culinary experience” and “fine dining on a bun” is what they call it; an American classic “flipped” on its head. And yes, I flipped out. The setting is modern and sophisticated, even intimate, which is not a word you expect to associate with a burger joint. Soft lighting and soothing music take you away before the food ever hits the table, and the signature cocktails are a great way to start the evening. My drink was smoking, literally, as my server brought the Jazzy Belle to me. It was a refreshing drink made with Absolut Ruby Red, agave nectar, fresh lemon and cilantro, and it resembled, to me, a smoky little volcano in a martini glass. To start us off, we had the fry side sampler with beef fat French fries with smoked mayo and ketchup, vodka battered onion rings with beer honey mustard, and sweet potato tots with burnt marshmallow foam. Bet you never had that before!
Then to top it all off, we had the classic Angus beef burger, homemade with a twist. We didn’t get to hug the chef for the burger delights, but we lavished a lot of love on the general manager Robert Wesling, who came up with a few of the restaurant’s concepts, specifically, the Moonshine Milkshake – no…. explanation…needed. And guess what, Robert said Texas is definitely on the map for a future location. Bring it on home, baby!
Now off the food – I’ve gone berserk, we did actually check out some sights!
You can’t go to the Hollywood of the South without checking out the reason why it’s called that. And, after taking the Atlanta Movie Tour, I could clearly see why. The knowledgeable tour hosts loaded us with information as we rode on the cool bus, watching movie clips, when lo and behold we would arrive at the exact destination where scenes were filmed!
The film industry is booming in Georgia, with over 700 movies and 20 television shows shot there since 1972. Atlanta has been fortunate to play a key role in many of them. The tour guides took us to the filming locations of Driving Miss Daisy, The Vampire Diaries, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, The Walking Dead and — for hip-hop lovers – the house centered in T.I.’s movie ATL and a video set for rapper Nelly. Our guides shared fascinating behind-the-scenes stories, but the best story came from a little stop along the way. We stopped by Miller’s Rexall Drugstore, where they sell old school “hoo-doo” and homeopathic products, and walking around it, I would not have been surprised to see an old woman with a chicken bone warding off spirits. But no, she wasn’t there. Instead, there were plenty of air fresheners to help you bless your house, get money and my favorite – stay out of jail! My old Southern grandmother had the Mr. Money spray, but the Keep From Going to Jail spray was a new one for me. In addition, Mr. Miller, the owner of the store, shared a great story about his brush with Paul McCartney, who used the drug store as inspiration for his album title “Run Devil Run,” which he named after bath salts he bought from the store. A picture of the drug store is also featured on the album cover.
After returning to the hotel, we had our driver take us right back out again so we could visit Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park, next to the World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium. We visited the Center for Civil and Human Rights Museum and it was an experience I can’t explain, walking through halls filled with memories of Martin Luther King Jr., the freedom fighters and all those who put their lives on the line in the name of justice.
Reliving the “lunch counter” experience of protesters is something that I will never forget, and I definitely feel everyone must experience it. I sat with headphones on at the lunch counter, eyes closed as instructed, then my chair began to jolt (simulating someone kicking it or shaking me) and the meanest whispers and yells filled my ears as I heard people spew the racist remarks at me that were spewed at the people who were actually in those situations many years ago. I was left in silence first, followed by sadness, then an overwhelming sense of pride. It is one thing to see the old documentaries, but it is another thing to actually become a part of the experience. Reflecting on my past, inspired by the advancements and my future, and full of appreciation for those who fought for me, I wiped my tears and had to retreat back to the Loews to meditate and unwind. Loews had just the solution for what I needed.
And how did I end my stay? With “Magic Hands Marie” at exhale Spa on the seventh floor of the hotel. I stepped off the elevator and into an urban oasis of relaxation. My body was still tense from my walk through history and my massage therapist, Marie, took me away. She consulted with me first, finding out where my problem spots were and worked out all the kinks with a soothing deep-tissue treatment as the two of us chatted like old girlfriends. Exhale is a sanctuary designed to balance and restore the mind and body, without ever leaving the comfort of Loews. If I could have brought my luggage down and moved into Exhale, it would have been just fine with me. The spa’s complete menu of therapies offers everything from facials and massages to waxing and healing, and their multi award-winning proprietary fitness classes will sculpt, lengthen, and transform your body. Thanks to Marie, I left revived and restored, with a lot less on my mind.
But wait! There’s a bonus – as if things could not have gotten any better. During our stay, the 2015 Dancing Atlanta Stars charity event was being held in one of the top floor ballrooms of the Loews, and since I am the “2014 Lady Dance Champ” for the Dancing with the Houston Stars (cough-cough-brag), I knew I just had to weasel my way inside the packed room. It was no trouble, Jonathan and Inny Ross Laterveer got special permission for my girlfriend and I to attend. It was a night to remember, the ambiance was perfect, the production was amazing and lots of money was raised for Alzheimer’s disease.
It was the perfect end to a perfect weekend. It was the perfect experience at the perfect place. It’s what everyone needs; opulence, succulence and decadence in the grandest, yet simplest form – effortless. It was simply, the Loews and simply put, I’ll be back.
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