Southern Belle of the Ball
With just 50 rooms and a host of upscale amenities, The Loutrel sits pretty as Charleston's newest luxury lodging option.
Written by Bridget Williams / Photos of The Loutrel by Kim Graham
Charleston has the unique ability to remain relevant through reinvention. Architecture aficionados, photographers, history buffs, culture mavens, golfers, foodies, and fishermen are among the many millions of visitors that annually trod its cobblestone streets. The melding of the foreign with the familiar, in which institutions like Poogan's Porch—a family-owned restaurant serving up Southern fare since 1976—stand side-by-side with newbies like The Loutrel—a luxury boutique hotel opened in late 2021—keep visitors returning as regularly as the tide.
Located a stone's throw from Charleston's historic Market District, opened in 1807, The Loutrel was formerly the site of a nondescript sushi restaurant. The Loutrel's lush biophilic-inspired design and architecture nod to Charleston's signature gardens and aim to bring the outside indoors. Architecture and design firm Michael Graves successfully captured the vibrancy of the surrounding landscape to create a luxurious, mood-boosting environment.
The garden feel is evident as soon as you enter the soaring porch-inspired lobby and lounge, where a Lowcountry Swing Bed beckons near the reception desk. Local artist Linda Fantuzzo created the dreamy low country landscape that dominates one wall. Seating areas comprised of woven rattan and pieces upholstered in linen and wool provide ample space to "sit a spell" with the property's signature "Nice to Meet You" welcome cocktail in hand and enjoy the environs.
Serving as the focal point of the lounge is a bronze and wood-accented bar displaying a discernable nautical influence. The space is a hub of activity from morning until late at night. A European-style breakfast precedes a daily "Finest Cocktail Hour" punctuated with canapé offerings and punch bowl cocktails. You can end the day herewith pre-bedtime bites and craft libations concocted with a gardener's eye for ingredients. We found the crowd, an interesting mix of locals and tourists, to be quite convivial, more so later in the evening.
From artwork to snacks, the hotel's owners took great care to buy local as much as possible. A striking black and white photo of Johns Island's centuries-old Angel Oak Tree is given prominence on a wall outside the elevator bank on the ground floor. One floor up on the hotel's mezzanine level. This plush private Clubroom reserved for hotel guests is stocked with craft beer, refreshments, a coffee and tea station, and locally made snacks from salty-to-sweet from local makers, including Grey Ghost Bakery and Lowcountry Chips, along with a rotating selection of light fare. Visitors quickly discover that it's impossible to go hungry in Charleston! A lending library and a fun selection of board games make the Clubroom an ideal hangout on rainy days.
Generously proportioned guest accommodations include a mix of California king rooms, five suites, and a premier suite. All rooms feature Matouk linens and towels, locally made Deep Steep bath amenities, Lavazza coffee, and more complimentary locally made goodies.
By law, buildings in Charleston's historic district can be no taller than the tallest church steeple, which is Saint Matthew's Lutheran Church. As a result, the Loutrel has strategically used every square inch of its four stories, including a rooftop terrace offering steeple top and Ravenel Bridge views.
The proliferation of steeples that punctuate the skyline in The Loutrel's vicinity speaks to Charleston's moniker as "The Holy City," which traces its roots to an early charter of Charles Town that guaranteed religious freedom. However, this tolerance did not always extend to all. The city was the entry point for some 200,000 enslaved Africans beginning in 1670, more than anywhere else in North America. The city is taking steps to shed light on its past through the International African American Museum (iaamuseum.org), slated to open on Gadsen's Wharfin late 2022. The IAAM will be a "museum, memorial center, and site of conscience that commemorates the foundational role Africans and their descendants played in the making of America."
For stays on the shorter side, a car isn't necessary as The Loutrel's centralized location and grid of easily navigable streets make it easy to hit the highlights on foot. Hotel guests are privy to unique Charleston experiences, such as private garden tours with an in-house guide, boating excursions on the Carolina Girl yacht, and custom picnics with Picnic Charleston, to name a few. If all of the walking isn't enough, or if you overindulged as much as we did, the hotel's compact but very well-equipped gym complete with Peloton bikes is available for penitence.
The Loutrel is sandwiched between two culinary thoroughfares, which offered us more dining options than available days. A highlight of our culinary carousing was a multi-course dinner at Wild Common, situated just outside the tourist hub. As we quickly discovered, this hidden gem—with James Beard Award-winning Executive Chef Orlando Pagán at the helm in the kitchen—intentionally keeps its guest count low and its standards high. Executive Sous Chef Zach Kimmel, who was running the show during our visit, said the only rule they have for their tasting-only menus is there are none.
Wild Common's playful manner is akin to a fashion stylist who takes a high-low approach, pairing a Target blouse with Balmain trousers. From our seat at the bar, which framed one end of the compact kitchen, we enjoyed watching the preparation process and conversing with the staff. As we learned by talking with Kimmel, just because he's a chef that has fun with food—telling us about a caviar service where he used hash brown sleeves from McDonald's for serving caviar as an example—doesn't mean that the food at Wild Common isn't seriously good. Striking candlelit décor complemented this fanciful feast, including a massive video projection on one wall that changed as the evening progressed.
This spring and summer will see the return of popular events, including the Charleston Spring Antiques Show on April 1-3 (charlestonspringantiquesshow.com); the Cooper River Bridge Run on April 2 (bridgerun.com); Spoleto Festival USA, one of America's major performing arts festivals scheduled for May 27 through June12 (spoletousa.org); and the July Sweetgrass Festival, which pays tribute to the region's Gullah history and traditions.
With 300 years of history under its belt and many more chapters left to be penned, Charleston is a living museum that continues to dominate as a darling of domestic tourism.