December 4, 2020 at 10:36 am EST | by Kevin Naff
Escape (safely) to Baltimore’s luxurious Ivy Hotel
Ivy Hotel, gay news, Washington Blade
The rear of the Ivy Hotel with a view of the walled courtyard and third-floor spa. (Photo courtesy Ivy Hotel)

After months in quarantine, canceled summer vacations, and renewed COVID-related restrictions on entertainment, we’re all suffering from cabin fever and dreading the pending winter.

Although a Caribbean trip or European jaunt won’t be in the cards this year, there are some escapes closer to home that can be safe in these uncertain and stressful times.

One such getaway is just 30 miles north of D.C. at the Ivy Hotel in Baltimore.

To describe the Ivy as a “hotel” is something of a misnomer. It feels more like you’re going to visit your wealthy aunt at her mansion in the city. After all, there’s no noisy registration desk or crowded lobby scene to navigate. Instead, guests are greeted outside as the valet parks your car. A short elevator ride later and a friendly staffer is welcoming you by name with a glass of Champagne in front of a roaring fire.

A view inside the main floor of the Ivy Hotel. (Photo courtesy Ivy Hotel)

A pleasant chat with the concierge is all that approximates the usual crude check-in process at a larger hotel. While sipping that glass of Champagne, you stroll the main floor of the Ivy and its multiple formal rooms. There’s a well-stocked library, a billiards room, the piano, a quiet courtyard, and, of course, the bar, which is open noon to midnight — fully stocked, self-serve, and complimentary. A gorgeous wood-paneled formal dining room is available for private parties, whenever larger gatherings are again permitted.

The mansion that is now the Ivy is located at the corner of Biddle and North Calvert Streets and was commissioned in 1889 by John Gilman, a wealthy banker and industrialist, according to the hotel. Gilman died before construction was complete and the mansion changed hands several times until it was gifted to the Baltimore Parks and Recreation Department. After sitting vacant for years, the mansion came back to life in the 1980s, when iconic Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer used it to host dignitaries. Today, the Ivy has undergone a complete renovation, restoring it to its grand origins with leaded glass windows, 23 fireplaces, green marble, and a soaring staircase.

There are just 18 rooms in the hotel so the experience is intimate and familiar. Unpack quickly, because afternoon tea starts at 2 p.m. We took our tea outside on an unusually warm fall afternoon overlooking the courtyard. An impressive selection of teas is offered along with small sandwiches and fresh scones served with honey butter and preserves.

After that indulgence, we decided to walk off some calories and took a stroll to Baltimore’s Harbor East neighborhood, about two miles south near the Inner Harbor. We stop for a quick drink overlooking the water before calling for the Ivy’s car service to pick us up. The service is a free perk for guests for rides within a three-mile radius of the hotel. The driver politely declines our tip as the Ivy is a non-tipping property, except for the restaurant.

Back inside our room (the original master bedroom of the mansion) there’s a bottle of pinot noir and two red wine glasses on a table at the foot of the bed. Inside a cabinet are more snacks, all complimentary, including a selection of savory and sweet nibbles, waters, and even Kombucha. But we forgo the snacking as dinner awaits at the acclaimed Magdalena just downstairs. We dress early for our reservation to allow a little time downstairs for a game of pool.

The restaurant recently transformed its menu, offering bistro-style fare inspired by French and English dishes but infused with a distinctly local sensibility. Ingredients are locally sourced with many selections from the Chesapeake Bay. The tables are safely spaced and everyone’s in a mask, of course. To start, try the souffle suissesse with gruyere and toasted hazelnuts or a dozen fresh oysters. The new menu from award-winning chef Mark Levy is revamped and approachable with an Eastern Shore lump crab cake, seared Maine scallops, and an autumn pork chop with grilled apples and bacon dressing. Entrees run $23-35, a steal given the quality of the ingredients and the refined ambience.

The Ivy also boasts an inviting spa with all the treatments you’d expect — massages (including in-room), facials, and a menu of body treatments like the lemon verbena body polish ($200 for 60 minutes).

The Ivy has taken extreme measures to ensure guest safety during the pandemic after closing in late March and reopening in October. A fully refundable cancellation policy within 48 hours of your reservation is in effect until Dec. 31. An exhaustive list of COVID safety protocols is found on the Ivy website. Local businesses like the Ivy need customer support and rest assured that you can enjoy a safe stay here.

The Ivy is offering a holiday special through Jan. 31; one-night stay with a spiked hot cocoa for two with afternoon tea, a hot toddy foot ritual for two in the spa, and $150 toward dinner at Magdalena. Rates start at $1,074.66

If you’re looking for a little pampering and a splurge, consider a night or weekend at the Ivy and dinner at Magdalena. Not only will you feel a world away from home, you’ll be contributing to the local economy and supporting a local small business. No activity these days is 100 percent safe, but a stay at the Ivy makes for a restful, memorable respite. Visit theivybaltimore.com for more information and to make a reservation.

An Ivy Hotel guest room. (Photo courtesy Ivy Hotel)

Kevin Naff is the editor and a co-owner of the Washington Blade, the nation’s oldest and most acclaimed LGBT news publication, founded in 1969.

© Copyright Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia, Inc. 2021. All rights reserved.