A Visit to Louisville’s Brown Hotel

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Louisville, Kentucky: a city filled with legends and iconic buildings. Upon visiting world-renown structures such as Churchill Downs, the larger-than-life steeples dazzle and charm onlookers, especially during the racing season. But away from the awe of the festivities of the Derby, visitors may also enjoy a respite at several nearby, world-renowned hotels and lounges famous for their class, elegance and unique architectural syle. One such hotel is the Brown Hotel in downtown Louisville. The Kentucky landmark will return both passersby and guests to an era long ago.

From the architectural nostalgia the building invokes to they vibrant luxury of the hotel’s furniture and tapestry, diners and guests alike will not be dismayed. Playing classic American jazz standards as well as soft rock, pianist Sue Ann Stone serenades diners as they feast upon Louisville‘s finest cuisine. A fan favorite: Brown’s Special, composed of turkey topped off with sides, cheese and bacon.

But for more traditional meals, Brown’s comes through as well. The hotel’s more intimate restaurant, the English Room, also serves as a romantic backdrop for those lovebirds seeking a more secluded dinner for the evening. An array of horse portraits line the walls of the English Room, once visited by royals and many other dignitaries over the years.

You’ll also love chatting with host Harold, Brown’s most senior staff member, who readily walks the floor to greet guests and divulge the hotel’s history. Built in 1923, the hotel cost $4 million, and was funded and owned by James Graham Brown, a local entrepreneur who wanted to compete with The Seelbach Hotel just a few blocks down the street. The hotel quickly became a central part of the growing downtown Louisville economy and the social lives of the locals. The hotel, although boasting of the same name, holds no ties to the Brown Palace in Denver, albeit each enjoy a similar atmosphere. As the city declined in the 1960s and 1970s, the fortunes of The Brown declined as well. Though $1.5 million was spent in 1965 to modernize the Brown and another downtown hotel, attendance remained low.

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Then on March 20, 1969, James Graham Brown died, this in turn led to the further decline of the hotel and in 1971 after financial shortfalls The Brown closed. The building was sold to the Louisville Public Schools and became the headquarters for the city school system. When Louisville and Jefferson County schools merged in 1975 the new school system used the county schools’ VanHoose Education Center as its headquarters and the Brown Education A Letter from the Editor Center housed other school administrative offices.

The city of Louisville began to make many moves to revitalize the downtown area in the 1980s. As part of this project the “Broadway Group” was formed, which acquired The Brown from Jefferson County Public Schools and began its renovation in 1983. The schools took a toll on the building, however, the grand public rooms were spared and were able to be saved. After the restoration of the hotel it was reopened as a Hilton Hotel. In 1993 the hotel was purchased by the Camberley Hotel Company who furthered the restoration and returned the hotel to its former glory, although the once two-story Bluegrass room became a single story room with three other meeting rooms overhead. Another alteration made to the hotel was the demolition of the dividing wall in every other room thus doubling the size of each guest room and taking the hotel from 600 rooms to its present 293 guest rooms. After the restorations and alterations were completed, Camberley sold the hotel to its present owner, 1859 Historic Hotels LTD based out of Galveston, Texas in 2006.

For those interesting in dining at the Brown Hotel, reservations are suggested. Valet parking is free to guests and diners.

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