The phrase 'back to school' has never sounded particularly luxurious, but when the school referred to is the Washington School House Hotel in Park City, Utah, luxury is precisely the term that comes to mind. The hotel’s unassuming façade in tandem with its location on a quiet, residential street just above the hum of the city’s main drag, with its menagerie of mountain-urban chic eateries, art galleries and folksy, local watering holes—these things are but understated window dressing for what is undoubtedly Park City’s most sparkling new addition in recent years.
The historic limestone building, which houses the hotel and serves as its namesake was built in 1889, served as one of the three original schools in Park City and was originally named for George Washington (yes, the one of presidential fame). Since its construction over a century ago, the structure has stood proudly—nay, defiantly—on its prime perch through Park City’s Great Fire of 1898, the stock market crash of 1929, two World Wars, a myriad of social changes and a lesser incarnation as a middle of the road bed and breakfast, only to arise almost phoenix-like from its history to become a stunning 12-room boutique hotel, that after opening its doors in 2012 was immediately acknowledged to be the very best in its class.
Gutted by its new owners, the interior of the School House has been given an elegant facelift that successfully balances a clean, modern aesthetic with the penultimate in cozy, sophisticated comfort. An exceptionally grand antler chandelier—lacquered in white and layered with crystals—dangles almost daintily over the hotel’s 'living room,' where guests are greeted upon arrival. Hanging above the massive fireplace, which dominates the room, is a 10-foot tall antique mirror procured from an opera house in the south of France. In that mirror’s noble reflection lies not only the room’s elegantly arranged sitting area populated with plush, sumptuously upholstered sofas and chairs, but also a study of the steady hum of interaction that daily consumes the room which also serves as the focal point of activity in the hotel.
To the right of the sitting area, is a long banquette complemented by a linear arrangement of tables and chairs where the hotel’s private chef serves a sumptuous, locally-sourced, ever-changing breakfast menu each morning. And it is worth noting that this is the sort of breakfast for which even devout “I’d rather sleep in than get up for breakfast” types like myself set an alarm. Later in the afternoon, après-ski cocktails and more mouthwatering nibbles prepared by the in-house chef are served in front of the fireplace in the living room. And for those who don’t want to be bothered with venturing out, chef prepares private dinners by request to be served at the rustic long, dining table that occupies the left wing of the room.
Rooms and suites at the Washington School House more than equal the elegant promise of the downstairs living room. I booked into the Lofted 1-Bedroom suite, a tastefully decorated two-story corner suite with nine-foot double-hung windows, motorized blinds, reclaimed oak barn wood flooring, an iron spiral staircase, a first-level living area with a custom French-style settee, antique armoire, French bergère chairs (circa 1880) and an open loft living space on the second level with a custom made Gustavian-inspired king bed and an inviting antique French daybed. 'Dreamy' is the word that comes to mind.
Aesthetics aside, it is in the details where the Washington School House Hotel most luminously shines. The bed linens are Pratesi, the bath and body products are Molton Brown, the robes are hooded for added protection against the elements when visiting the spectacular heated rooftop pool, carafes of water are miraculously refilled throughout the day, the walls are lined with a private antique and art collection and, perhaps most important of all, the service is, in a word, superlative. In fact, I enjoyed the staff at the Washington School House as much as the hotel itself.
Every afternoon at the appointed après-ski cocktail hour, I nipped downstairs and Caleb, one of the hotel’s affable can-do team members, brought over my favorite Laphroaig 18-year with two cubes of ice, remembering from the very first day the precise idiosyncrasy of the preparation for my drink of choice. Each time I had a question—from where to eat to where to shop—the Washington School House staff had a more than satisfactory answer. And when I returned to the hotel ravenous after a late night excursion to nearby Salt Lake City, with no other options for sustenance, the night manager took me into the hotel kitchen where he helped me make a memorable ham and cheese sandwich that spawned an hour-long conversation. It was a first. It reminded me of being in the great old house of a good friend and being pampered by the staff in most personal way.
Uncommon is the hotel whose comforts are so intoxicating that they supersede the charms of the destination around it, especially if that destination happens to be endowed with the kind of natural beauty and ideal skiing conditions that are the hallmark of Park City. However, the Washington School House Hotel is one of those anomalies. It is the kind of hotel that is, in and of itself, an enjoyable destination worthy enough to make a trip worthwhile. Rarely have I ever wanted to leave a hotel less or plan a return visit more.
Find out more about the Washington School House Hotel at washingtonschoolhouse.com.
Follow Duane Wells on Twitter @theduanewells on Instagram @therealduanewells and on his website at theduanewells.com.