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The Hotel Strasburg: Victorian charm in a quirky setting

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Don't expect everything to function smoothly at the Hotel Strasburg in Strasburg, Va.

When I asked whether the restaurant was open, the front desk clerk told me that I had missed the last seating but that I could order from the full menu at the Depot Lounge until 8 p.m. I made it to the lounge in time, but the bartender said that the bare-bones staff would only cook items on the bar menu.

When I asked if there was wireless Internet, the front desk clerk interrupted her conversation with one of the cooks to answer "yes." Then they both chuckled. "Good luck," her colleague said. (I managed to get connected, but it didn't last very long.)

And when I settled into bed to watch TV, I was disappointed to discover that the remote control wasn't working. "Oh, I knew about that," the front desk clerk said when I called to report it.

When I asked why it hadn't been fixed, all she said was, "We're a boutique hotel."

Does "boutique" mean indifferent? I wondered.

Given that the Hotel Strasburg has been around for more than a century, though, I had to forgive the lack of modern-day amenities. It was never even meant to be a hotel. Mackall R. Bruin, the town doctor, originally built the three-story Victorian as a hospital in 1902. It became the Hotel Strasburg in 1915, catering not only to travelers but also to residential guests who would pay $35 a month for a room and two meals a day.

Bruin's legacy is alive throughout the building. His papers are housed in the hotel archives; among them are a nurse's diploma dated 1907 and a number of bills. Bruin's original shingle rests on a marble and metal washstand in the back hall on the second floor.

I must say that some of the decor was amusing: a bust wearing a Victorian blouse rested on a table outside my second-floor bedroom, and a wooden wheelchair occupied one of the corners.

During a recent overnight, I felt as though I was staying in an antique shop rather than a hotel. The beds in all 29 guest rooms have unique headboards. No two mirrors, chests, dressers or lamps are identical. The doors to the unoccupied rooms are kept open so that guests or diners can roam around and admire the decor. One room, with a canopy bed lined with pink flowers and a jacuzzi in the bathroom, is clearly a honeymoon suite. The third-floor rooms have lower ceilings, giving them an attic vibe.

My suite held a white, cast-iron king-size bed, a desk, an armoire and a dresser. The bathroom, with its pink shutters, lace curtains and shower curtain in a seashell design, reminded me of the one in my grandmother's house. The cracked pink tiles and low water pressure just added to the quirkiness of the place.

Other quirks: the eclectic collection of magazines sprinkled on tables throughout the house (Vanity Fair, Country Living and Garden & Gun). And the fire siren that kept going off, starting at about 7:47 a.m. (A sign at the front desk warns guests that the volunteer fire department's headquarters are nearby.)

Clearly this was a place for early risers, and Barbara, one of the hotel managers, was ready and eager to ease guests into the day with hot coffee, cereal, various breads and eggs. Memories of the remote-control incident faded when she offered to let me stay as long as I wanted after the 11 a.m. checkout. "Don't rush," she said and even fetched me a Diet Coke.

If a boutique hotel means intimate and quirky, then the Hotel Strasburg fits the bill.

A weekly staff review of Mid-Atlantic and regional lodgings.

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