Themed hotels aren’t easy to pull off without veering into the absurd.
In the case of the president-themed Kilmarnock Inn, I can only imagine what owners with less tact and taste would have included in this small-town Virginia bed-and-breakfast.
Thankfully, there are no cardboard commanders in chief, no Madame Tussauds-like wax figures here. Mostly, the nod to America’s leaders is subtler, such as the presidential seal carpet that I walked right over on my way to the registration desk. And subtle is good if you’re looking for a relaxing getaway for Presidents’ Day weekend, whether you’re a peon who likes American history or a president looking to be reminded of your place in it.
The biggest concession to the theme are the names of the buildings that make up the inn. The main building, a circa-1884 white house (ha!), contains the restaurant, a lounge and a few guest rooms. It’s called the Wilson House, after Woodrow.
The rest of the rooms are in a small village of six other cottages, named for the other Virginia-born chief executives — Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Harrison, Taylor-Tyler (they share one building) — prettily arranged around a central courtyard. Signposts with presidential trivia sit in front of each room. (Example: “The father of fifteen, the most children of any president, Tyler was playing marbles when he learned that he was to be president.”) Because we’d decided to bring along our two Shih Tzu mixes, my husband and I reserved the Taylor room, one of several pet-friendly options. My fluffers aren’t as pampered as Bo and Sunny Obama, but I appreciate any time that I’m able to bring them along to more upscale establishments, even if they don’t. (Sorry you got car-sick, Hobbes!)
The room’s decor is simple but attractive. A few pieces of water-themed art — Kilmarnock is on the Northern Neck, near the Chesapeake Bay and the Rappahannock River — hang on teal walls. The fishing rod-shaped lamps are cute but not too kitschy. I liked the ample seating — two armchairs and a desk chair.
The bathroom had thoughtful touches that you don’t often see, including a makeup mirror that folds in and out of the wall. The inn also provides mouthwash, a sewing kit and a makeup remover cloth. No fancy-schmancy bath products here, but I had to agree with my husband’s enthusiasm when he later shoved his just-washed head of hair into my face and exclaimed, “The shampoo smells like amaretto!”
As it was a 30-something-degree winter day, a lot of the inn’s recreational amenities were lost on us. We couldn’t sit on our darling little porch. We couldn’t harvest herbs and vegetables from the garden. And while it was technically possible, I had no desire to tool around town freezing my behind off on one of the guest bicycles.
So, not unhappily, I resigned myself to recovering from our drive by stretching out on the bed, at least until some kind of caked-on stain caught my eye. I returned to the Wilson House and requested a new comforter. An employee promptly set out to make the switch. When I came back, I noticed that the replacement was not pristine either — well, that window heating unit was keeping the room toasty anyway, wasn’t it? (At least until the middle of the night, when it wasn’t, and my more laid-back husband had, with my blessing, taken the comforter and cocooned himself in it. Good thing I brought that oversize down jacket.)
We couldn’t enjoy the inn’s grounds, but we did take advantage of its ideal location just off South Main Street. We peeked in a few shop windows and settled in for dinner at the very new Northern Neck Burger Co., which carried on the presidential theme with a charming quote on the wall from George Washington about his mother. She was born just down the road; Washington himself, along with James Madison and James Monroe, was also born on the Northern Neck.
After dinner, we popped into the Jefferson cottage to check out the “gathering room,” the centerpiece of which is a massive flat-screen television. There’s also a karaoke machine — just like they had at those rowdy Monticello parties, I bet.
In the morning, we sat down in the Wilson House for breakfast in a room with a hint of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in the white walls capped by a royal blue stripe (another room was decorated with those chronologically impossible Andy Thomas prints of presidents playing poker). We chuckled at the Washington-themed entree names — the “Votes Are Stacked” pancakes, the “Filibuster French Toast.” What I really loved, though, was the fact that our room rate not only included breakfast, but also breakfast of our choosing from the restaurant’s full menu. Just like having a personal White House chef! Almost.
After breakfast, we decided to flout the cold on the inn’s five-hole putting green. Camp David it’s not, but my husband enjoyed taking a few swings, even nailing a putt while holding the dog leashes in one hand.
As the presidents must do, though, we had to return to the real world. Washington beckoned.
34 E. Church St.
Rooms from $150.