Some American landmarks are so enduring that their form is immediately recognizable. In North Carolina, one such reinforced concrete and steel icon is the R.J. Reynolds Building, whose 22-story tower pierces the downtown skyline of Winston-Salem. What’s not so obvious is this setback building has recently become home to luxe hotel the Kimpton Cardinal.
Empire State of Mind // The R.J. Reynolds building, now home to the Kimpton Cardinal Hotel, is the predecessor of architectural icon the Empire State Building in New York City. The twentieth floor preserves the wood-paneled offices of the former bastion of tobacco, a nod to its prevalence in the twentieth century.
If the former headquarters of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company looks naggingly familiar, that’s no coincidence. The New York architectural firm Shreve and Lamb designed the building shortly before the Empire State Building, its taller (by 80 stories) northern doppelgänger. The resemblance is so striking that on its fiftieth anniversary, the staff received a card from the Empire State Building saying, “Happy Anniversary, Dad.” Reigning as the tallest skyscraper in North Carolina until the ’60s, the limestone-clad ziggurat housed the company’s headquarters until 2009. In May 2015, the PMC Property Group of Philadelphia in partnership with the Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group purchased the building for $7.8 million.
A year later, after an extensive renovation transformed offices into 174 luxe hotel rooms worthy of the Reynolds name, the building reopened as the Kimpton Cardinal Hotel. Guest rooms occupy the first six floors, with meeting space and ballrooms carved out of the mezzanine level. The wood-paneled executive offices have been preserved on the twentieth floor, in deference to the company that sparked Winston-Salem’s growth in the early twentieth century. Apartments fill the floors in-between.
// The interior design of the Kimpton Cardinal reflects an Art Deco motif that mirrors the heyday of R.J. Reynolds.
The spirit of corporate power and prosperity informs the interior décor of the Kimpton Cardinal. Pinstripe wallpaper and leather accents fill the rooms—including a leather-trimmed frame around the flat-screen TVs—and tailored blues and grays lay out a menswear theme. True to the Kimpton sense of whimsy, Deco details, pops of color, and playful elements—punk toile pillows—are tossed into the mix. Nods to North Carolina pepper the property, from the hotel’s name honoring the state bird to the blue and green Carolina Tartan covering occasional chairs.
An adult-size slide, a basketball court, a two-lane bowling alley, and game tables have converted the former boiler room downstairs into a recreational wonderland. Off the lobby, the Katharine Brasserie and Bar honors R.J.’s dynamic wife. Escargots, moules frites, and beef bourguignon distill the essence of French brasserie fare.
Dining Inn // Named after the wife of tobacco king R.J. Reynolds, the Katharine Brasserie and Bar (above) serves up French-inspired fare such as escargots, moules frites, and beef bourguignon, as well as craft cocktails (below).
Befitting the building’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the richly ornamented grand foyer is an Art Deco marvel, its original features intact. Black and gold marble lines the floors and walls, stylized tobacco motifs adorn the gilded mahogany ceiling, and gleaming brass cloaks the elevator doors—clearly straying from the company’s original instructions to “avoid flashiness.”
“Preserving the legacy of the R.J. Reynolds Building, while making the hotel feel distinctly Kimpton, is of paramount importance to us,” says Liza Edgerton, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing. Long a symbol of Winston-Salem, the Reynolds Building strikes a nostalgic chord for locals, who are happy to see a long-time staple of the city light up again as the Kimpton Cardinal Hotel.
The Kimpton Cardinal Hotel, 51 E Fourth St (at Main St), Winston- Salem, NC. (336) 724-1009, thecardinalhotel.com. Rates start at $160.