The first newly built hotel to open on the Charleston peninsula since the pandemic began is officially welcoming guests.
The Loutrel, a high-end, 50-room boutique property with décor and amenities that give a nod to Charleston’s public and private gardens, opened Nov. 1.
The hotel was developed by IBG Partners and is the 14th Charleston-area property to be managed by Mount Pleasant-based Charlestowne Hotels.
Chris Harvey, operations manager at Charlestowne, said the goal was to make it stand out with more of a “contemporary” rather than traditional feel, especially given its proximity to other boutique hotels in the Historic District.
But it still takes inspiration from an older Charleston, specifically the Renaissance period in the early 20th century. A lot of art, music and literature came out of the city at that time, and it was becoming popular with tourists.
Charleston’s gardens thrived then, too.
Harvey said the hotel isn’t meant to be linked to a specific person, but for anyone knowledgeable of the city’s gardens, Loutrel will likely sound familiar. It’s the first name of a famous landscape architect who set up shop in Charleston in 1929.
Loutrel Briggs designed about 100 private gardens downtown, plus the landscaping in well-known spots like Mepkin Abbey on the Cooper River in Berkeley County.
Though it has its “nods to the past,” the overall property has more of a modern feel, said general manager Gregg Hilker.
One of the ways the hotel is building those links — to gardens and to history — is through partnerships with groups like the Preservation Society and the Charleston Horticultural Society. The property is also working with a local tour guide, Dana Levine, who created and will be a leading a history and garden tour specifically for Loutrel guests.
Local and botanical ties are also visually present in the hotel.
The lobby area, called the “Veranda Lounge,” has high ceilings, greenery, seating and a bar that’s open to guests and the public, serving cocktails and light shareable dishes. In the mornings, a “European style” breakfast service is set up in the bar area.
The hotel’s mezzanine level has a fitness center and a “Clubroom” that’s stocked with games, beverages and local snacks, like Lowcountry Kettle Chips and Grey Ghost Bakery cookies. Access to the Clubroom is guests-only, and everything is complimentary.
The 50 guests rooms include six suites, some with private balconies.
Like the Clubroom’s snacks, the bathroom amenities are also local, from Deep Steep on Johns Island. Copies of the lifestyle magazine “Garden and Gun,” which is headquartered in Charleston, and books about the city’s gardens are set out in the guest rooms.
Half of the hotel’s fourth floor is guest rooms, and the other is an open-air rooftop terrace. The outdoor space has a clear view of the iconic and picturesque St. Philip’s Church steeple, which is right around the corner, and the Ravenel Bridge is visible from the other side of the terrace.
The rooftop space can be rented out for private events, but only by people staying at the hotel.
The Loutrel sits next to The Spectator, which is operated by Charlestowne Hotels. A one-story Asian fusion restaurant, called Sushi Blue, had previously occupied the hotel’s site. City approval to demolish the former restaurant was granted in 2018, and a sale of the property by Poppy’s Holdings LLC to 61 State Street Hotel Partners was made later that year, according to property records.
Construction on the hotel began in mid-2019.
While it’s the first downtown opening in a few years that started from the ground up, it’s actually one of three lodgings to made their debut downtown since COVID-19 hit. The other two, Emeline on Church Street and the Ryder Hotel on Meeting Street, were redevelopments of existing hotels.
One of the biggest challenges for Charleston lodgings during the pandemic — old or new — has been hiring and retaining staff.
Hilker said The Loutrel is “pretty much on par with” where it wanted to be at this point in terms of staffing, and Harvey said it’s seemed like the local labor market has softened somewhat in the past couple of months after the period of intense staffing shortages earlier this year.
They’ve also mostly been able to dodge major issues that could have been caused by supply chain hang-ups being felt across the country, Hilker said.
A big takeaway for hotels from the pandemic, Harvey said, is the need for flexibility. That’s something that was factored into the design process for The Loutrel, he said — how each space, from the rooftop to the lobby, can be used.
It’s also part of approaching the guest experience. Especially at a small, luxury property, Harvey said, it’s important to be “ready and willing to meet people on their terms” and find ways to create “intimate experiences” specific to each guest.