"Your room is at the back and has a beautiful view," says the smiling check-in clerk at the Thayer Hotel. "But there is a train that runs past us, so if you think that it might bother you, I can switch you to the front of the hotel."
Oh no, we cheerfully say, who wouldn't want a beautiful view from their room? A view of the Hudson River, at that, one of the all-time most scenic waterways anywhere, in my book. And how much bother can a little train whistle every few hours be?
We happily accept the keys to our room just as I hear a second clerk say to another guest, "Your room is at the back and has a beautiful view, but there is a train that runs past us, so if you think that it might bother you, I can switch you to the front of the hotel."
Hmm. Interesting little spiel. I'll have to keep my ears peeled for that train.
Meanwhile, though, I'm quite liking the Thayer Hotel, a majestic Gothic- and Tudor-style lodging on the edge of the West Point campus in upstate New York. The towering 151-room grande dame, which opened in 1926 and underwent renovation "to a standard worthy of West Point" (says the literature) in 2010, is my kind of place.
Outside, it's all medieval fortress, complete with crenelated roofline and soaring turrets (I looove turrets). Inside, the vast two-story lobby is filled with elegant but cushy furnishings (go ahead and sink into one of those wingback chairs) and boasts a large fireplace against one wall, surrounded by wood paneling and crowned by a portrait of Sylvanus Thayer. He's the Father of West Point, don't you know, the longest-serving superintendent of the U.S. military academy. And the guy for whom, of course, the hotel is named.
Yup, it's just my cup of tea. It even has some of those tucked-away, oh-look-at-this elements that so endear a hostelry to me. There's the chandelier in the foyer, an original from the West Point Hotel, the Thayer's precursor. And the little winding staircase in the far corner of the lobby, leading up to Zulu Time, the rooftop bar that we'll have to visit in just a few, since I'm starving and it's too early for dinner.
But first to our room, which is the Joe DePinto room. Um, Joe who, you ask? I had the same question. According to a handsome plaque outside our door, Joseph M. DePinto (USMA '86) is the chief executive of 7-Eleven. He's one of the distinguished West Point grads honored by the hotel's Room Dedication Program, established in 2010 and creating a "museum in the hallways" with displays of the honorees' names and accomplishments.
I think our getting Joe's room is a little ironic, because our Washington neighborhood had a little tussle with 7-Eleven recently over a store expansion on our block. Life is funny that way, isn't it?
"His" room is nice enough, though, if somewhat beigey-plain, with the cream-colored walls and the king-size bed dressed in the usual crisp white linens. There's a nice little seating area with couch and coffee table, and all the necessities -- coffeemaker, flat-screen TV, etc. But uh-oh, what's this?
Our "beautiful view" is, um, well. I mean, you can see the river, sort of, but in between us and it is . . . the Zulu Time lounge. We're on the third floor, and Zulu is on the roof of a two-story extension below us. I'd read a bunch of complaints on TripAdvisor about bar noise keeping folks awake into the wee weekend hours, and here we are, on a Friday night, right on top of it!
Oh well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, right? So down we go -- stopping at the front desk to request a Do Not Disturb sign, oddly missing from our room -- for a closer look at the view. But alas, all the good view-viewing seats are taken. So we sidle up to the bar, where I ask our bartender about the white castlelike building across the river.
"I bet everybody asks you about that," I say, and she rolls her eyes.
"Yes, and then I have to say that it's," she sighs, "Dick's Castle."
We laugh and have a very friendly little exchange about the castle (wealthy businessman Evans Dick never finished the Moorish-style palace he started in 1903) and our trip to New England, and then she says, sticking out her hand, "I'm Sarah" (Sara?), and my husband says, "That's my mother's and sister's name," and Sara (Sarah?) says, "With or without an h?"
"With," says my husband, and Sara(h) nods. "Mm-hmm," she says, noncommittally. "I had a couple here the other week -- oh, sorry." Another bartender pulls her away. We wait for her to come back and finish her story, but though we sit there for a while, noshing on appetizers and gazing alternately at the bank of clocks above the bar showing the time in cities around the world (the middle one is on Zulu, or universal, time) and the gleaming river, she doesn't.
But then we run into her on the little winding staircase as we're leaving. "With or without an h?" I blurt.
"Without," she laughs. Aha! Mystery solved.
Back in our room after dinner, we get the solution to our other mystery, too. A DND sign has appeared. "Future commander-in-chief relaxing. Stand down," it reads on one side, and "This room not inspection-ready. Reinforcements needed" on the other. Very clever. I bet it gets purloined all the time.
Before bed, I glance out the window. It's only about 10:30, but Zulu Time is buttoned up and battened down. All quiet on the riverfront.
It's not till the next morning, after a deep and solid sleep, that I remember . . . the train.
"Did it bother you at all?" asks the clerk as we check out, and I realize.
I never heard a toot.
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The Thayer Hotel
674 Thayer Rd.
West Point, N.Y.
Rooms from $215.