When visiting Omaha, it’s a particular treat to know that you home away from home is also the home of the Reuben Sandwich! What a tasty claim to fame. But that’s not the only reason to stay at the Kimpton Cottonwood Hotel, as Ron Stern, Real Food Traveler’s Hospitality Editor, tells us.
The Kimpton Cottonwood Hotel: A Century of Historical Elegance
The Blackstone Hotel in Omaha, which has welcomed visitors for more than a century, has been transformed into the freshly restored Kimpton Cottonwood. Honoring the past while remaining loyal to its storied heritage, this facility provides discerning guests along the Historic Lincoln Highway small hotel elegance.
The Blackstone, which originally opened in 1916 as a residential hotel, was in excellent company in Omaha’s Blackstone District. Its regal neighbors comprised brick and stone residences created by some of the nation’s foremost architects. In 1920, Charles Schimmel purchased the property because he desired a more conventional hotel that exemplified “style and grace.”
The hotel is located on what was originally known as the Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental highway in the United States between New York and San Francisco. The Blackstone became renowned as the hotel of choice for visiting dignitaries along this route. A fleet of historic Pierce-Arrow limousines was kept on-site and used to transport visiting VIPs from the adjacent Omaha Train Station to the property, giving an additional level of luxury.
Despite undergoing a $75 million “reinvention” in 2019, many of The Blackstone’s original and finest characteristics were meticulously maintained. More than 800 windows were also restored.
Today, the hotel features 205 guest rooms, including 31 suites, 5 food and beverage establishments, a huge resort-style swimming pool, fitness center, solarium, and artwork by local artists throughout the property.
Our suite was spotless, comfortable, and flooded with natural light. The natural materials and high-end finishes, together with the art highlights, are an homage to the hotel’s past. There was a smart-enabled HD television, complimentary Wi-Fi, soft bathrobes, a workstation, and a minifridge. I speculated that this is how the other half must have lived.
Kimpton Cottonwood Hotel Means Omaha Dining
Petit Orleans for grab-and-go coffee, The Orleans Room for complete meals plus bar, The Cottonwood Room lounge for cocktails, an outdoor Pool Club (seasonal), and the Committee Chophouse for supper are the on-site eating options.
My wife and I made our way to the Orleans Room, a public seating area with a casual atmosphere. The ample natural light from the huge windows illuminated the room’s wood-beamed ceiling and muted color scheme. This restaurant was so successful during its heyday that it got the “Award for Excellence” from Holiday Magazine for sixteen consecutive years. We couldn’t wait to sample their iconic Reuben Sandwich, which was created and first in 1925 at the Blackstone. This tale is now the stuff of legends.
It appears that the hotel’s owner, Charles Schimmel, played poker with his cronies, whom he dubbed “The Committee,” on the hotel’s top level. Reuben Kulakofsky, a grocer of Lithuanian descent who lived in Omaha, was one of his friends. Kulakofsky’s Central market retail store just so happened to have an abundance of sauerkraut. During a Sunday night game, when everyone became hungry, Schimmel asked his son Bernard to prepare something using Kulakofsky’s sauerkraut and corned beef. Bernard, who had just returned from Switzerland, prepared a sandwich with Emmental cheese, corned beef, and sauerkraut, which he grilled between pumpernickel bread with Russian dressing.
Apparently, it was a smashing success, and the sandwich was later called The Reuben in his honor. It was then added to all of Schimmel’s hotels’ standard menus. In 1956, the National Restaurant Association awarded it the Sandwich of the Year award for its widespread popularity. The Blackstone sells thousands of Reuben sandwiches annually, which are now prepared with Gruyere cheese in The Orleans, lovingly known as “Omaha’s Living Room.”
You may believe that the Blackstone’s contribution to gastronomic history ends there, but you would be incorrect. According to the hotel, Butter Brickle Ice Cream was introduced to the general public for the first time there. If you’re unfamiliar with this sweet treat, it can be prepared in a variety of ways, but here they utilize the “best and closest recipe” from the local Coneflower Creamery. Tiny chunks of homemade toffee and chocolate are combined with a base of sweet cream in their rendition. My recommendation is to order a huge serving of this extremely delicious ice cream, or you will regret it.
Looking for more? Learn about Coneflower Creamery and other Omaha confectioneries.
To reach the Cottonwood Room for dinner, we descended one level through a stunning old marble staircase.
The room is softly lit, but what attracted our attention was a brilliant, fake Cottonwood Tree protruding from a circular bar. It is encircled by plush, over-sized upholstered seating sections and a 54-foot-long mural painted by Eve Borhcer.
During the major renovation of the hotel, they discovered a hidden area between the first and second floors, which they believe was used to conceal alcoholic beverages. The Cottonwood Room is their version of the hotel’s speakeasy, minus the dread of federal agents. In this charming pub, you can have a classic Manhattan, Rob Roy, or more modern drinks.
The neighboring corridor leading to The Committee Chophouse steakhouse features black and white mosaic tile floors and walls filled with photographs of celebrities, dignitaries, and contemporary luminaries. The fifth wedding anniversary of President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was honored at the hotel. In 1967, Richard Nixon declared his candidacy for president at The Blackstone.
The Committee is an intimate room where you can eat some of Omaha’s finest prime steak. It was inspired by the Roaring 20s and named after a poker game. The restaurant’s motif features soft lighting, pleasant hues, and curved booths with an art-deco flair.
I ordered a filet mignon with asparagus and au gratin potatoes. My steak was flavorful and tender, and the potatoes were a wonderfully cheesy side dish. For dessert, I recommend their signature Baked Alaska made with the renowned Tart Cherry Crumble ice cream from Coneflower Creamery. If you are limited to only one fine dining experience in Omaha with a charming mid-century atmosphere, this would be it.
As I walked around the property, I could readily imagine life around the turn of the twentieth century. Back then, life seemed simpler, and luxury was characterized by attention to detail, delicious food, and outstanding service, all of which I found at the Blackstone.
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