For years, the Amory remained sealed and silent. After serving Burlington, Vermont for more than a century—as a munitions warehouse for the National Guard, a car dealership, and the legendary music club Hunt’s—fire swept through in 2003, shutting the doors for 13 years. The prime location, however, smack dab between downtown and the waterfront, didn’t go unnoticed to city developers, who invited the Hilton Garden Inn to take up the space, and add a little more to it.
Opened in January 2015, the Hilton Garden Inn adopts a similar Vermonty boutique aesthetic to the nearby Hotel Vermont and Made INN Vermont, although not nearly to the same degree of quirk. Nonetheless, anyone tired of the flowered wallpaper of the traditional country inn and seeking a 21st-century vision of the Green Mountain state will relish the update.
It’s a somewhat tight squeeze as you pull in from Main Street past a cluster of slender fire engine red tree trunks (by sculptor R. Elliott Katz and under the covered drop-off point. In a city as chilled out as Burlington, it’s both startling and impressive to watch the valets actually sprint to and fro to the hotel parking garage, but unless you insist on door-to-door service or are carrying heavy bags, the $16 per day charge seems somewhat silly considering free street parking is just two short blocks away.
The pearl of the Hilton Garden Inn is just inside the front doors, where the vast space of the former armory is admirably re-conceived by design firm Group One Partners. To the left is the reception desk itself, and the right opens up into the hotel’s restaurant and lounge, the Armory Grille and Bar. In every direction, bright, boutique touches flourish—multi-toned wood floors; upholstery in blue leather, yellow and red swirls, and Cheese-Nip orange; corrugated-metal sliding doors; and globular, thatched lighting fixtures and black iron hoops hanging from the ceiling. Local art plays a lead role as well, with paintings, sculpture, and more by artists like Casey Blanchard, Johanne Durocher Yordan, and Carolyn Enz Hack. Indeed, it’s a remarkable amount of leeway given to a global chain like Hilton, and proves the assertion of general manager Shannon Moore that this Hilton Garden is different than most hotels of the chain.
Probably the same can’t be said for the rooms (starting at $289 per night), which are certainly nice, but don’t stray too far from the usual hotel layout and style—bed, desk, ergonomic desk chair, Keurig coffeemaker, and Neutrogena Bath Amenities (thumbs up for the free high speed Internet, though). However, if you can book one of the few rooms (like 403) with a panoramic view of Lake Champlain and Adirondack Mountains, that makes them special indeed.
But in a city as vibrant as Burlington, hanging around the hotel is not really what you should be doing. Happily, nearly all of the city’s prime sights are in easy walking distance to the Hilton, whether down along the water in Waterfront Park (threaded by one of the world’s greatest bike paths) or up the hill east to the Church Street Market place and its hosts of restaurants, pubs, theaters, and music clubs. Even the up-and-coming arts district filling the former industrial buildings with galleries, studios, vintage shops (and food trucks on Friday) in the south end is mere blocks away. In short, the Hilton Garden Inn has a good claim on the city’s best location.
In fact, on-site are two worthwhile stops, firstly the Armory Bar and Grille, which gives Burlington’s best restaurants a run for their money with locally sourced, organic, dishes like broiled haddock in lemon beurre blanc, “deconstructed” lasagna, and chicken statler. The Vermont-inspired cocktails may be even better, particularly the Burlington Mule, Old Catamount, and Queen City Royale. In fact, they make for excellent lubrication for a night at the Armory’s other tenant, the Vermont Comedy Club, which brings an impressive range of local and national talent to the mic.
In Burlington, the Hilton Garden Inn successfully strikes a balance between business and pleasure, with enough quirk and individuality to make it memorable but with a foot solidly in the reassuring mores of a corporate brand. Much like the cocktails at the bar, the blend, like the location, is ideal. Check the hotel website for rates. You can compare prices at Travelocity or Expedia.
Mike Dunphy stayed as a guest of the Hilton Garden Inn
Lead photo by the Hilton Garden Inn. All other photos by Mike Dunphy