Eddie and Sylvia Brown first looked at the Inn at Government House in MountVernon with an eye toward adding some office space for Eddie’s firm, Brown Capital Management. But after taking in the elegant carved woodwork, the leaded glass windows and the soaring spaces in the 1889 house, says Sylvia, “We thought we could do a little bit more.” Partnering with Marty and Lone Azola, whose Azola Companies did the painstaking renovation of the office building across the street, the Browns are shooting for the coveted Relais & Château designation for the new Ivy Hotel and its restaurant, Magdalena. “That’s the kind of caliber we want,” says Sylvia of the boutique property that opened in June with 18 lavish rooms, nine of which are suites. There is also a new spa that uses lovely organic products, handmade in small batches.
Chef. Mark Levy, 37, was born in Essex in the U.K. and came to the U.S. to work at Keswick Hall in Charlottesville, Va. “I’d never seen anything like it,” says Levy, whose only experience in America had been two trips to Disney World after his parents split up. “I always thought their divorcewas the best thing,” he laughs. Accustomed to “rough and tumble” pubs, Levy had trouble adjusting to the precision of a professional kitchen.
“I was on my way out the door,” recalls the chef, until he had amoment of clarity and picked up his game. He later helmed the kitchen at The Point Resort—the former Rockefeller summer camp in Saranac, N.Y.—until he was beckoned away by the exclusive Garrett Hotel Consultants, who were working with the Browns and the Azolas. Levy has been in Baltimore for about a year, learning the ropes and sampling the food.
Food. Magdalena says Levy, is a “fine dining bistro, casual with no white gloves,” where he uses “local, rare and obscure ingredients” to craft the changing menu.
Appetizers may include a chilled local crab with balsamic caramel, aubergine chips and coconut lime jelly or potato gnocchi with seared foie gras, peas and aged pecorino. His fish and chips is turbot dipped in aerated batter for a light crisp.
“We want to become the best restaurant in town,” says the chef, even as he recognizes the competition. Spike Gjerde and Cindy Wolf, he says, “have conceptualized what this city is about, from the gutsy butcher to the fine restaurant. I was pleasantly surprised when I moved here and saw what people were doing.”
Drink. The small bar “will have a bartender, not a mixologist,” says Levy, admittedly weary of “having to wait 10 minutes for a fussy drink.” The bar menu will include four classics, four seasonal cocktails and five beers with two locals on tap. “The beer around here is brilliant,” says the Brit. “Absolutely brilliant.” The mostly American wine list numbers 150, with bottles stored in a cellar-level dining room available for special events. And there will be mead—from Orchid Cellar in Middletown, Md.
Décor. San Francisco-based interior designer Joszi Meskan has infused the grand 19th-century spaces of the Ivy with respectful whimsy, channeling an eccentric and well-traveled aunt. The walls of the library are clad in green leather embossed with gilt trim, reminiscent of an antique book, while the music room (which will likely host more roundtables than rondos) is painted in a cubist-style mural that Levy jokingly describes as “Picasso’s Baltimore period.” Local artist Kim Parr has decorated the restaurant walls as a 16th-century garden of vines and vegetables.
Final Verdict. As Sylvia Brown, who never imagined she’d be a hotelier, puts it: “Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.” And delicious. —M.T.