Photos by David Uhrin
If the last time you drove past Virginia Beach’s 90-year-old, down-in-the-heels Cavalier Hotel found you thinking, “I wouldn’t spend 10 minutes there,” we guarantee that, after its recent five-year and $80-plus million renovation, 48 hours won’t be long enough. But it’s a start. Since 1927, the old Cavalier has sat perched on a hill overlooking Atlantic Avenue and the ocean beyond. Designed by Norfolk-based architect Clarence Neff, the hotel was, in its day, a marriage of roaring ’20s glamour and neoclassical design.
Today, as a result of the ambitious vision of the Cavalier Associates—Developer Bruce Thompson and his five partners—and the work of a team of Hanbury Architects along with legions of designers, artisans, and both business and civic leaders, this celebrated hotel is once again the belle of the debutante ball. Only this time, she curtsies both to the past and to the present, a stunning amalgamation of the finest that the early 20th and 21st centuries have to offer. The bones of the hotel’s former grandeur were all but hidden beneath layers of defects, deterioration and disrepair. As costs mounted, the partners remained resolved to repair, restore and rehabilitate this landmark with respect and reverence for its historic shell in order to leave behind the legacy that drove the project from the start. And now this Gold Key | PHR property and distinguished member of Marriott’s Autograph Collection is set to, once again, offer its guests the epitome of style, substance and five-star service. It’s a grand hotel on a human scale. You have 48 hours … go!
2 p.m. Arrival and Acclimation
Can’t find the front desk? That’s because guests will instead be ushered into an intimate reception room with the cozy feel of a study. There, you will be welcomed by a member of the staff who will help you plan or confirm all the details of your stay. Elegant and personal, this experience sets the tone for your time at The Cavalier. From there, you will be shown to your room. Each of the 62 guest rooms is a luxurious and subtlety whimsical mix of clean, contemporary lines and curvy arabesques punctuated with distinctly contemporary art that nods to the past. Lavishness bubbles just below the surface of design restraint. Of the 23 suites, the six “Legacy Suites”—one per floor—represent a dramatic departure in that each was named after and appointed by one of the Cavalier Associates who had free reign over the interior design. Historic photographs of some of the hotel’s most famous guests, including 10 presidents and celebrities such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, grace the corridors between rooms as well as other public spaces.
2:30 p.m. Repose in the Raleigh Room
(Afternoon Tea served 2–4 p.m.; book through Becca)
Begin your stay with “afternoon tea” in The Raleigh Room. This relaxed but stylish take on the Grand Salon—parlor by day and lounge by night—melds relaxation and refinement.The overall design simultaneously embraces both old and new and formal and casual, giving birth to the tastefully edgy 21st-century lovechild of a flapper and a cavalier. Throughout the lower and main levels, the gleaming original terrazzo floors laid in a checkboard pattern of warm neutrals established the color palette of whites, creams, taupes and browns.
Choose from finger sandwiches like free-range egg salad on buttery brioche or pesto and multi-veggie on ciabatta, golden raisin scones and perhaps a petit dessert like lemon-black pepper Madeleines. J’enwey boutique teas, say blackberry-sage, are perfect complements.
3:30 p.m. Hip and Historic Highlights
Refreshed by your light repast in the Raleigh Room, you will want to spend some time exploring the hotel and grounds, including The Cavalier Museum, which chronicles the hotel’s storied past. With an unchanged footprint, the hotel offers interwoven formal and casual, as well as indoor and outdoor spaces, all of which are designed to convert to flexible event space. The Dining Porch, South or Raleigh Room Porch, the East Porch and the Pool Loggia all retain their original broken quarry tile flooring which signals each as a transitional space. One of the most enticing outdoor event spaces is the southern facing Sunken Garden or Grotto. More intimate than its historic predecessor, this coveted wedding venue features “embracing arm” brick stairs, a central landing and landscaping lush with white-blooming plants.
5 p.m. Happy Hour in the Hunt Room
(open 4–11 p.m., Mon.–Sat.; happy hour 5–7 p.m., Mon.–Fri.)
The Hunt Room is a prohibition-era tavern with its renowned fireplace dismantled, repaired and rebuilt brick-by-brick. According to designer JC Schaub, “This ‘room,’ with its huge historic fireplace and hunting theme, was, back in the hotel’s heyday, very much the spot to come and drink whiskey after a hunt. This feel and nostalgia of a communal pub was the driving design idea of the Hunt Room. Images of hunting dogs, equestrian scenes and foxes are surrounded by hunting paraphernalia and trophies. Backdropped by the functioning Tarnished Truth Distillery, the space renews the evening gathering spot with copper, walnut trim and deep forest green.” Though fabled hearth rooms were the historic hangouts of men, women are more than welcome to sip and savor too. For happy hour imbibing, enjoy hand-crafted cocktails, beers and wines.
7 p.m. Becca Beckons for Dinner
(open 5–10 p.m.)
Also designed by Schaub, Becca, a nickname for Rebecca, which was Pocahontas’ Christian name, replaces the erstwhile Pocahontas Room. Schaub based his design on the popular garden-to-table movement, explaining that, “The design of the restaurant centered on the idea of a functioning chef’s garden." Diners may choose between the outdoor garden, where he describes the lush functioning herb gardens as “dining rooms themselves;” the historic verandah, which brings the garden elements indoors; and the intimate main dining room with dark perimeter walls played off against the historic white moldings, antiqued mirrors and white tablecloth service.
