A biweekly staff review of East Coast and regional lodgings.
The lights are bright in Morgantown.
All the way up the hill they march, the pretty glittering pinpoints, toward the West Virginia University campus perched atop the summit. Meanwhile, down by the Monongahela River to the left, the little interior-lit light-rail car zips back and forth between its terminals, a peppy flitting firefly amid the motionless globes.
Sure is a captivating view of the town from up here on the top floor of the Clarion Hotel Morgan. But I have to say that the indoor view is just as alluring.
My husband and I are enjoying an after-dinner digestif at a corner table beside a picture window in the hotel’s swank high-in-the-sky (well, relatively) lounge. Before us spreads a dramatic space lined with rows of black draperies pulled back to frame the tables, like a Parisian nightclub transported here to the middle of the Mountain State. Who would have thought?
Well, I would have. This is our second visit to the Hotel Morgan, and we’re here because I had fond recollections of the first. And I can tell that they’re about to get fonder.
The not-quite-90-year-old Morgan (opened October 1925) is Morgantown’s stab at a grand hotel. I know, because I’ve read the framed newspaper front pages from the opening that hang in the lobby. Some features of the building’s original design and decor, they reported, were based on hotels that included the old Biltmore in New York and our very own Mayflower here in Washington. Could there be models much grander? (Okay, so you don’t recall the late, lamented Biltmore, but trust me, the answer is no.)
The hotel is, I admit, a grande dame in miniature — only eight stories and no spreading wings, and it fronts smack on Morgantown’s main downtown strip — but it’s still a pretty great little lady, managing to pack in the requisite elements of elegance: a narrow but high-ceilinged and wood-paneled lobby, an enormous (3,000 square feet) ballroom, a chic top-floor restaurant (the Montmartre, quite good; love the arresting art on the walls) and that dishy bar at the back. (It’s too cold for the adjoining open-air patio, but we take a quick stroll among the potted plants; must be lovely on a summer evening.)
I’m smitten with the place even though our arrival was a tad bumpy: sheets of rain, and a huge charter bus hogging the temporary parking space out front. There’s barely room for us to pull in. We dash into the lobby, where several dozen suitcases are lined up like Chinese terracotta warriors, waiting for retrieval. But by whom? I wonder as we check in. The clerk is wonderfully welcoming, but though she tells us all about the free parking a block away, and the complimentary breakfast and the restaurant upstairs and yadayada, there’s nary a mention of bellman service.
Oh, well. We’re able-bodied, after all, and may I give another shout-out here to roller bags? (Love ’em.) Still, it takes several trips (on one, we pass a bellman loading some of the warriors onto the elevator; so there he is!) to get us settled in our room. Which is generous if not overly large in size, with a king bed and a nice sitting area with a sofa and table. The free-standing wardrobe is a little flimsy, but at least there’s a closet. Plus a flat-screen TV, of course, and terrific WiFi, as we soon discover.
That would be when I tip a bottle of nail polish into the sink, leaving great red blobs on the marble-like surface. Firing up the speedy WiFi, my husband starts Googling like crazy for the nearest drugstore where we can get some polish remover. I, meanwhile, pick up the phone and call the front desk. Such an old-fashioned thing to do, I know, but that very pleasant young woman is able to tell me quickly that there’s a Dollar General right up the street.
“I don’t know if they’d still be open, though,” she says, real concern in her voice. So nice!
As is everyone else we run into: the university-student bartender in the street-level Lobby Bar who chats amiably while demonstrating some very impressive (actual) juggling skills; our restaurant server, who proudly shows us around the spiffy top floor and points out that pretty city view; the housekeeper who greets us in the morning with, “I’m always happy to see the guests, because I wouldn’t have a job without them.” (When’s the last time you heard a housekeeper say that?)
And then there’s the jolly crowd at breakfast. Over yogurt and fruit (me) and some, um, disappointing instant eggs (my husband), we smile at one table’s no-holds-barred discussion of whether it’s okay to put up a Christmas tree at Thanksgiving and whether a woman should dye her hair after 60. (I have my thoughts on both subjects, but I keep them to myself.) Their talk is loud, but I find it entertaining, not obnoxious — and then they get up to leave and very cordially thank the employee who’s been stocking the breakfast items for her service. These West Virginians are such nice people.
Finished eating, we walk over to the second-floor balcony that overlooks the ballroom, set with tables dressed in white linens. “I feel like I’m in the Palazzo Borghese,” says my husband, referring to a Florentine palace we once stayed in that had a similar balcony-overlooking-ballroom setup.
And this ballroom hardly suffers by comparison. Besides the huge chandeliers, it’s lit by strings of white lights that fall from the cathedral ceiling to hover above the floor, lovely glittering pinpoints marching all around the room.
Yes, the lights are bright in Morgantown.
Clarion Hotel Morgan
127 High St.
Rooms from $109, including