On a weeknight evening last November, my husband and I barreled through the elevator doors leading to The Ivy Hotel‘s front room. We were still in work mode and on edge from scrambling to leave D.C. in time to reach the luxury hotel in Baltimore for a romantic evening together. Within 10 seconds of entering the Ivy, our daily stresses melted away and we began to relax.
Our concierge greeted us with a cold glass of top-shelf champagne and gave us a tour of the intimate space. We were immediately smitten with every aspect of interior designer Joszi Meskan’s vision for the hotel – from the lush, colorful accent pieces to the eclectic antiques in each room. My husband geeked out over the stunning original wood flooring while I sunk into retro chaise lounges and admired vintage botanical illustrations and zebra rugs.
We then got settled in our room, which felt like stepping into the bedroom of a Crawley family member from “Downton Abbey,” somehow perfectly juxtaposed with a cavernous modern bathroom. I fell in love with our in-room complimentary snack, the whipped Charlottetown goat cheese with cream, truffle oil, apple and onion chutney, which I most definitely ordered again during dinner.
Our next step was Magdalena, the Maryland bistro located below the hotel. I could write a long-form essay on just this meal alone, but for the purposes of time, I’ll walk you through the highlights: more Charlottetown goat cheese dip; Southern-style ham, picked beets and mustard aioli; Honeycrisp apple, stilton cheese and endive salad; poached Albright farm egg, potato puree and chorizo-foie gras sauté (by far my favorite); Maryland crab cake; and fillet of Nova Scotia halibut with mussels and cilantro cream (my second favorite). Intricate cocktails like Under the Boardwalk (bourbon, house-made apple butter, black walnut bitters and caramel popcorn skewers) kept my husband happy, while I tried several bubbly options that did not disappoint.
Once stuffed, we had a nightcap in the tea room courtesy of the open bar and then retreated to our luxurious suite where we slept like the dead. We returned to Magdalena the following morning before check-out for a gourmet breakfast of eggs Benedict and oatmeal, and left the hotel feeling rested and spoiled. But most importantly, the hotel felt safe mid-pandemic.
While there were other guests in the hotel and restaurant, we never felt crowded or uncomfortable, and the hotel staff went to great lengths to ensure social distancing, mask wearing and other Covid precautions. It’s important to note that my husband, who is an epidemiologist with a primary focus on public health, felt safe during our stay and comfortable returning home to our family.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I decided to speak with The Ivy Hotel’s GM, Rob Arthur, about what makes the hotel such a romantic place to escape to, and well worth the splurge.
District Fray: How would you describe the hotel’s ambiance?
Rob Arthur: The Ivy is gorgeous, romantic and welcoming, and embodies the soul of the city. Rosy brick walls, shining windows and 18 guest quarters create a refuge of world-class hospitality in what was once a magnificent private home. [It’s] historic, unique, sophisticated yet relaxed, fun and private.
What are a few standout elements that guests seem to notice and enjoy the most?
The courtyard garden is filled with greenery and ivy. It’s a sanctuary-like oasis that feels like the best kept secret in Baltimore. The tea room’s walls are covered in a mural painted by local artists. The room’s layout mimics a living room where guests can read, play board games or have a drink by the fire. Another standout is the library. The walls are covered in leather and gold tulle panels. The library offers an extensive collection of books, historic and otherwise, alongside an original fireplace.
What is your favorite cocktail currently offered at Magdalena?
I really enjoy a good bourbon cocktail, and Magdalena’s Under the Boardwalk is one of my favorites [Ed. Note: Ours too!] It’s created with a house-made apple butter that’s a family recipe from our dining room manager’s grandmother. The cocktail is then topped with bits of Fisher’s caramel popcorn, which is an immediate reminder of summers spent on the boardwalk. The Charm City Cookie is my other go-to cocktail and a guest favorite. It’s composed by infusing [Baltimore’s favorite] Berger cookie with vodka and then adding a little cream to create a smooth finish. It is then paired with a golden, chocolate-dusted cookie to satisfy all of us with an adult sweet tooth – a good excuse to indulge.
What are a few standout dishes on Magdalena’s winter menu?
