Christmas at The Greenbrier
Nearly 1,300 guests check into this storied West Virginia hotel on a single holiday night. We go behind the employee-only doors to uncover the magic that keeps the crowds coming back
238 Years of the Greenbrier
There's nothing like this show. Decorated by America's first stylemaker, Dorothy Draper, and kept up today by her protégé Carleton Varney, the hotel is already primed for the holidays with public rooms painted in eye-popping colors like red, green, pineapple yellow, and "Jefferson" blue—the same as the boxes from Tiffany & Co. For the season, busy elves have trimmed over 300 trees, hung over 120,000 lights, strung miles of greenery, wrapped 20,000 gifts, and given poinsettias a coat of fairy dust. Pulling this off takes planning and a touch of brilliance. So when SL asked for their best hosting ideas, the gracious hotel invited us to follow those responsible for making the magic happen. Here, the staff's unguarded secrets for helping you re-create this kind of holiday hospitality in your own home.
James Poteat, Bellman
The plane was late, and the family arrives feeling fried. As they walk in, they see James Poteat, who believes in treating guests as family. "To me they are," he says. "So I ask, "Can I help with anything?"" His other secret weapon? A card for a complimentary ice-cream cone (redeemable at the restaurant), which puts a smile on any child's tear-stained face.
Mastering a Drink
Henry Hill, Bartender
If artisanal beer is the fall beverage trend, mixing innovative cocktails is the Christmas trend. "We spend a couple of weeks inventing new drinks with holiday spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice and nut-flavored liquors like Frangelico to update the classics, and then we do a tasting together," says Hill. "For an easy one, make a Manhattan and add cinnamon and pureed apple. If you mix in a little lemon juice and honey to the apple, it removes the tartness." Another of Hill's favorites: the Queen of Hearts, made with citrus vodka and muddled strawberries. (A muddler is an inexpensive bar tool that mashes fruits and herbs to release their flavors.) "Experiment," Hill advises. "Start by adding one new ingredient that you like to give a cocktail a holiday twist." Your guests will be wowed by these little touches.
Decorating a Tree Quickly
Betsy Conte, Director of Social Activities
Conte adorns the 75 themed trees and can do each one in about 20 minutes. How is that possible? Ribbon. She uses 4- to 6-inch-thick wired ribbon to create gravity-defying bows and a 10-inch-thick ribbon to make these garlands. The ribbon goes on first, and then she stuffs ornaments around the ribbon. "If the tree is against a wall, skimp on the back side's embellishment," she says, to save time and conserve decorations.
Prepping a Guest Room
Katie Dooley, Housekeeper
If your company is traveling to see you, there is nothing nicer than preparing a lovely room where they can plop down and unwind. Dooley believes it's important to set the room up right with a beautifully made bed— her technique takes about 10 minutes. The trick to a polished bed: good "hospital corners." Dooley uses her knee to prop the mattress up a tad so she can fold the sheets underneath it extra tight. Then, to tackle the rest of the room, she likes products that smell clean—such as Spic and Span— because guests love to walk into a fresh-smelling room. Much of The Greenbrier's furniture has been lacquered, and "a little Windex makes it really shine," says Dooley. Using abundant mirrors was another Draper tactic, and all overnight visitors will appreciate finding both a full-length one and a well-lit makeup mirror in a guest room. In fact, these rooms have two full-length mirrors facing each other, a smart touch that ensures complete visibility, which is such a help when getting dressed for holiday cocktail parties. And don't forget the kids: Stockings hung over their beds make the little ones think, "Santa does know that we're here!" Even blasé teens appreciate having their own quiet Christmas-morning moment before going downstairs.
Shipping & Assembling Gifts
Ed Tolley, Porter
"The smartest thing to do," says Tolley, "is to ship ahead." With the rising costs of checking luggage, this not only makes travel easier but also saves money. Tolley advises using a slower ground service instead of a Next Day Air option. He says, "If there's a nor'easter, you won't get your stuff no matter what you paid." His other bit of wisdom: Choose the shipping company with a distribution center closest to your final stop, so nothing gets stuck two counties away. Tolley receives the toys and puts them together. He does just about every one with a rubber mallet, a Phillips screwdriver, and a set of adjustable pliers. (Yes, having a neighbor like Tolley around would also be useful.)
Curtis Webb & Gary Wykle, Director of Grounds & Greenhouse Manager
Passé? Not at The Greenbrier. Maybe you can't pull off this 600-poinsettia creation at home, but there are other great, stealable ideas around the hotel. The team builds tabletop trees by stacking poinsettias on upside-down flowerpots and then surrounding them with another circle of plants. This can also be done with empty boxes for a modern, geometric effect. You can even create sparkly blue poinsettias. Spray white ones with food coloring, and then sprinkle them with glitter while they're wet. Let your kids help!