Thursday, January 31, 2008

Boston Cream Pie and Parker House Rolls at the Omni Parker House in Boston.

It’s known as the place where the Boston Cream Pie was born and the home of the original Parker House Rolls. But the Omni Parker House is also known for its elegance and refinement in the heart of downtown Boston.

The hotel is the longest continually operating luxury hotel in the nation, open since 1855. The hotel’s 551 well-appointed rooms feature newly updated beds, distinguished d├ęcor and well planned amenities.

A wide selection of American presidents, from Grant to Clinton, have stayed at this august landmark. Some of history’s most famous people have worked at the hotel. Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh worked in the bakery in 1911, and Malcolm Little -- who would go on to be known as Malcolm X -- was a busboy in the early 1940s.

Honestly, the place has a lot of history -- which you can read about here. History is a great and wonderful thing. But there's no need to reinvent the wheel.

I walked into the lobby of the Omni Parker House on a fine Monday afternoon in late January, hoping to find out something interesting. And I did... in a way. I got to tour the historic edifice with a member of the Parker House team, and that was cool.

We met in the Parker House restaurant, where I thought we would talk about the history of the hotel. Instead, my host has a plethora of questions for me -- who was I, how did I get started, and what my future held. I'm starting to get used to those questions.

But I also found out some interesting facts that you won't find in the guest book; not necessarily at least. Such as, this is where the Omni chain began -- today there are 45 Omnis around the world.

The hotel is being slowly renovated -- a fact that surprised me, since I heard that the building had been renovated in 2000. Each of the rooms is being taken down and re-everything'd -- new carpeting, new wallpaper, new furnishings, new baths, the works. The entire facade of the building was under renovation when I visited, which meant no exterior pictures!

The magnificent Parker House rolls were the creation of a German baker who worked in the kitchens in the nineteenth century. The rolls were baked and shipped out all over the United States until 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt requested the recipe for the White House.

The Boston Cream Pie perfected in the Parker House kitchens has been around for well over 100 years. It’s been named the official dessert of the State of Massachusetts.

There are a large selection of room types available, from the economy single for solo travelers to the bedroom suites. There are several dining options, including the World Famous Parker House, Parker’s Bar, and The Last Hurrah -- a traditional Boston pub known for its whiskey collection.

The Last Hurrah used to be on the lower level of the hotel. Now it's on the main floor, on the north side. You can walk into this legendary whiskey bar almost immediately after leaving the street. The bar is named after a book by Edwin O'Connor... about Boston area politics. The 1956 book isn't the only political tie you'll find here. The room is crowded with black and white photographs of well known politicians like John F. Kennedy and former Boston Mayor James Michael Curley, among others. My host told me the bar is world famous -- and in fact I have heard about it before.

Note: Time seems to have eaten the rest of this entry, which included a bit about experiencing the two creations from this epic center of Boston culinary tradition - the Boston Cream Pie and the Parker House Roll.  When I find the original, I shall post it here. For now, here's a photo tour of the place in January 2008.

Monday, January 21, 2008

On the road...

I am spending the week in Boston. If you have Tie Dye Travel suggestions, please send them to and I will see if I can fit them in!

Coming soon!
From Memphis: Alcenia's, Jillian's, The Center For Southern Folklore
From Shreveport: Strawn's Eat Shop
... and Just Relaxin' in Jefferson, Texas.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Rooms To Groove.

In a downtown area where space is limited, hotel rooms can be downright tiny. The incentive is made to keep lots of rooms occupied... and when I say a lot of rooms, I mean a lot of rooms. Most of the hotels in downtown Memphis boast of 100 rooms or more. This is a place of volume.

That's why a place like the Talbot Heirs Guesthouse is so lovely. Nestled in the second story of a two story building on South Second Street, the Talbot Heirs' eight guest suites are easy to overlook, if you don't know about them. From the street, there's nothing to denote the presence of the little hotel -- unless you look closely and glimpse the hand-painted window. Upstairs, is something else.

Visitors who come here call in advance and let Tom and Sandy Franck know that they're coming. They're met at the curbside and helped into one of Memphis' best kept secrets.

Up a staircase and to the right, you'll find these overnight apartments inviting, fresh -- and large.

Each features a full bath, a full kitchen, and much more -- a sense of home you won't find in most area accommodations. One of the suites contains a piano that belonged to Bobby Whitlock, one of the founders of Derek and the Dominoes. This suite, #2, faces right out onto South Second Street and the hustle and bustle of the Peabody Hotel.

In each of the suites, you'll find a nice selection of items for your anytime-you-want-it continental breakfast -- including plenty of coffee, tea, juice, milk, breakfast bars and biscotti, cereal, yogurt, and more. The kitchens are fully equipped with stoves, refrigerators, microwaves and dishwashers.

Each room has some room to work, too. There's a desk or large table in each one, with both hardline connections for the internet and WiFi, for those who are wireless. There are ample places to recline and enjoy yourself. Rooms come with televisions, DVD players and stereos.

Parking is close by too -- though if you're visiting the downtown attractions, you won't need a car. Beale Street's downtown thunder is just two blocks away, Autozone Park a mere block and a half -- and the Main Street Trolley is on the back side of the block. There are several restaurants right by the Talbot Heirs, including the Flying Fish and the Big Foot Lodge.

The Francks are no strangers to Arkansas. They bought the Talbot Heirs a few years ago -- but before that, they lived in Cabot. Now they enjoy the family that comes through the door. Because, you see, this isn't just a waystation overnight stop for most folks. The Francks get involved -- from the moment you make your reservation, to the moment you pull up to the front door, to the day you leave. Many of those who come through are repeat customers, and some book out a year in advance.

Throughout the Guesthouse, you'll find artwork by local artists, and by New Orleans native Dr. Bob. He came to Memphis in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and left his indeliable footprint -- or thumbprint -- here. His simple "Be Nice Or Leave" signs are in evidence here, and all throughout the downtown area. There are also several of his other pieces here, eclectic echoes that share the wide hallway with paper lanterns and guests.

Unlike the cookie-cutter formula you'll get at other hotels, the Francks have brought service to a very personal level at the Talbot Heirs. They'll make special arrangements for you -- whether it's accommodating for your allergies, having just the right movie in your room for you, or stocking your kitchen with groceries before you arrive.

The rates are comparable to what you'd pay at most of the local hotels --$130 to $275 a night. But for a quiet, safe getaway and lots of room, you can't beat it.

The Talbot Heirs Guesthouse is located at 99 South Second Street in Memphis, just across from the Peabody and Texas de Brazil. Call (800) 955-3956 or check out the Talbot Heirs website.