More Luxe for Your Bucks

By Cindy Loose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 4, 2001

With deep distress, my husband remembers his grandfather checking into a modest hotel in the Catskills and then driving down the road to spend the day at the much tonier Grossinger's resort. Then a young boy, my husband would sink low in the back seat as his grandfather would arrive at the gated entry and tell security that they were visiting the Cohens -- always a safe-bet name at Grossinger's, the preeminent Jewish resort of its day.

I can understand someone seeing the parallels between that and what I did last week at the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Spa in Farmington, Pa. But it was nothing like that.

As a $69-a-night Holiday Inn guest who'd paid for a spa treatment at Nemacolin Woodlands, I was entitled to a full day of lounging on a thickly padded chaise near the resort's indoor pool with its vaulted glass ceiling, to say nothing of the sauna, whirlpool, steam room and outdoor hot tubs on the spa deck.

Buying time at the shooting range gave me as much legitimacy on the glorious grounds as a guy who landed on the resort's private air strip and paid $3,000 a night for the presidential suite in the resort's Chateau LaFayette.

The other difference between me and my husband's grandfather: I didn't check into the Holiday Inn first. Okay, maybe I'm splitting hairs. But driving from Washington, before you hit the chain motels of Uniontown, you come upon the resort. You might as well stop to eat and scope out how you'll spend the money saved by sleeping somewhere else.

The resort has a restaurant option for every budget. Luckily I didn't know that and headed straight for the Golden Trout, an elegant restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking some of the resort's 1,500 acres.

Spending $19 for lunch gave me a sense that I deserved to walk around the Lodge and the Chateau LaFayette, the two hotel options.

Once owned by Cordelia Mellon Scaife, with all the connections that those two last names imply, the resort was bought by Joseph A. Hardy III in 1987. Since then Hardy, founder of the 84 Lumber Co., has transformed the place, using it to display his huge and eclectic art collection. If you visited five years ago, you might not recognize it today.

Narrated art tours are offered daily, but I began my personal tour alone in the Lodge lobby. A Remington cowboy statue sits on a round table in front of a great stone fireplace. A catalogue available in the lobby shop notes that the statue at my fingertips was obtained through Sotheby's. It was the closest I'd ever been to a Remington, or anything else sold by Sotheby's.

The Lodge lobby alone is an eye feast. Bronze dogs cast in 1900 flank the fireplace. Original Tiffany lamps light the room, which is furnished with huge leather chairs and antiques. An exquisite silver turkey sculpture graces a side table.

It's better than a museum, not only because a museum would put some of this stuff behind glass but because you can enjoy it as you go about your business or lounge by the fire, as you would if you happened to be a billionaire with taste.

Without a boss to report to, you could hang a Tony Bennett painting he'd given you near a chichi still life, or an old French wardrobe shaped like a fat Brittany housewife.

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© 2001 The Washington Post Company