Magdalena’s Wagyu Coulotte is a great classic play on this dish. With garlic butter and truffle parmesan added to the bistro fries, it truly creates a standout entree that guests crave. If you are really looking to spoil yourself, this dish can be prepared with Chef Mark Levy’s favorite 22 oz. bone-in ribeye, which is sure to delight the healthiest of appetites.
What makes Magdalena’s dining experience unique?
Magdalena debuted as a new concept: Magdalena, a Maryland Bistro. The team’s collective vision created a beautiful homage to Maryland cuisine that at once builds pride among locals and introduces visitors to an elevated take on iconic Baltimore dishes. The former fine-dining concept now features thoughtfully created elevated bistro fare inspired by the classic dishes of France, the comforts of England and the vast spirit of Baltimore. The seasonal evolving menu highlights a playful yet sophisticated take on classics driven by the bounty of the Chesapeake Bay region. While the concept is more casual, Magdalena maintains its impeccable service standards [and] extensive award-winning wine and whiskey lists with two certified sommeliers on staff.
Walk me through the Valentine’s Day package. What are some key elements guests can look forward to?
We’re inviting guests to celebrate love in luxury this Valentine’s Day with a romantic retreat to The Ivy. It’s really quite a generous package, with many romantic amenities on top of our already highly inclusive room rate. It includes two nights in a suite, elegant chocolates and strawberries with demi champagne upon arrival, a couples massage, a romantic dinner in-room ($250 dining credit), an in-room bath truffle, and a rose petal turndown.
What makes The Ivy Hotel a particularly romantic place to stay? Are there any rooms or moments that can be created at the hotel for a particularly romantic ambiance?
The Ivy Hotel is a private oasis available only to guests of the property. Its intimate nature is so well-suited for couples. It feels as if you’re staying in a generous friend’s home. This laidback yet luxurious atmosphere allows couples to truly relax and indulge in the moment [with] each other. We literally see guests relax upon arrival – their shoulders drop, they sit a little closer to each other and slow down. Every room has a fireplace feature [and] a private, oversized bathroom with a soaking tub to set the stage for romance.
If locals aren’t feeling up for a Valentine’s Day stay given Covid’s current status, but want to book ahead and have something to look forward to, what time of year would you recommend?
Many travelers don’t think of early spring as a time to get away with the rainy weather and finicky temperatures, but The Ivy is the perfect place to stay indoors. Plus, we begin incorporating fresh spring harvest elements into our menus. Our guests often never want to leave. Try April or early May during the Mount Vernon neighborhood’s gorgeous Flower Mart Festival [on] May 3 and 4.
Walk me through a perfect 24-hour stay at the Ivy. What should everyone experience within the hotel while still following Covid guidelines around social distancing?
Check in a little early to enjoy complimentary champagne upon arrival [and] experience afternoon tea service. Explore your room: the local art, generous amenities in the barmoire, in-room reading selection, etc. Indulge in a spa service. Make yourself a pre-dinner drink at the self-serve, fully stocked mansion bar. Enjoy in-room dining service from Magdalena. A fully plated display will be brought to your room door. Play a game of billiards or cards in the game room after your meal; supply yourself drinks of your choice from the mansion bar. Wind down for bed; soak in the bath or take a long shower. Call down to the concierge desk and place your breakfast order and wake-up call. Enjoy breakfast either in bed or by the fire in one of the hotel’s several common areas. Here is a link to Covid-19 precautions taken throughout the entire property: The Ivy Promise.
How would you describe the hotel’s typical guest?
Currently, we’re welcoming many local guests from the DMV region looking for a staycation that feels like you’ve truly hopped [on] a plane and gone overseas. The Ivy has been fortunate to host a diverse array of guests from all over the world. We find guests seeking culture and luxury in every last detail are truly thrilled with their experience. It’s the reason we’ve received a number of notable accolades.
Learn more about The Ivy Hotel’s Valentine’s Day offerings here. Book a room at the hotel here, and make a reservation for Magdalena here. Follow on Instagram @theivyhotel and @magdalenabaltimore, respectively.
The Ivy Hotel: 205 E Biddle St. Baltimore, MD; 410-514-6500; www.theivybaltimore.com
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