Warmth is synonymous with the historic Deer Path Inn in Lake Forest. It is what Matt Barba feels each time he enters the stuccoed Tudor-styled hotel on Illinois Avenue.
But not because the inn — born in the 1860s before moving to its present location in 1929 and modeled after a mid-15th century Manor House in Chiddingstone, Kent, England — features stone fireplaces.
“I get this warm feeling as soon as I get here,” says Barba, interim general manager at the Deer Path Inn. “There’s something about it, something special. It’s positive. It’s cozy. I enjoy seeing the friendly faces everywhere I look, the nooks and crannies, the visuals and the feels of an old Manor House.
“There’s an energy about it.”
For 15 months, starting in early January, Lake Forest’s quaint, charming inn will undergo a multimillion-dollar renovation that will enhance the experience for its guests. The lead architect is Mark Knauer. The banquet facilities, meeting rooms and all 54 guest rooms (including 27 suites) will be closed for the duration of the substantial refurbishment. The bar and the White Hart Pub will remain open to the public.
Each starts daily service at 4 p.m.
“Keeping the bar and pub open allows the community to come in and ask questions about the renovation,” Barba says. “We don’t want to lose touch with the community. The Deer Path Inn serves as the living room and dining room of the community.
“I’m looking forward to the renovation. I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing the reactions of the renovation.”
Each guest room — individually decorated — will, finally, have state-of-the-art HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) that 5-star hotel rooms have, so travelers can control the temperature. Among the project’s other plans: reconfigure and design guest rooms; refurbish the Hearth Room and English Room; update the Garden Room and banquet facilities, and add a passenger elevator for access to the upper and lower floors.
Changes to the hotel’s exterior won’t be recognizable, much to the delight of folks who want the inn to retain the “Old” in “Old English.”
One of the folks is Ralph Hansen, a Lake Forest resident and owner of a sports and entertainment marketing company. He has been frequenting the Deer Path Inn for 30 years. He figures the number of times he has visited is in the thousands. He placed his son in a White Hart Pub booth when his son was little. His son now has a daughter.
“My granddaughter … guess where she sits when she’s at Deer Path?” Hansen says. “The booth where my son always sat when he was young. I have a long history of going there with my family. My wife [Joyce], it’s her birthday [Dec. 12]. We’re going to celebrate it at Deer Path.
“We have a traditional home. We like traditional things. The Deer Path Inn is as traditional as it gets.”
Jay Mendiola stands in the lobby area of the inn’s entrance. Lobby areas in hotels are typically bright, shiny, somewhat cold. Not here. The lighting is dim, set permanently at a pleasing den-at-home-at-twilight setting. The floors and walls are dark but not too dark.
“The Deer Path Inn’s main competitors?” asks Mendiola, the director of human resources at the Deer Path Inn. “Let’s see. I’d say a house … in Lake Forest. This is a unique place, a special place. It feels like a home. I know it feels like a home to our employees. These next 15 months, they’re all going to feel like it is their house that’s getting renovated.”
Six months after ownership changed hands last December — it is now owned by a subsidiary of Abbott — inn’s management and staff teams met for several hours on consecutive days. Plans for the renovation were presented. Another item on the agenda: the inn’s DNA. Management assured the attendees that what made the Deer Path Inn endearing — and enduring — would not be compromised at any point of the upgrade.
“People will notice a more pristine version of this place, but the charm and the essence of it will not be lost at all,” Barba says. “The lead architect [Knauer] is fantastic, up on all of the nuances and all of the aesthetics. It was time. It was time to modernize.”
There was a time when Paul Newman visited the Chicago area. To act in movie. Or to do something related to his other passion, racing cars. Or to see friends, business associates.
One of the late actor’s favorite destinations on the North Shore was the Deer Path Inn. Hansen’s company represented Newman’s racing interests.
“Paul Newman,” Hansen recalls, “went to Deer Path a number of times. He absolutely loved it. He found it a pleasure. He could come and go, eat at the inn, and nobody ever bothered him.”
The inn’s staff treated Newman as it treats the understudy of the lead actor in a middle-school play: enthusiastically and attentively. The inn’s staff has always impressed Hansen.
“Such high-quality people,” Hansen says. “They treat everybody with respect. They respond to your needs, too. I remember one time, at a birthday party there. Maybe it was on another occasion. Somebody at our table wanted to order sweet potatoes. But that wasn’t on the menu. Well, somebody ran to a grocery store and purchased the ingredients. The kitchen prepared the order. The order of sweet potatoes made it to our table.”
Hansen, like others, is looking forward to the day — in early 2016 — when he will get to feast his eyes on the Deer Path Inn 2.0.
“They will get it right, no doubt,” he says
Visit the hotel’s website at www.dpihotel.com for periodic updates about the renovation.