If you’ve ever tucked in your napkin for Sunday dinner at Boone Tavern on Berea’s College Square, you’ve probably been served the restaurant’s signature spoonbread, a dish so loved that it inspired a three-day community-wide festival that is held in Berea each fall. Well, hold on to your serving bowl, because a new signature dessert has recently been added to its luscious nouveau Southern cuisine – chocolate spoonbread, served with fresh berries and raspberry sauce.
“It’s awesome served warm with a cup of coffee,” says Gary McCormick, Boone Tavern’s general manager.
Drool away…but you can’t have any until May. That’s when the Tavern will reopen after being closed since January 2008 for the first phase of a $9.6 million, eco-friendly renovation. Once complete, the redo will earn the nearly 100-year-old historic hotel the distinction of becoming the first hotel in Kentucky to be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Fewer than 10 such hotels exist in the whole country.
During this spring’s activities, an outdated 1940s kitchen will morph into a state-of-the-art model, and a new elevator will be installed. When the restaurant opens in May, work will begin on guest rooms and infrastructure to grow the National Trust treasure into a greener one that will be even more consistent with the historical values of Berea College, long recognized as a leader in preserving Appalachian culture and natural resources.
Since its beginnings in 1855, the school’s commitment to interracial and co-educational opportunities for mountain youth has brought visitors galore to the area. After providing food and lodging for some 300 guests in her home during the summer of 1908, Nellie Frost told her husband, William, then-president of Berea College, that it was time to build a guest house. In 1909, what was to become the Boone Tavern Hotel opened on the old Dixie Highway.
Named after Kentucky explorer Daniel Boone, the 58-room inn is now a member of Historic Hotels of America. Owned by the college, it operates with student workers via the Berea College Labor Program and is furnished throughout with reproduction Early American pieces made by Berea College Woodcraft. Large, comfy rocking chairs grace its porch and windows of its main dining room overlook a number of academic buildings.
In 2003, the Kentucky Tourism Council named Boone Tavern & Restaurant winner of the Duncan Hines Excellence in Hospitality Award. McCormick is excited about the upcoming upgrades and assures that guests can continue to expect Boone Tavern’s superior quality service during construction.
“For years, the college has been committed to leaving a smaller footprint for sustainability, conservation and natural products,” he said. “There’s already one LEEDS property on campus. A lot of the practices we’ll be implementing are good for the environment and smart financially. From a marketing standpoint, a lot of people are looking for places like Boone Tavern and other green places that put the environment first.”
Eco-friendly upgrades include recycling the restaurant’s coffee grounds and other compost to the college farm for adding to the garden, which supplies vegetables for the inn’s dining room; using recycled rainwater to water plants; installing showerheads that conserve water but still have a substantial stream; state-of-the-art guest room heating units; between-room sound barriers and dual-flush toilets; in-room natural lotions and shampoos in recyclable containers; and incorporating cardboard from packing boxes into padding underneath new carpeting.
Ceiling fans that have lent character to Boone Tavern for the past century will continue to move air around and save on air conditioning and heating. All incoming air will be filtered first before it enters guest rooms and public areas. The dining room’s original skylights will return to add natural light and an element of beauty.
While preserving the inn’s historical integrity and charm, the renovation will add a new entrance that is more user-friendly, modern technologies such as hardwire and wireless Internet capacities and flat screen TVs, greater handicap accessibility, and more motor coach turnaround space. The Tavern will up its guest room total to 64 and will also add a business center and more meeting space with upgraded audio-visual capacity.
“Despite all the changes,” said McCormick, “our furniture will still be handcrafted by students. We’ll still have that feel. We’re not going to lose that 100 years of history. We’ll incorporate it and add more modern conveniences you find in most hotels today.”
The entire facelift should be complete in early 2009, just in time for the Tavern’s centennial celebration. Its business and reservation offices remain open. Find out more at www.boonetavernhotel.com or (800) 366-9358.