Driving through downtown Hendersonville, North Carolina, I missed The Henderson twice. Brow furrowed, I pinched and zoomed in on the red dot that taunted me on Google Maps. Okay, it’s actually on my left. I swung another U-turn, then finally spotted the sneaky alleyway entrance tucked behind some shrubbery.
The Henderson’s classic red bricks slowly came into view as I crunched my way into the hidden gravel parking lot at the back of the property. It was quiet — near-silent — back there, until a high-pitched squeak caused me to whirl around.
Three preposterously chunky cats sat in a windowsill pen outside the hotel, meowing greetings. One of them squeaked again, beckoning me closer. I noticed a small pouch of treats attached to their "catio," and realized it was the motivation for these fluffy felines being my makeshift concierge service. I was happy to tip them generously; after gulping a few snacks, they lay down and ignored me. I guess they didn't feel like helping me with my bags that day.
The gallery of photos I viewed before arriving simply could not prepare me for what was to come inside the hotel. Climbing the steps to the spacious porch, I sidled through the swinging door and into the lobby. My foot creeeeeaked the first floorboard, and I was immediately blasted into the past.
The Henderson: What’s the vibe?
Built between 1919 and 1921, The Henderson’s historical bones are on full display in the lobby. Vintage couches and decor have been organized thoughtfully, completing the romantic aura of the building’s Classical Revivalist architecture. Framed old-timey movie posters cover the golden-yellow walls, and I caught a glimpse of my travel-weary reflection in Citizen Kane. For a moment, I felt a bit out of place.
Once I was greeted by innkeepers Jeanne and Michael Gilligan, any feelings of aloofness washed away. The couple are the masterminds behind this immaculately decorated boutique hotel. Michael, a U.K. expat, doesn’t smile often — but when he does, it lights up the room. Jeanne couldn’t be more friendly and welcoming if she tried, and goes out of her way to make guests feel like they’ve just stepped into her home. Considering the couple lives in the hotel, I suppose I have.
The floor continued to groan and moan as I clambered up to my room, and in a way, it would be strange if it didn’t. Staying at The Henderson felt like I got the authentic experience of Hendersonville in the roaring 20s, and it was fascinating.
Once I settled into my room, I had to shake off a superstitious shiver at the thought of how many others had hung their hat in this same location over the Henderson’s 100-year history. My ghastly apprehensions weren't eased by a cheeky curtain of the twins from The Shining draped at the end of the Henderson’s top floor. Michael and Jeanne have a unique sense of humour, it seems.
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The air here felt thick with the private, murmured conversations of guests past, something that made me revel in the fact that my name was now also a permanent addition to the property’s eternal visitor log book. To my surprise, I discovered there’s an actual tattered physical guest log in my room, too, containing haphazardly scribbled messages of thanks from guests around the world in now-faded ink. The little book made me grin broader than any Yelp review ever could.
Each room at The Henderson has a unique, vintage design and plenty of modern luxury. I'd recommend booking The King Suite if you're in search of a little extra comfort or romance on your stay, as it comes complete with a soaker tub, massage chair and ample storage. I stayed in a Queen room, and was pleased to find the attention to detail present in the lobby's decor continued into the decoration of my room, as well.
During my stay, I made the acquaintance of one of Michael and Jeanne's cats, Pooh Bear. Pooh, I learned, freely roams The Henderson's halls, greeting weary travellers in return for a belly rub (or three).
The Henderson: What’s on the menu?
Harvey’s (not to be confused with the build-your-own-burger fast food chain) is The Henderson’s bar and restaurant. Michael has more than two decades of experience working as a chef around the world, including in several Michelin star restaurants, and prepares gourmet meals for guests and Hendersonville residents alike. He’s a master of presentation, dishing out gorgeous plates and big flavours.
The cocktail menu is dominated by honey-infused cocktails, which all contain fresh wildflower honey harvested from the apiary Michael and Jeanne have on-site at the inn. Their liquid gold makes it onto the brunch menu, too, in mouth-watering creations like honey-lemon pancakes and honey french toast.
The Henderson: What else?
Hendersonville's main downtown strip is only one block away, and emanates much of the same quirky energy as the hotel. I spent much of my time there popping in and out of the countless speciality stores and cool bars (like Edgar Allen Poe-themed spot, The Poe House). Still thirsty? There are lots of award-winning breweries, wineries and cideries just a short drive away. If you're more of a thrill seeker, Hendersonville is packed with awesome mountain biking or hiking trails that lead to stunning nature views.
The Henderson has been around for longer than most of us, and the building seems to know it. It’s humble, true to its history and feels homey, largely thanks to the efforts of its innkeepers. I’m privileged to be part of the group that’s had the chance to stay at this wonderfully peculiar little place.
Rooms from around CAD $240 a night.
201 3rd Ave. W., Hendersonville, North Carolina; thehendersonnc.com