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There was that pandemic thing that put a kibosh on business travel.  Some hotels and hotel chains (looking at you Kimpton) slumped, starting with their customer experience department.  I mean, no customers so no customer service?  Or something wrong like that.  Others rose to the occasion.  The Umstead Hotel in Cary, NC rose to the occasion.  Well done Umstead!

First off, the hotel remembered that we have stayed on their property before.  They left a note.  They provided an excellent room.  The only problem was not a problem at all…that was that arrival was rushed due to late aircraft arrival and there was no time to appreciate the calm ritual of the umstead.  In the end, it all worked out.

After delivering a 6:30pm lecture, it was back to the Umstead and its world class restaurant, Herons, for dinner.  Just wow.  Excellent food.  Impeccable service.  Great company.  Dinner could not have been better executed.

Herons is still in pandemic mode

The host, software security professor Laurie Williams

The Prix Fixe dinner menu is world class, and fun too.  Elk, caviar, fois gras, and a cheese desert that was a blast.

Then it was up to 512 (a garden view balcony room) for some sleep on birthday eve.

512 bedroom. Very tasteful and comfortable.

 

The bar in the hall

 

Looking toward the balcony

 

An excellent bathroom featuring an NPS approved shower room.

 

The giant tub (alas, unused on this trip)

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NPS was greeted with presents hidden away in our luggage.  Yay!  Birthday.  (NPS is 38 for those of you wondering.)

 

Foggy morning view

 

Looking over the “lake”

 

The Umstead

What else is there to do around Cary on your birthday?  Well there is Krispy Kreme.

Hot donuts NOW

And a visit to the NCSU lab.

 

A little too secure if you don’t have an ID card.

Evidence of bribery (see the table)

Then a VERY early dinner with Michael Rappa, who once again is always right about restaurant choice.  Stanbury is fantastic.

The perfect Negroni

 

Three birthdays in the corner

 

Happy birthday NPS

After dinner it was back to Cary for a nightcap at Mayton Inn‘s bar.  Fernet was available.  The waitress was a newb.

All in all, a great celebratory day with three renditions of the happy birthday song…all terrible.

Much brighter morning

 

The umstead entrance

A walk in the park was in order before flying back home.  Umstead State Park is built around an old Mill complex.  A nice warm day for a walk.

 

 

Hurray for a visit with bright young grad students!

Five showerheads and a fervent wish for an early return (or maybe often…or maybe both).

 

So close and yet so not close. We’ve been to the umstead many times, but they don’t seem to know that. Hey guys, maybe a computer??

As predicted, in the Spring it is just gorgeous here.

But all is not perfection. Arrival after midnight should pay attention to reservation constraints. Like: 2 beds (actually made), the fact that we have been here multiple times (?!), the fact that we like sparkling water, and so on. The umstead has slipped management-wise over the last few years. Who is the general manager? Great property, but not managed very tightly at all. Get it together, umstead, if you want to be world class and not just the best property in NC.

Hmmm

Hmmm

Room 107 is beautiful as all of the rooms here are.

107 Umstead

107 Umstead

We're in it for the bathrooms

We’re in it for the bathrooms

The shower is to write home about. Really. Bench. 4 shower heads. Plenty of pressure. World class.

Unbelievably great shower

Unbelievably great shower

It's Spring

It’s Spring

Are there sheets under there?  Maybe not.

Are there sheets under there? Maybe not.

Note that the patio is a superior place to have a leisurely dinner on a fine Spring evening. Delicious. The company was the best part of course. Oh, and there is real mixology here now too, mostly stolen wholesale from NY. Nothing if not good mimics here.

However, we’re looking for perfection. Four point five showerheads for the Umstead. Time for management to wake up and figure out that being great means serious attention to detail and a history on your guests.

During college and the arts, there was a visit to Duke and UNC. Both schools are to be avoided for different reasons. Duke thinks it is Stanford (uh, nope). UNC thinks it is a sports franchise. Ouch.

