Cheers to rebranded hotels and restaurants in Lexington, Virginia
The Gin Hotel & Juniper Lounge and Tonic Restaurant & Inn are open for business.
Written by Hope S. Philbrick, editor Foodie Travel USA.
Since 1926, a hotel has stood prominently in the heart of downtown Lexington, Virginia, its Romanesque style looming six stories above Main Street. In that time, it’s welcomed millions of guests, hosted a wide mix of events, and become an iconic aspect of the cityscape.
That hotel is now known as The Gin Hotel. While it was completely renovated in 2014, in 2020 the owners decided that it was time to take the business in a new direction and aligned with Choice Hotels’ Ascend Hotel Collection, a worldwide group of one-of-a-kind historic hotels that showcase local art, amenities, and flavor.
Two blocks down on the same side of the street sits Tonic Restaurant & Inn, which was also rebranded in 2020 though it remains an independent business. Built in 1887, it has even deeper roots into local history.
The names are not a coincidence. Gin and Tonic are owned by members of the Benincasa family. Rebranding both hotels at the same time allowed the family to choose complimentary names. While they were at it, the gastropub at The Gin Hotel was dubbed the Juniper Lounge, since juniper is a key ingredient of gin.
The Gin Hotel (previously the Robert E. Lee Hotel) has 39 guest rooms and suites, all of which offer Blue Ridge Mountain views. “All the rooms were renovated in 2014,” says Joseph Mannino, general manager. “The style is best described as ‘historic charm with a modern touch.’” Each room features dark wood furnishings including a desk, premium bedding, plus modern necessities like a flat-screen TV and coffee maker. Suites may also include a kitchen, laundry facilities, living space, plus table and chairs. The property also has a ballroom, dining room with outdoor terrace seating, meeting space, and exercise facility.
Though now a Choice Hotels member, The Gin Hotel is run independently and feels like the family-run business it is. Complimentary amenities include parking, WiFi, and breakfast. Access to the fitness center is also complimentary, but during the coronavirus pandemic that facility is closed.
“Our most common feedback from guests is that the hotel has historic charm, is clean, and has a great location at the center of Main Street near all the shopping and restaurants,” says Mannino. “People also appreciate that our on-site restaurant patio overlooks Main Street so it’s great for people watching.”
Juniper Lounge, located on the hotel’s second floor, has been remade into a casual gastropub. Best sellers on the dinner menu include the New York strip steak, cheddar bacon burger with crispy onions, smoked salmon burger with caper aioli, drunken mussels sauteed in white wine, coconut shrimp with sweet Thai chili sauce, and buffalo cauliflower with green goddess dipping sauce. The cocktail menu appropriately features several gin cocktails, including a gin lavender martini, gin mule, and gin gimlet. Both the food and beverage menus will be updated seasonally, incorporating local ingredients to the extent possible.
Tonic Restaurant & Inn (previously Sheridan Livery Inn & Restaurant) offers two single king guestrooms, seven double guestrooms, and three suites. Amenities at the smoke-free inn include complimentary parking and WiFi. Constructed in 1887, the structure has gone through many changes over the years. “The building was originally horse stables,” says Francesco Benincasa, co-owner. “It also served as a post office, steam laundry, and shopping mall before my father bought it and made it into an inn.”
The inn occupies two floors on the front half of the building while the restaurant fills the back half of the first floor. A large patio that can accommodate 50 people extends the restaurant’s dining area.
The name Tonic has deeper meaning to the Benincasas than its ready companionship to Gin. “My wife and I were working on this rebranding during the pandemic,” says Benincasa. “We were thinking in terms of healing, relaxing, therapy, and felt the word fit with that idea and we could build around it. The logo is based on an Italian pharmacy symbol.”
The name isn’t all that has changed. “We’ve made major alterations to the patio décor and are continuing that process in the main dining room and public spaces over the next several months to reflect this new theme,” says Benincasa. Guest room renovations and updates are planned for 2021. The design style, he says, is “Bohemian with a garden-like vibe. The old style was a bit more formal, this is more laid-back, loose, and fun—but still stylish.”
Tonic Restaurant’s menus are all new. The drink list is built around herbal remedies and features several bubbly tonics as well as Italian-style gins that tend to be softer and more floral than British gins. The food menu presents “very affordable entrées that are unique to us but also familiar,” says Benincasa. Dishes present local ingredients with East Asian and Central American influences. “It’s like being free to do what we decide to do flavor-wise but not tied to tradition,” he says. As one example, the fried chicken is not battered in the Southern style but rather fried to achieve a crispy skin. Early favorites among diners include roasted broccoli with ginger dressing, shrimp & grits with andouille sausage, ginger lo mein, and slow-roasted pork shoulder with tomatillo sauce.
Stay at either Gin or Tonic in downtown Lexington and you can forget about your car, however long your visit. Walk the brick sidewalks to reach boutique shops, art galleries, museums, breweries, restaurants, and so much more.
During the coronavirus pandemic, both Gin and Tonic have policies and procedures in place to help curb the spread of Covid-19, including mask requirements, hand sanitizer stations, cleaning procedures, and more. For up-to-date details, reach out to the properties.
There are many great reasons to visit Lexington, Virginia. For help planning your visit, call 540-463-3777. Once you arrive, stop by the Visitor Center at 106 E. Washington Street to say hi and pick up a free walking tour map.