This is likely, hands down, one of the most ornate hotel entrances you’ll ever experienced, so just don’t trip while you’re looking up. The intricate, massive ceiling of the Grand Hall in St. Louis’s famous Union Station was once the pinnacle of opulence.
Once inside the front doors, you can see it, but wait until you’ve walked up the steps to really absorb its magnitude.
At the turn of the 19th century, Union Station was the world’s largest and busiest train station. As you walk inside from the front entrance, you’re greeted by a double-sided staircase leading to the floor of the Grand Hall. This is likely, hands down, one of the most ornate hotel entrances you’ll ever experienced, so just don’t trip while you’re looking up. The intricate, massive ceiling of the Grand Hall in St. Louis’s famous Union Station was once the pinnacle of opulence. Built in 1894, it speaks of the grandeur of an era passed.
Romanesque arches are juxtaposed with stained-glass windows and a 65-foot barrel-vaulted ceiling, truly deserving of the title “Grand.” If you can tear your eyes away from the view long enough to find the front desk, head that way and check in. As you make your way across the bridge to the guest room floors, you’ll be crossing over where the original “train shed” and tracks stood. Before giving into your strong instinct to explore, I’d suggest dropping off your bags in your room.
As common means of transportation changed from train travel to air travel in the 50s and 60s, the station’s main means of commerce went into decline, and the last passenger train left the station in 1978. Seven years later, in 1985, the station underwent renovations that converted it into a lively shopping center with a hotel and restaurant. Now, more than 30 years later, Union Station is once again being transformed, but this time, by Lodging Hospitality Management and Curio.
Each hotel in the Curio collection, a brand of boutique hotels by Hilton, has its own unique identity. (View another Curio we’ve visited.) These hotels are considered historic masterpieces in their respective communities and are often restored, with all of today’s amenities, from dust and ashes back to their original splendor. The brand new version of Union Station will include the reconstruction of the shops that were added in 1985, as well as a Ferris wheel, excursion trains, and the brand-new St. Louis Aquarium--all expected to be finished in 2018.
If you haven’t already, put down your bags, reapply your lipstick, or adjust your tie, and back down we go!
Let’s get back to the Grand Hall. The massive lobby ceiling is vertically matched by an equally-massive lobby floor, beautifully arranged with couches, armchairs, and loveseats. A few times an hour, the lights go down in the Hall and a light show, accompanied by music, appears all across the huge vaulted ceiling, creating an experience that engages the senses. Scan the room for the most comfortable vantage point (or if you’re us, scan for the first one you’d like to try). But first--reinforcements!
Head to the Grand Hall bar that spans almost the entire length of the 125-foot long room, and check out their cocktails. At the height of its operation, Union Station ran service from 22 railroads and the cocktail menu gives a nod to specific train lines, with drinks that represent them, and their locations. To name a few, the “New York Central” is a Manhattan, the “Eurail” is a French 75, the “California Zephyr” is a Bellini, and the “Santa Fe” is a Cucumber Martini. Bar snacks abound and feature items like pork sliders, crab rangoon dip, pork belly skewers, truffle tots, bruschetta, and a spicy crab sushi roll. Grab a seat and whatever you like to get ready for the show.
After you’ve seen a couple of shows, go check out the balcony that’s behind the bar. You can see some of the renovation progress being made below. Then, head to the Station Grille.
The Station Grille is in the the same location as the original Fred Harvey restaurant. Harvey was an entrepreneur specializing in hotels and restaurants within train stations. The original restaurant allowed passengers to order while still on board the train--a concept that was new to the evolving world of the early 1900s, long before the advent of smartphones. The orders were wired to the restaurant manager and were prepared as passengers made their way off the train, across the platforms and into the restaurant, thereby maximizing efficiency and minimizing passenger wait times.
Today, the Station Grille has the same charm of the early 1900s. Its deep wooden interiors, warm and inviting, and white linen tablecloths that are deserving of the menu that’s offered.
Try the Steak Harvey, a grilled New York strip that’s served with pomme frites, demi glaze, and garlic marmalade, or the Roasted Vegetable Ravioli, made with caramelized onions, leeks, peas, citrus butter sauce, and Baetje Farms Amoureux cheese.
Lingering in the booths after your meal, you can almost visualize train passengers stopping in for a bite; maybe even a poor soul whose train is delayed by snow, but decides to make a few acquaintances during his stopover. In other words, pull out your Agatha Christie novels (specifically, Murder on the Orient Express) and dream of the bygone era when train travel was the quickest way to cross the country.
In the morning, head back to the Station Grille in the daylight for another look at the ever-romantic setting and indulge in one of the most complete breakfast buffets I’ve ever seen. Made-to-order omelets, hot items like bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, waffles, and oatmeal abound, as well as a large assortment of fresh fruits, muffins, yogurts, nuts, and smoothies.
The restaurant has both coffee and hot tea, but if you need some espresso and toppings, head over to the Starbucks (complete with its own miniature train station) that sits on the East side of the Grand Hall. And while you’re over there, look out the windows and into the shopping center under reconstruction. It’s another great view of the work that’s being done.
And one last to-do item before departing Union Station, make plans to come back. Before you’ve left? Yes! Visit when the shops are finished, and then you can say you were there before the new construction. Who doesn’t love watching something evolve--especially when it’s in such a nostalgic place, so dignified and awe-inspiring, even centuries after its original glory days?
Regency Ballroom: 400
Midway East: 400
Grand Hall: 400
Midway West: 1,000
Grand Ballroom: 1,100
Want to learn even more about what St. Louis Union Station Hotel has to offer? Go visit them.