The only interesting thing about Duke

The only interesting thing about Duke

The only interesting thing about UNC

The only interesting thing about UNC

UNC: Centered around a stadium, or is that a prison?

UNC: Centered around a stadium, or is that a prison?

Hey look what North Carolina collected when you weren’t watching. ART.

genius

genius

By now we all know that Cary remains an acronym for “containment area for relocated Yankees,” right? Well, some of the Yankees must be rich. The Umstead is a gem.

The balcony view from 312.

The balcony view from 312.

There's a lake down there somewhere.

There’s a lake down there somewhere.

Last time I was here, they welcomed me with a nice amenity (chocolates! water! wine!). Why? Who knows. But I am apparently no longer on the list. This time I ordered my own (rather expensive) bottle of sparkling water. We’ll see if they get the memo before my April reservation.

Room 312 is very nice. In particular, the shower rocks.

It's all about the bathroom in 312

It’s all about the bathroom in 312

Umstead cubicles. One for the shower.  One for the toilet.

Umstead cubicles. One for the shower. One for the toilet.

That shower.  Yes!

That shower. Yes!

Five stars minus an amenity to the Umstead.

The capstone of this visit to NCSU was an over-capacity sold out Cyber War talk. Afterwards, a visit to Fox Liquor bar was superb. What a find. Real cocktails and real expertise. Garrett Waddell exceeded expectations by blending a Manhattan derivative with a (verboten) Blood and Sand. For the record, Scotch is not my thing. But this cocktail was great!

Message in Blood
1.5 oz Aberlour highland scotch
1.5 oz Punt et Mes
bar spoon cherry heering
3 dashes Agostura
Stir down. Serve up. Garnish with an orange twist.

Dinner at Buku was very good. They could use a pass to update their winelist, but the food was very tasty and the service great.

After dinner, we returned to Fox Liquor to round out the night.

Yes, we all know that CARY is an acronym for “containment area for relocated Yankees,” but I guess the northern invaders needed a nice place to stay?! Or maybe it was the SAS corporation?! Whatever the cause, the Umstead Hotel is world class.

Umstead autumn morning

Umstead autumn morning

Super courteous and warm welcome. Amenity arrival within minutes. Southern hospitality and laughter. Light and grace.

Chocolate? Well some people like that.

Chocolates made in house.

Chocolates made in house.

A bottle of wine and a note balance things out.

Amenity table.  Wine and chocolate.

Amenity table. Wine and chocolate.

Auto upgrade to a lake view room (216) with a balcony. Too bad it gets dark so early these days!

Balcony in the morning.  Nice place to read the WSJ.

Balcony in the morning. Nice place to read the WSJ.


The room is nicely appointed and the design, though a rectangle, is well done.

IMG_0532

From the bathroom.

From the bathroom.

The shower is not plastic in the least.

Not a plastic shower.

Not a plastic shower.

Huge tub for no apparent reason.

Huge tub for no apparent reason.

All told, we’re at five shower heads. Stay here.

Dinner at the nearby An restaurant was delightful. Very good seafood and an excellent and quirky wine list.

Mixology at the Umstead is OK. Very good for a hotel bar, but nothing to write down. The Sazarac experiment was a wash—literally. But the service is excellent if not obsequious. Great place to unwind.

Incredibly great dinner after a long day with students (and two talks, one of which was a surprise) at Poole’s Diner. Wow. Best dinner in NC ever. Simple, but supremely well constructed. And the bar made a fantastic Sazerac. The Sazerac is a difficult drink to make properly:
Ice down a tumbler. In a second glass mix:
1 t simple syrup
3 oz cask strength Rye (Sazarac 18 is a good bet, or Rittenhouse 100)
7 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters
Stir down. Empty first glass and rinse with absinthe. Strain mixture into first glass. Express generous lemon slice over glass. See? Easy, but NOT easy at all to do well.