The Deer Path Inn—located in Lake Forest, Illinois—is under an hour’s drive from the Chicago International Airport, yet feels like it could be in England. The building has been around since the 1920s, but it wasn’t until 2016, when the hotel received an extensive renovation, that the inn made it back to its British roots. During the renovation, innkeeper Matt Barba and his executive chef took an extensive journey through the countryside of England in an effort to immerse themselves in the fine art of inn-keeping in the true English tradition. The result is more than a dark wooden and quintessentially British lobby, but an experience that seems more like a living storybook than just a place to spend a night.
“Even though the world has gotten smaller in recent years, with access to information via the internet or social media channels, I was looking to observe and immerse myself in the culture to pick up on details and nuance that you can’t just Google,” Barba tells us. “We purposefully stayed away from major cities and found off-the-beaten path locations of Michelin-starred pubs with guest rooms above, manor houses, and Relais & Châteaux properties that were all deeply rooted in historic English towns and facilities.”
The inn reopened in 2016 with an unprecedented level of excitement, most of which came from the local community and the incredibly passionate staff. Residents of Lake Forest are quick to sing the praises of the Deer Path Inn (where many of them can be found behind three-tiered trays of English treats at the inn’s daily afternoon tea), and it’s with a tone of sincerity that they speak about Barba and what he’s done for the inn and the community as a whole.
“Matt inspired the entire town to come together again when he reopened the inn,” one local tells us. “He’s the greatest boss I’ve ever had,” mentions a particularly cheery doorman. “We’re all family here; the staff and the guests,” another staffer discloses.
Although the super-spacious rooms and suites in this 57-room inn are stunning (with curated libraries and artwork, sumptuous Frette bed linens, and more) and the three onsite restaurants are worth a visit themselves (don’t miss the delicate popovers served with each dinner reservation at the English Room), it’s the atmosphere and sense of community that sets this inn apart from any other hotel in the region.
“For me, inn-keeping is an art,” says Barba. “Similar to doctors or lawyers, it is a practice. We like to say that we are practicing the art of inn-keeping. This differs from simply managing an inn or hotel. Inn-keeping is more personal at its core. It is more fluid by design and nimble by nature. It’s purposefully unscripted. We curate individual experiences and create memorable moments that establish an intimate relationship.”
For Barba and his team, the art of inn-keeping extends beyond when his guests are in house, to a degree where they have been known to send personalized birthday gifts, hand-written thank you letters, and even gifts of condolence to their regular guests at their homes.
While at the inn, it’s not uncommon to receive the same personalized attention, with complimentary minibars stocked with guests’ favorite treats and drinks and a turndown service that continues to delight and surprise even regulars. “It is our intention to have every guest, in their own way, leave feeling as though they were truly seen—having the intimate aspects of themselves be recognized and appreciated, to the extent they want to engage with us,” Barba says. “We actually delight in the guests who can’t articulate why they enjoyed their visit with us. It just means we’ve done our job in being divergent. Instead of one novelty item or wow-factor, it’s a hundred little details that add up to a fulfilling experience. We want them to leave having felt genuinely cared for.”
Rooms at the Deer Path Inn start at $319 per night.
Bedroom image by Kristy Alpert, all other Images courtesy of the Deer Path Inn