The “Inn at Little Washington” is a very special place for my husband and myself. It was at this Inn that my husband proposed to me some 17 years ago. And I said Yes.
The town of Little Washington is located deep in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains. Over 40 years ago two young men set out to convert a garage on the corner of Main and Middle Streets into a restaurant. The town’s population consisted of 158 inhabitants.
The barn-like building was constructed circa 1895 and operated as a gas station with a dance hall above it. The building was going to be demolished, but given it’s location, it was deemed too expensive to tear down and too risky to burn.
Patrick O’Connell and Reinhardt Lynch had been operating a catering business out of an old, unheated farmhouse nearby, using a wood-burning cookstove and an electric frying pan. They had developed a small following of well-to-do clients in dire need of a local eatery.
The partners were able to rent the old garage in town for $200 a month. With a savings of $5,000 between them and a loan from a nearby bank, they were able to build a kitchen and begin transforming the old building into a charming country restaurant.
The “Inn at Little Washington” opened in early 1978, with no liquor license, insufficient electrical power, and a staff of three. Weeks afterwards, a Washington, D.C. restaurant reviewer dined anonymously and wrote that it was the best restaurant in a radius of 150 miles of the nation’s capital.
At the end of the first year the partners closed for the month of January and went on a pilgrimage to France to visit great restaurants. These European visits became instrumental in shaping the future for the Inn at Little Washington.
O’Connell had not received any formal training as a chef and it was inspirational for him to meet several of the greatest chefs working in Europe at the time and realize that they were also self-taught. Winter trips to Europe’s greatest restaurants became a yearly tradition and the partners also began visiting the world’s best hotels on their journeys.
By 1984, The Inn’s first guest rooms opened to glowing reviews from the travel press. In 1988, Mobil Travel Guide announced that for the first time in their 34 years of rating hotels and restaurants, The Inn had received two 5-Star Awards—one for its restaurant as well as one for the accommodations. Celebrities, politicians and hospitality leaders flocked to “Little” Washington to see what the fuss was all about.
In 1992, O’Connell was named Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic Region and went on to receive the prestigious Outstanding Chef in America award. The Inn was also recognized as the Outstanding Restaurant in America and went on to win national awards for service and wine.
Since then, the Inn has received several other awards including the “10 best restaurants in the world” and “number 1 in North America”.
Growing up as the daughter of a French chef in the DC area, I had heard a lot about the Inn and Chef O’Connell so I was eager to visit one day.
That day came 17 years ago when my now husband took me to the Inn for dinner with the intention of proposing.
This is a picture of the Inn on the magical day I said “yes”.
I knew something was up..not everyday we come to a place such as the Inn! My husband had talked to the maître d’, François, before dinner and arranged a private place for the proposal.
After our amazing 5 course dinner, we went upstairs to a little alcove area and my husband got down on one knee, proclaimed his love for me, and asked me for my hand in marriage 🙂 I was so excited, thrilled and nervous at the same time! François brought us each a glass of champagne to toast, congratulated us and took our picture. It was truly a beautiful moment and one we will always treasure.
During our visit, François allowed us to have a sneak peek of the kitchen, where all the action takes place. It was so exciting for us to see what goes on behind closed doors and what a beautiful kitchen, I snapped this photo of the chefs in action.
The owners of the Inn, Patrick O’Connell and Reinhardt Lynch, owned a pair of dalmation dogs who greeted guests at the front door and walked them to their table. The two dalmations were the inspiration for the iconic pants and aprons worn by the chefs at the Inn.
After our trip to the kitchen, we walked through the garden where we stopped for pictures.
We spent the night in Little Washington and returned with wonderful memories and a true love for the Inn. This was our first visit to the Inn but certainly not the last.
This is the first in a series of posts about the very special “Inn at Little Washington”, hope you enjoyed it.
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