New Destination Dining: Brae, Rancho Loma, Ard Bia, Hotel Covell Rooms
(Bloomberg) -- Birregurra, the remote Australian town two hours west of Melbourne, is known more for its koala population than its food. But the area (pop. 668) is nonetheless home to Brae, one of the best restaurants in Australia, where chef-owner Dan Hunter farms 30 organic acres for his nightly tasting menu. Last year, gnawed by the feeling that they were missing a crucial element that would complete the experience, he worked with his business partners to finance a $2.5 million investment in six luxurious guest suites on the farm site.
“We were getting so many request from diners for accommodations, it confirmed for us that we needed to provide something at the high end,” says Hunter’s partner and wife, Julianne Bagnato. “We stuck with our focus on the bespoke aesthetic and took the guest suites to a level of luxury that’s not often seen outside the major cities in Australia.” The rooms are loaded with earthly luxuries such as organic cotton linens and full cocktail bars, but they also are consistent with the restaurant’s earth-friendly approach, underpinned by solar power, recycled building materials, and even a worm-farm waste water system.
For chefs like Hunter who own restaurants in markets underserved by hotels of a certain quality—or hotels, period—hotelier is becoming an increasingly popular side hustle. In effect, it’s turning the old hospitality paradigm on its head: Instead of bed and breakfast, it’s dinner and a pillow, the more nourishing sister trend to the “bed & beverage” concept of cocktail bars running rooms.
Rancho Loma, in Talpa, Texas, is a 3-hour drive from both Dallas and Austin. Three years ago, after a decade of developing a cult following with tasting menus built around West Texas ingredients, chef Laurie Williamson and her husband/partner, Robert, constructed five minimalist suites, including one with a freestanding soaking tub overlooking the endless prairie. “Having to get back in the car was a buzzkill,” she says. “People would be having a great evening, eating and drinking, but would have to cut themselves off.”
The idea has taken root closer to civilization as well. In Minneapolis, chef Alex Roberts worked to change a city ordinance in January to make it easier for hotels and bed and breakfasts to choose their location and size. The change would reduce the minimum hotel room requirement from 50 to five rooms, and in November, he opened the seven-room, Nordic-inspired Hotel Alma, an extension above his restaurant Alma.
In the Hudson Valley, James Beard Award-winning chef Zak Pelaccio is coordinating with the five-key Inn at Hudson to package overnight rooms with dinner at his restaurant, Fish & Game. “People who may not have been up here before, it’s valuable for them to have two of their items planed for a trip,” says Pelaccio, who estimates 70 percent of his guests stay overnight in the area. “They know where they’ll stay and where they’ll eat.” Packages for New Year’s weekend go on sale this month.
On the opposite coast, a similar dearth of accommodations begat Hotel Covell, a five-room respite above the Los Angeles wine bar Covell. “We had clients and friends that had people visiting and couldn’t find anything decent around Los Feliz or Silver Lake,” says manager Alain Jeu. Solution? Open your own, where the rooms are "Chapters" inspired by a 1950s bachelor pad or Parisian ateliers.
For the cost conscious, home-sharing sites such as Airbnb have lowered the barrier of entry to the hotel business.
“It’s wonderful because money [doesn’t have to change hands] and the insurance is built in,” says restaurateur Aoibheann McNamara, who rents out a riverside townhouse that she owns to guests of her bohemian restaurant Arb Bia at Nimmos near the Spanish Arch in Galway, Ireland. She calls the rooms, which are filled with natural light and decorated with Marrakesh rugs, “an extension of the Arb Bia experience. You go there for breakfast, go back to the room, then there again for dinner at night. It’s a circle.”
Airbnb is especially useful in emerging or resurgent destinations such as the Catskills, which is still known for its Borscht Belt accommodations. Tiny Bovina’s Brushland Eating House and Bloomville’s Table on Ten, a café with guinea hen bone broth and pies imported from Brooklyn’s Four & Twenty Blackbirds, converted spare rooms upstairs into Kinkfolk-attired hollows for New York’s weekend refugees.
But they may not be able to resist the lure of building their own accommodations much longer. Dinner for two at Brae in Birregurra runs $394 with beverage pairings. The rooms, which made their debut in February, average $335 a night, bringing the total with dinner and beverage pairings to $728. Weekends sell out six months in advance, “as soon as they’re available for booking,” Bagnato says. And the Talpa, Texas-based Williamson calls the minimalist bungalows attached to Rancho Loma “the smartest thing we ever did. We built five rooms, but in hindsight should have built twice that many.”
Below, our guide to the new era in destination dining.
Other Activities: Explore the 30-acre farm (Hunter gumboots and fleece liners provided in each room); drive the Great Ocean Road; see koalas at Great Otway National Park.
Other Activities: Watch for thunderstorms on the communal deck; hunt Eames chairs at midcentury furniture store Bonneville.
Address: 52030 Main Street, Bloomville, N.Y.
Two queen rooms and one king room above the café, plus a self-contained two-bedroom “Studio on the Hill” on 23 quiet acres eight minutes away, with Persian rugs, cast-iron tubs, wood-burning stoves, vintage vinyl, MUJI sheets.
From $115 to $190 per night; dinner for two (Friday and Saturday only) from $60 with drinks.
Other Activities: Solve yellowed whodunits at Mysteries & More bookstore; taste the Champagne Saison at Noble Shepherd Craft Brewery; stock up on edible souvenirs at Lucky Dog Farm Store.
Other Activities: Bike the Silver Lake Reservoir; tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House at Barnsdall Art Park.
Address: Spanish Arch, Long Walk, Galway, Ireland
A one-bedroom townhouse, Nordic minimalism, roof garden, flea market trinkets, design books, no Wi-Fi.
From $107 to $204 per night, breakfast included; dinner for two $150 with drinks.
Other Activities: Picnic on South Park’s stony shoreline; have a cocktail at the Universal; check out the McNamara's line capes and blankets at Tweed Project.
Address: 1927 Country Highway 6, Bovina Center, N.Y.
Two two-bedrooms with hardwood floors, butcher-block countertops, beam ceilings, board games.
$135 per night; dinner for two from $100 with drinks.
Other Activities: Hike the Shavertown Trail; ski Plattekill Mountain; try the latest brew at Wayside Cider’s new taproom.
To contact the author of this story: Adam Erace in New York at Adamerace@gmail