VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — When the Historic Cavalier Hotel opens to the public in March, Developer Bruce Thompson and his partners will have been in the project exactly four years.
It has been a long and costly road, but here they stand on the dawn of a new era, and Thompson is giving 10 on Your Side the exclusive grand reveal.
We met Thompson at the front door two weeks ago, “Welcome back. Great to have you back. I will show you around, and you will be impressed,” a booming, confident and smiling Thompson blurted out.
The Historic Cavalier Hotel is stunning.
The restoration was not 100 percent complete, but you can quickly tell this is something special as Thompson walked us through the porches, the sun rooms, the outdoor croquet court, the sunken garden and the wedding venues.
We stood on the massive front law and in the distance you can see the new Cavalier Beach Club taking shape, “It is a complete, self-contained club with pool, bar, restaurant, and a beach.”
As we entered the historic indoor pool area with lighting that makes the entire venue blue, Thompson tells us, “The three things the people demanded: one that we kept the character of the swimming pool, two, kept The Hunt Room fireplace, and three we had to keep the bell tower up top.” Mission accomplished on all three of those.
The magnificent pool speaks for itself where noted author F. Scott Fitzgerald hung out back in the 20’s.
Thompson may not be exaggerating when he says, “I think it is the most magnificent amenity of any hotel in the Commonwealth of Virginia.” You are struck by the historic original lion heads spitting out water and dating back to 1927 when the Cavalier first opened.
It was the place to be and Thompson says every U.S. President from that time to 1980 visited the Cavalier, and their pictures are on the wall reminding people of that.
We go from the pool next door to the Cavalier Sea Hill Spa, which was carved out from sand dunes under the original Cavalier. Thompson has opened up areas on the first floor that were walled off, and in that space is the spa.
There is a salt room that gives you an amazing feeling. It’s really clear air. “This is Himalayan salt…it ionizes the air it helps skin conditions,” says Spa Operator Suzanne Garcia.
After a spa experience, visitors will leave through the back door of the spa and pop out on the deck of the pool, “As you leave the spa you enter back on the pool deck. We will recreate two cabanas where you can get a drink or get something to eat as part of your spa day,” Thompson told us.
We take winding stairs down to The Hunt Room. “After the war the only portion of the hotel that was left open was The Hunt Room,” Thompson said as he walked us into a restored, more open Hunt Room.
For those who had been in the old Hunt Room, it is more spacious, and new, and there was no doubt the massive fireplace had to stay.
Restoring the fireplace was an unexpected expensive surprise. The fireplace was collapsing, and had to be shored up and was reconstructed at a cost well over $100,000, according to Thompson.
From there Thompson took us into the new Tarnished Truth Distilling Company. “This is where we will make Old Cavalier bourbon, vodka and our gin.”
The Cavalier will fill guests with spirits of the day from a world class distillery, “Old Cavalier Bourbon will be in greater demand than Pappy Van Winkle. That is my prediction,” Thompson said with a straight face.
The Cavalier will offer tasting sessions, craft cocktail classes and dinner in the tasting room.
If the Cavalier is to get five-star status, it will happen in what Thompson calls a world class kitchen with chefs, he claims, the best he’s ever had. “There is no kitchen that I have ever been in that is equipped like this kitchen.
The kitchen can produce 300 banquet meals and 650 to 800 meals in one serving. Wood fire grills billow out smoke, one of Thompson’s five-star offerings to cook scrumptious larger oysters and the finest meat fit for a president.
The chef takes a huge piece of filet mignon and actually puts it in the fire. He claims this is the way former President Dwight D. Eisenhower preferred his steak cooked, actually in the fire. The former president stayed at the hotel.
Thompson says “with an $80 million dollar investment in this hotel, our spa has to be incredible, our entertainment has to be incredible, our food service has to be phenomenal.”
Five-star status depends on service, food and lodging, “This is The Presidential floor, so [on the wall we have pictures of] all the presidents who stayed here,” says Cavalier Interior Designer Patricia Timm.
Timm took on a mammoth job selecting all the furniture and designs for the restoration project.
Thompson and his partners spent $80 million dollars for only 85 rooms including 22 suites, and 10 specialty suites with different themes. Each of the partners uniquely decorated their own suite.
We went through one suite that had a nautical theme. We will not say which partner it is that decorated it, but it is an attractive memorable room, “you have the door. It’s like a ship’s cabin that takes you into the bedroom,” Timm says.
On the eve of a new era the stakes are high, and so is the risk of failure and Thompson knows that, “The experience in the guest rooms has to be unlike anything, anywhere, so we can attract people near and far, or this investment doesn’t work.”
Maybe, this is some positive foreshadowing for Thompson and his partners. During our tour of the distillery Frank Sinatra’s song “The Best is Yet to Come” came over the speaker system.
We noted that to Thompson and asked him what does that mean? Thompson, quick with a quote, said, “This is the house music, and the best is yet to come,” he said with a smile.
Public tours of The Historic Cavalier Hotel will begin Feb.16 through March 6, and the Cavalier is scheduled to open for business March 7.