After a four-year renovation closed the doors of an iconic Virginia Beach hotel that first opened during the Roaring ‘20s, The Cavalier has reopened with a balance of respect for its historic roots and updates to compete in today’s independent space.
VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia—The reopening of an iconic hotel of Coastal Virginia and the go-to vacation destination of celebrities and U.S. presidents since the 1920s has drawn history buffs as well as hotel guests.
Kurt Krause, managing director of The Cavalier, said visitors to the property—which reopened 7 March—have marveled at the balance of historical accuracy and modern updates made in a four-year, $85-million renovation.
“Many of the people coming back are just really overwhelmed,” Krause said. “Letters that I receive are just absolutely terrific about how wonderful it is to relive some of the memories they had and shared here from a bygone era.”
The Cavalier first opened in 1927 with 195 guestrooms and included amenities like an indoor pool filled with ocean water and offices for a doctor, a photographer and a stockbroker. Hotel guests were even encouraged to hunt on the land surrounding the property.
“Men would go out and hunt for the day. They’d bring their game back. The hotel staff would clean it and prepare it (for dinner), and they would eat in the Hunt Room,” Krause said.
The property added the Cavalier Beach Club in 1929, which hosted musical acts like Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. Other famous guests of The Cavalier include novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, comedian Bob Hope and 10 U.S. presidents from Calvin Coolidge to Jimmy Carter.
“Richard Nixon loved to stay here; he stayed here as a vice president and as president,” Krause said. “He loved the Hunt Room, and in the Hunt Room was a great big fireplace—a fireplace that you could stand up in. He loved to sip his drink next to the fireplace in these great big leather chairs. And it is alleged that he would stoke that fireplace when he was president with some tapes. So maybe those 18 minutes of lost tapes are in our fireplace. Nobody could ever prove it one way or another, but the story still continues that the Watergate tapes ended up in our Hunt Room fireplace. People get a pretty good kick out of it.”
The Cavalier goes modern
In 2012, a court-ordered sale put The Cavalier on the market, and the hotel was bought by The Cavalier Associates. The group included Bruce Thompson, CEO of Gold Key|PHR, a Virginia Beach-based owner/operator. That company currently has four hotels—three in Virginia Beach and one in Norfolk, Virginia—with another Virginia Beach property opening in 2020.
Gold Key|PHR closed The Cavalier in 2014 to begin renovations. Krause said the developers managed to restore or replace historical details like floor tiles or crown molding but also update the now 85-room property with modern features.
“All the floors with the guestrooms, all those were floors were gutted completely. … It’s a completely different layout,” Krause said. “Within the infrastructure of those floors, new heating, air conditioning, and ventilation systems were put in, new lighting systems put in, technology with Wi-Fi and internet all put in because the floors were completely gutted. So in essence you have a brand new floor in the skin of a 90-year-old building.”
Krause said he expects The Cavalier—now part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection-- to attract guests looking for a luxury experience in Virginia Beach, just like in its heyday.
“This hotel was built back then for that high-end clientele, and it maintained that for years and years,” he said. “Coming back to that level of sophistication and elegance and style has given a great deal of pride to the Virginia Beach area. Those coming down looking for something more than the traditional family beachfront hotel, or looking for something more than (the Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront) that we operate down the street, this gives you that option of something grander.”
Krause said the property is still ramping up following the reopening, but he expects bookings to pick up once the summer hits.
“What we’re seeing more than anything else is the Marriott frequent traveler during the week, the business traveler, and then on weekends it’s people looking to celebrate an anniversary or a birthday,” Krause said. “One thing I learned when I opened The Main in Norfolk is the amazing amount of people looking for staycations. They live in the local community but want that hotel experience to sleep in, have someone else make my bed, order some roomservice, have that quick weekend relaxing experience. We’re seeing that here as well.”
Distilled brand of hospitality
The Cavalier is also the only hotel in the U.S. with a full distillery on-site, which is named Tarnished Truth Distilling Company. Krause said having the distillery is a huge benefit to The Cavalier’s cocktail offerings and helps drum up local business as well.
“We do three types of tours in Tarnished Truth, the distillery,” he said. “We have just a simple tour and tasting; we have a tour, tasting and cocktail lesson, how to make a great old-fashioned for instance. The third tour is the tour, tasting, cocktail lesson and a paired dinner with the spirits that we’re serving. That’s created an enormous amount of interest.”
The Cavalier’s main restaurant is Becca, which Krause said pays tribute to the property’s former restaurant.
“It was originally named Pocahontas, who was our great American princess,” he said. “To marry John Rolfe in London she had to become a Christian, so she took on the name Rebecca. The nickname to Rebecca is Becca, so we’ve gone from Pocahontas to Becca.”
The revamped Hunt Room operates as a bar with a full dinner menu and offers live music three days a week, Krause said. The Cavalier’s Raleigh Room serves breakfast and on Saturdays serves afternoon tea. Krause added the Raleigh Room is another space where the hotel can offer drinks and live music in the evenings.
“We have a pianist and vocalist singing Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays—more jazz, if you will,” Krause said. “It’s a relaxing atmosphere, like a great big living room, a great big parlor. That has been one great surprise to the demand and interest of the local community, because there’s no other bar like it, no other place to get a cocktail and sit on these great warm couches. … It’s just a spectacular place to having a relaxing conversation and listen to some good music.”