The smell of fresh wood stain polish floats through the Monticello Hotel’s new restaurant, as carpenters put the final touches on a 22-foot custom oak bar. With only a few light fixtures to install, the restaurant remodel is wrapping up a year after Seattle investors bought the historic hotel for $2.8 million.
The hotel already is catering private events in the ballroom, and an opening date for the restaurant is drawing closer as the owners finish a contract with a prospective tenant/operator.
“We’re done,” said Craig Dieffenbach, project manager, with a broad smile as he looked over the vintage-themed dining area.
“And it looks way better than it did before,” added Sharon Walker, hotel general manager.
Dieffenbach and carpenter Jared Franklin of Franklin Enterprises crafted the custom oak wood bar, which overlooks a 24-foot long display kitchen — where diners can watch cooks prepare food under globe orb lighting. On another side of the restaurant, colorful stained-glass lights originally from the hotel’s lobby hang over a 1904-zebrawood Brunswick bar.
Next to the Brunswick bar is a heavy-duty crane wheel that historically hoisted food from the basement to the first floor. Workers discovered the crane while opening up the space during restoration, and it will be on display for patrons. The restaurant’s walls are covered with burgundy-toned wood and a deep red wallpaper in a 1920’s design of gold flourishes.
During restoration, much of the restaurant’s floor was lowered four feet, revealing the original mint green and white checkered tiling. But too much of the tile was damaged to restore, so a brown carpet covers much of the floor, except for a few feet of tiling exposed near the restaurant entrance.
Sliding glass doors open up to patio and a view of the vibrant foliage at R.A. Long Park. Inside, a stylized wrought-iron door divides the restaurant and the hotel lobby, so patrons can still look into the main restaurant even when it’s closed.
“Rogue Steakhouse” is the potential name for the new restaurant, but the final name will hinge on who takes over operations.
The owners had been struggling to find a company to run the restaurant for months, just one of many challenges they faced since buying the hotel. During the multimillion restoration project, the owners overcame shakeups in management and financial constraints that forced out local owners. But in August they marked a milestone when they opened a remodeled Crystal Ballroom and new “Speakeasy” bar with a big party. Once the restaurant remodel is complete, construction crews will shift their focus to renovating the former Fireside Lounge. Originally that space was going to be a bakery/cafe, but now the owners want to turn into a wood-fired pizzeria, Dieffenbach said.
The $3 million to $4 million hotel renovation included an extensive refurbishing of the Crystal Room; the addition of “Speakeasy” 1920s-style bar attached the ballroom; a new concrete patio and entrance outside the hotel; two new kitchens and a remodeled restaurant; and a complete makeover of the third floor rooms to transform them into renovated luxury apartments.
Combined with the $2.8 million sale price, Monticello Place LLC has invested about $6 million to $7 million into the hotel.
The new owners believe the building’s historic significance – it was one of the first buildings constructed when Longview was established in 1923 – will be a natural draw for customers. Offering a fine dining menu in the restaurant and a unique venue for special events will help with the hotel’s success, they say. Lease income from 52 apartments will be another crucial source of revenue keeping the business afloat.
Although the renovation is almost complete, it still isn’t clear when the 120-seat restaurant will be open to the public for dining. The hotel owners still are negotiating with another company to take over operating the restaurant, and they aren’t ready to release the name of the prospective operator yet until the deal is finalized in about 30 days.
In the meantime, the hotel received its liquor and catering licenses earlier this month, so the Monticello can now cater its own events or events outside the hotel, too. Behind the main restaurant is a dedicated catering kitchen with new equipment that gleams in the light of the kitchen’s windows.
“This is my baby,” said Tehri Ashe, the hotel’s new kitchen and catering manager, as she looked at the kitchen, which is capable of handling preparation for 500 dishes at once.
Ashe, who has spent the last several years in the restaurant industry, said she can offer a variety dishes such as baron of beef, New York strip steak, pasta, Italian cuisine, filet mignon, salads, vegetarian options, or really anything a customer wants for a particular event.
“It just depends on what their style is — I can cater to their wants,” Ashe said.
The catering business will likely be named “Prohibition Public House” as a nod to the hotel’s roots in the Prohibition Era (1920-1933). Recently, the Monticello catered its first private event, with about 200 attendees for 100 Women Who Care, a local group that raises money for charities. This Saturday, the hotel will host a “Monster Mash” Halloween-themed party, and several other events are on the docket in the coming weeks too from Edwards Jones, the Chamber of Commerce, the YMCA and 100 Men Who Care.
For catering manager Ashe, the restaurant’s reopening is like coming full circle. Ashe worked at Ginger’s, the old restaurant at the Monticello that closed abruptly in January 2014 under former owner Phil Lovingfoss.
“It was very sad when it actually closed,” said Ashe, who had worked there for about seven years.
After Ginger’s shuttered its doors, Ashe spent the last few years working at restaurants in Longview, most recently at the Triangle Tavern. But a sense of nostalgia pulled her back to the iconic hotel.
“It’s beautiful to see it open now. I grew up bouncing around these halls when I was a little girl … so I feel like I’m coming home,” she said.