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Buffalo's Hotel Henry Urban Resort on the Richardson Olmsted Campus

TRAVEL

Buffalo's Hotel Henry Urban Resort on the Richardson Olmsted Campus

A 145-year-old National Historic Landmark takes on new life

by David Graver
on 18 December 2017

Many people may be drawn to Buffalo's recently-opened Hotel Henry because the awe-inspiring structure was built as the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane a century-and-a-half ago. If one maintains respect for the souls who once occupied the halls, then that's certainly a valid reason for curiosity, but there is far more here than murmurs of past use. Certainly the architectural wonder that is the entire Richardson Olmsted Campus—a National Historic Landmark since 1986 and the structure within which the hotel and the Lipsey Buffalo Architecture Center reside—binds the past, present and even the future.

Today, the building's Romanesque Revival style, a signature of acclaimed architect Henry Hobson Richardson, activates the imagination. The grounds encircling the red sandstone and brick structure were configured by landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, masterminds behind NYC's Central Park. Simply put, buildings and their surroundings do not look like this anymore, anywhere. To scour the facade with one's eyes is to learn, to walk the pathways is to study, to stay in the hotel, well that's most likely just a good night's rest (as it was for us). But for all the past that's presented, inside Hotel Henry it's really just a modern destination with top-tier amenities.

Upon entering, guests are immediately enveloped in modern design. While this exists in contrast to the exterior, the aesthetic transitions the experience to one akin to any design-oriented hotel. From here, it's about navigation. Long hallways rise to cathedral ceilings, all of which shoot off in every direction. A second floor lobby almost feels stowed away. One of the best and most perplexing elements to Hotel Henry happens to be the fact that visitors must (or can) meander through the property to find certain elements. That said, staff is at the ready—from the valet to the lobby attendants—to guide everyone through with rapidity. All on site have a superb knowledge of the premises and its offerings.

Of all the amenities outside of the bedroom, the food and drink options excite the most. 100 Acres: the Kitchens at Hotel Henry serves sustainably-sourced, whole foods. From the team's relationship with partner farms and hyper-local agriculture to their use of USA-made, plant-based compostable packaging, it's a destination of the highest standard. Dishes include halibut with scallops in a spicy chorizo broth and pan-roasted duck breast. Further, the bar program here features signature craft cocktails as tasty and thoughtfully-developed as any found in a larger metropolitan. The restaurant and bar weave through a few spaces in the hotel but beyond this the ample amount of public space, including some lit by large windows, makes for another delight—especially the corridors filled with art from the hotel's art program.

Despite its apparent vastness, the property only contains 88 rooms (yes, these were once the quarters of patients). With a continuation of those high ceilings and a spacious layout, emphasized by modern, minimal design, the rooms offer comfort, quiet and space enough to stretch. Everything a modern traveler seeks can be found inside. Plenty of outlets are supported by additional USB ports (within reach of the bed). There is an LED mirror TV and the room comes with a tablet. Grays and other muted tones make for a soothing palette. Despite the cooler color, there's warmth to the space.

With all the present day effectiveness, remnants of the past are not hard to find. There's a strange door here and there. In one corridor, the original flooring has been left intact, another features a highlighted portion under what appears to be resin. There's a stairwell that leads nowhere, and the visual identity of a ballroom in one wing seems to defy time and place. Altogether, it's out of the ordinary, as it should be. This is only the first phase of the redevelopment of the Richardson Olmsted Campus, and represents one-third of the overall vision. Many have been watching its progress for decades, if not longer. Regardless of why guests find themselves there, it's sure to please as far as hotels go—offering a bit of wonder and a lot of beauty in the process.

Rooms can be booked online for Hotel Henry, with prices starting at $160. The Richardson Olmsted Campus is located at 444 Forest Avenue in Buffalo, New York.

Drone and room image courtesy of Hotel Henry, all others by David Graver

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