In Richmond, a suite fit for a king


The Commonwealth Park Suites Hotel. King Suites. All King Suites are equipped with a king size bed and a full size pull out sofa. (The Commonwealth Park Suites Hotel)
July 15, 2011

When a king suite costs the same as a standard double room, you’ll probably blink twice to be sure you’re not hallucinating. But look again at Richmond’s Commonwealth Park Suites hotel, and you’ll realize that this is no trick of the mind.

At the downtown property, the odds of snagging a king suite are in your favor: 37 of the 59 rooms are connected spaces with king-size beds. On some days, especially weekends, the rate is the same throughout the 11-story house; on other dates, you might have to drop an extra $13 for the XL space. If you do book a double — silly, really, but go ahead and be contrarian — you might never even see it.

“If someone is staying here for the first time,” said Nicole Peyton, who was working the front desk during my visit last week, “I’ll probably upgrade them to a suite, just so they can experience it.”

The 618-square-foot suite deserves a tour map highlighting its most impressive features. Such as the pair of flat-screen TVs (one per room) and the cabinet camouflaging the microwave and fridge. And the giant blue pleather square between the couch and the red wingback chairs that works as either a soft coffee table or a footrest for guests with large shoe sizes. Hanging on the wall above the couch, a photo titled “Destroying a Still, 1924” shows cops standing like triumphant boxers atop their felled contraband. The artwork taps into the hotel’s past: During Prohibition, the building housed a bootlegging saloon named Rueger, as well as rooms for imbibers too tipsy to drive home.

Poking around the capacious bathroom, I noticed an intercom near the bidet and wondered whether it was once used as a warning system to rouse illegal drinkers. Or maybe it helped folks communicate between rooms, because to be honest, you need a loud indoor voice to make yourself heard.

“We want the suite to feel like a one-bedroom apartment,” said Nicole, “although some people don’t even use the living room.”

I used all the rooms, plus some that weren’t behind my door. For dinner, I stopped into Maxine’s Cafe, which serves a buffet breakfast (grits and biscuits, a given) and dinner. While the chef chopped up my garden salad, I perused the old-timey photos beneath whirling ceiling fans and contemplated the grand piano perched high on a balcony. I looked around for ropes that might hoist the musician up to his ivories but found none. En route to my king suite (I just love saying that over and over), I checked out the fitness center’s three cardio machines and the ice machine that came with a stack of plastic bags, in case you forgot your ice bucket (which, of course, I had).

One floor up, I tracked down the sauna in a room that served no purpose but to hold some stray chairs and a painting splashed with blue. Not knowing how to operate the sauna, I improvised, twisting all the buttons and throwing water on the stones. The small chamber started to warm up, growing hot, hotter, hottest — get me out of here!

The Commonwealth Park Suites, majestic in its grand early-20th-century coat, looks out on the sylvan capitol grounds, as quiet as a whisper on a weekend evening. At other times, the area is overrun with lawmakers, lobbyists and lawyers, including the attorney general, whose office abuts the hotel. But the only business taking place on a Sunday involved a woman and her dog, and a guard at the Governor’s Mansion, who waved to me from his security booth.

When it was time for bed, I prepared the suite. If anyone was watching from outside, they probably marveled at how long it took for the lights to go out, one by one, room by room.

Andrea Sachs (not the one who wears Prada) has been writing for Travel since 2000. She travels near (Ellicott City, Jersey Shore) and far (Burma, Namibia, Russia), and finds adventure no matter the mileage. She is all packed for the Moon or North Korea, whichever opens first.
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