Chef Dan Elinan directs the hotel’s culinary program, where he combines his love of the local with his global culinary chops. Start your meal with a celebration of seafood followed by caramelized porcini mushroom soup with chive oil and old sherry. For your entrée, consider a new take on a classic: crab cakes served with roasted cauliflower caponata, pine nuts, raisins, olives, crisp caper remoulade, sautéed field spinach, roasted garlic and olive oil. Or truly embrace the garden concept with a garden vegetable farratto featuring farro, porcini mushroom, acorn squash, kale, pea tendrils and shaved parmesan.
8:30 p.m. Breakaway to the Boardwalk
Though there are few reasons to leave the Cavalier, an evening stroll on Virginia Beach’s boardwalk is one of them.
9:30 p.m. Relax in the Raleigh Room
(open noon–10 p.m., Sat. and Sun. and 2–10 p.m., Fri.)
Enjoy a nightcap in The Raleigh Room perhaps with a small plate of Marcona almonds or marinated olives for nibbling.
8 a.m. Rise and Shine in the Raleigh Room
Coffee and juice and maybe a croissant near the fireplace are the perfect way to ease into your day.
10 a.m. Take the Plunge
Take a dip in the new incarnation of the hotel’s celebrated indoor saltwater pool which belies its historic roots. Originally filled with salt water piped in from the ocean and referred to as “The Plunge,” this popular spot was pressed into service in 1942 as a classroom when the Navy took over the hotel to use as a radar training school until the end of WWII. Today’s sophisticated and sleek natatorium—an appealingly warm and humid space—stretches beneath an expansive skylight—its trusses and beams all original—half of which had been covered over during a previous unfortunate remodel.
Bring the newspaper, your tablet or a magazine and curl up or stretch out to read on the raised loggia which stretches the length of the pool, its exterior wall punctuated by a long row of rhythmic arched windows and potted trees in white urns. Casual chic furniture upholstered in white forms conversation groupings overlooking the 72-foot-long rectangular pool with its new spa at one end and its tiled Cavalier monogram sparkling from the bottom. Though the beloved plaster lion head water spouts crumbled during the renovation, they have been replaced by nearly identical stone versions.
Noon Brunch on the Boardwalk
Choose from any number of brunch spots with views of the ocean a short walk down the hill and across Atlantic Avenue. For dessert, we recommend a walk along the beach before heading back to The Cavalier.
2 p.m. Southern Spa Treatment
Adjacent to the lobby on the lower level, the Sea Hill Spa is the ultimate in tranquility. Designed by Retnauer Baynes Architects, the space’s 6,200 square feet of serenity features nine treatment rooms, soaking tubs, a full-service salon, a retail boutique and an ocean of marine-and even bourbon-inspired massages, body wraps, facials and more. Try the Bourbon Tea Nutria-Body Wrap, a creamy wrap combining the benefits of milk, rice and kaolin, leaving your skin with softness and moisture, or a spa package. Guests can slow down the pace in the Himalayan Salt Room, the hydrotherapy pool, and sauna and steam rooms, or enjoy tea, water and snacks in the Serenity Lounge.
5 p.m. Tarnished Truth Tasting
(book in advance an hourly tour and flight tasting of spirits)
Offering distinctive libations and a unique experience worthy of this iconic destination, two Virginia natives, Josh Canada and Andrew Yancey, opened Tarnished Truth Distilling Company (what really went on at the Cavalier?). The operation—the only distillery fully integrated into a U.S. hotel—includes on premises processing, bottling, tastings and sales in handsomely designed spaces with a vintage vibe.
Steel-framed, blast-proof windows allow guests ample views of the copper still and vodka tower, both works of art in their own right. A retrofitted piece of the hotel’s old boiler serves as a viewing window from the Hunt Room. Tarnished Truth’s system design, including the still, mash tank, fermenters and vodka tower, is the work of Vitok. Vendome fabricated all of the Distillery’s process equipment, including the copper still and vodka tower.
Sample signature bourbon, rye whiskey, special, small batch varieties and AVA Vodka in the tasting room, which, with its ample subway tile and other vintage design details, reflects the spirit of a bygone era. Share the love by tucking some bottled craft spirits in your luggage purchased from the distillery store.
7:30 p.m. On the Hunt for Dinner
Return to the Hunt Room, the hotel’s Southern lounge, to savor their updated rustic cuisine. Choose from starters, sandwiches, salads and irresistible sides like Old Cavalier Bourbon creamed corn and tempura-style sweet potatoes with hazelnut mayo and green chili coriander vinaigrette. These creative but comforting choices cozy up with main plates of fish, fowl, filet and more, or try the decidedly Southern veggie sauté with sorghum glazed carrots, sautéed kale, Brussels sprouts and farro with creamed corn sauce.
9:30 p.m. Retire to the Raleigh Room
Enjoy another nightcap in what has been called the hotel’s living room, perhaps this time with a farmstead plate featuring Virginia cheeses, fig jam and toasted almonds.
8 a.m. Rise and Shine Redux in the Raleigh Room
Coffee and juice is all you need to start your day, as brunch is only three hours away.
9:30 a.m. Departure Day Dip
You won’t want to leave until you’ve had one more plunge, maybe this time in the hot tub.
11 a.m. Check Out but Stay In
11:30 a.m. Brunch at Becca
(open 11:30 a.m.–4 p.m.)
For a last meal, choose one of the remaining two dining spaces in Becca to enjoy the likes of a Vida Living Green Salad with shaved carrots, pickled shallots, smoked almonds and avocado with buttermilk dressing and an heirloom tomato salad with pea tendrils, sprouts and crushed olive mayo on a potato roll. Or go a bit heavier and oh-so-Southern with bourbon and coffee bison bistro steak frites served with a living green salad and herb salad and béarnaise sauce.
1 p.m. Signature Souvenirs
Tuck a few souvenirs from The Cavalier Gift Shop into your luggage for those you left behind. Look for The Cavalier Crest with all of its symbols of past and present.