She Ain’t What She Used to Be: The Homestead at Our 31

Ever stayed somewhere that was so magical and over-the-top that you felt like Richie Rich? That was The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., for me the first time I visited. Admittedly the very first time I went I was unconscionably young and embarrassingly impressionable (freshman year of college, 19, and well-traveled domestically but more familiar with accommodations suitable for families of six than grand hotel properties with dress codes).

The view has never changed.

Since 2008 I’ve returned nearly once a year, and each time it’s been a special place to stay. We’ve celebrated fraternity formals, two weddings, a 28th birthday, and a coming out there. Each time I’ve noticed changes, but they’ve never been unsettling. Since 2013 when Omni Hotels and Resorts purchased the property the changes have come faster. Many of them good: The carpeting no longer has a slight mildew smell, the pool added an incredible hot tub with beautiful stone features, the food tastes a little better. But with the upgrades and the focus on family friendliness, the place has lost some of its grandeur.

In 2009 I bought a beautiful tan wool wrap sweater and a white silk chemise, because I knew I’d need to be “dressed” to sit in the Grand Hall and enjoy coffee while my then-boyfriend (now known as Matt) slept off his hangover. I didn’t buy a new dress for the formal, but I hunted online for just the thing for a Sunday morning by the fireplace. I knew I wanted an outfit that would allow me to quietly nurse my own hangover while appearing like I had my act together. Our crew took pride in the fact that the frat might get in trouble for noise, but never once did they get criticized for improper attire or bad manners.

This year we went with a group of five of the very same couples. Some things felt different, simply because we’re older and less shocked by things like a $16 martini (this is one of the few wholly good things about getting older: What used to be shockingly and prohibitively expensive is now oftentimes just annoyingly expensive). We packed very much like we used to, plus a few dozen diapers and bottles and a pack and play or two and all the frightening number of things that three children require for a weekend away. The men had blazers, the women had high heels. We dressed to match the scenery – a cashmere sweater to complement the lush leather upholstery in the Jefferson dining room, a blazer to sit with a cocktail in the President’s Club.

We were overdressed.

The Great Hall has gone to sweatpants and onesies (children, thankfully). People strolled around the formal areas in not just athleisure, but true leisure wear.

The service has taken a casual turn, too. Gone are the days of drinks on the lawn, in are the days of the concierge recommending you walk up to the Great Hall and buy a drink and carry it outside. A reasonable enough suggestion, but not exactly the indulgent experience you want when you’re paying to pretend to be baronesses and gentlemen on a fall jaunt to take the waters. The fires aren’t lit in the fireplaces unless you ask. The valets don’t automatically take your car. Both reasonable things, but no fire in the Grand Hall means it’s cold and languidly lounging isn’t pleasant. Self-serve and valet parking means the driveway out front is chaotic and overcrowded nearly all of the time, so the porch is no longer a place worth sitting to linger with a book.

The Homestead, she just ain’t what she used to be. I’m not either, I know. Our disappointment with the place certainly had something to do with that. Few things are ever as good as they are in your memories, especially when those memories are of worry-free college days when your best friends were never more than a block away, your bills were small, your bosses and dependents nonexistent. We aren’t who we used to be. But looking around at each other, holding the drinks we’d carried out from the bar ourselves, rooting in pockets for binkies and goldfish, some things were still exactly as they used to be. We were together. We were still laughing, still in love with our spouses and each other and the group we created and work hard to keep together. And that? I’ll take it.

But next time, I’m wearing sweatpants, too.


Alicia Amling View All →

Recovering journalist who discovered a life outside of news leaves you time for things like getting angry, cooking and traveling. Plus, hopefully, writing. I’m a wife, dog mom and Washingtonian.

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