Bed Check: An Irish B&B in Virginia wine country

By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 16, 2010; 4:34 PM

At Killahevlin Bed and Breakfast, you're not just a guest. You're a bartender.

First order of business after my arrival: Owner Tom Conkey showed me how to operate the tap in the inn's self-serve private pub. Fill up the pitcher and let it sit, he told me. Someone had kicked (i.e., finished) the keg of Harp Lager the night before, and the new keg was still too foamy because the beer hadn't had enough time to settle.

"So it's Guinness Irish style: 60 degrees," Conkey apologized.

No one seemed to mind. After a full day of wine-tasting at several Rappahannock County vineyards, even warm beer was a welcome change. The other guests and I mingled over pretzels and peanuts while Tom made dinner suggestions: "Don't get the creme brulee at this place," he said of one restaurant. "Get the burger there," he instructed of another.

Killahevlin, with its affinity for beer and its slightly frat-house ambiance, might seem out of place in Virginia wine country, but I found its irreverent take on the bed-and-breakfast refreshing. Along with beer (and some wine for those not wined out), the pub was stocked with a deck of cards, a TV and a piano for entertainment. Also on the grounds were a gazebo, verandas and porches. The living room was furnished with overstuffed brown leather chairs. ("You'll lose an hour in that chair, which is maybe not a bad thing," Tom warned me.) Had I not been hungry, I never would have left the house that evening.

"Southern hospitality meets Irish charm" is how Tom and his wife, Kathy, describe what they're delivering.

Irish influences were in evidence all over the Edwardian mansion in Front Royal, from the stained glass windows to the reproduction 19th-century Irish wallpaper to Kathy's handmade quilts to the Guinness T-shirt Tom was wearing when I checked in. Needless to say, green was a popular color in the decor.

The Conkeys can't take credit for the Irish concept: Previous owners had come up with the theme. But they're both of Irish heritage, so a B&B with touches of the Emerald Isle seemed perfect when they bought the property five years ago. "Why mess with a good thing?" Kathy said. Indeed.

My room was as large and comfy as the public spaces. There was no TV, but that was fine, because all I wanted to do after dinner was curl up in my private sunroom with a book and a glass of brandy (each room comes with a bottle) and take a bath in my massive clawfoot bathtub. The next morning, I sank into one of the brown leather chairs with a newspaper, coffee and a homemade scone and tried not to fall back asleep.

Tom made sure I didn't. Wearing a chef's jacket, he led me to one of the tables in the dining room overlooking the gazebo and started me off with a berry crepe. The entree was his take on eggs Benedict: Instead of an English muffin and Canadian bacon, he served a poached egg on a waffle with asparagus. And when he promised that there'd be no need for lunch, he wasn't kidding.

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