Friday, April 30, 2010

MAY IS GOING TO BE AMAZING!!! KENTUCKY DERBY, FRENCHTOWN FIRST FRIDAYS, CLASSIC BIKES AND BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL

I don't know why I'm so excited that tomorrow is the day this nation celebrates one of its most famous equine events, the Kentucky Derby. Maybe it's because Pete and I have been avid fans for years. Maybe it's because we have friends who religiously watch this event with excitement and with intention. Or maybe it's because it's just such a glorious celebration.


If you don't already know, in addition to owning The National Hotel, Pete and I own Freedom Farm in Hunterdon County, NJ, an equestrian facility that caters to the demanding equestrian, hosting Olympians, Grand Prix riders, and international equestrian celebrities. So there's the connection to the equestrian industry. But truly, our passion for this event pre-dates Freedom Farm.


It's just such a joyful and exciting event. The beautiful hats...the wonderful bios and interviews before the race... the mint juleps...what's not to love?!

So tomorrow we celebrate The Kentucky Derby. Any idea who will win? Any thoughts as to which horse might make it a Triple Crown after so many years? I'm definitely going to be watching, but in between going to an Outsider Art Gallery opening on May 1st and 2nd, in Frenchtown, as well as an art reception hosted at Room, also in Frenchtown. We have such a vibrant town!

Frenchtown is full of artists--and the more I scratch just the surface, the more I discover even more depth to this community. I just adore every moment I spend in this town. Have you visited the town yet? Don't miss this weekend--between the art show openings, our Sunday Music in the Afternoon series, featuring Teri Rambo, from 5 p.m. - 7 p.m. at our upstairs Restaurant and Bar. She wowed the audience last time she performed and this Sunday will be no different for sure.


But wait...come back on the Friday, May 7th, and be a part of Frenchtown's first ever First Fridays, where every shop will be open a little later, put on their "Sunday best" and showcase the town's unique artistic flair for all to see. Why not stay through the weekend? On the 8th, you'll have the pleasure of being a part of a 2-day Classic Bikes and Bluegrass Festival featuring live music too. There will be music out in the street--throughout the town--and be able to see beautiful classic motorcycles.

It's going to be a great spring. I can just feel it. Can't you? Do you have suggestions as to what we could do make your visit better? Let us know: marie@thenationalhotelnj.com. I love getting your emails and your comments. Don't stop!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

OUR FIRST WEDDING AT THE NATIONAL HOTEL!

So it's now just over a week since our very FIRST wedding reception, held at The National Hotel! We are just so thrilled at how smoothly everything went. Quite honestly, although as proprietors we are ever so proud to have been a part of this exciting day (& weekend), our efforts to make this run smoothly paled with the efforts of the bride and groom, and of their friends and family.

Truly it was the bride and groom's family and friends who made this wedding a total and utter success. We'd love to take credit for it...but it was a team effort. The bride was very organized and prepared, and her friends and family were not only supportive, but absolute "worker bees."

We had the pleasure of coordinating the BIG day's event, side-by-side with the bride's amazing friends, who instantly helped ratchet down the stress level and organize things, from the simplest little details, to the overall theme. Thank goodness for good friends!

And thank goodness for a family that is participatory and thrilled at being a part of such a wonderful occasion. Both sides of the family were welcoming, gracious, and truly good hosts. The rehearsal dinner the night before at our Restaurant went off without a hitch. Everyone enjoyed themselves, gave us wonderful feedback on the staff, the chef, the ambiance...everything. And then came the wedding day.

The simplicity of the floral arrangements added to a sense of elegance and freshness. The flowers came from our very own Frenchtown neighbor, Valley Florist, and they saw to it that everything was delivered on time, and set up beautifully. The National Hotel "smelled" like spring. It was just a beautiful transformation, from our normal Restaurant decor, to the bridal touches that completed the room's ambiance. The service was held in that room, giggles heard, tears wiped, and vows made. Everything came to a standstill during those precious minutes.


Our very private "Honeymoon Suite"

Congratulations to the bride and groom...you know who you are. Thank you for making our weekend so special, and for choosing The National Hotel as a wedding venue that will forever be etched in our minds as "The Place" where two families became one.

We are ever so pleased to have been a part of this momentous day, and hope to have many more opportunities to share special and exciting days with other couples. From our luxurious guest suites (a few with jacuzzi tubs!!), to our Restaurant and quality dining choices, to our unique and signature drinks at our Bar and Rathskeller Pub, The National Hotel is poised to cater to its guests' unique and individual needs. We are fortunate to have a staff that is keenly interested in being the very best, and in giving their focused attention to each guest's requirements.

If you haven't had a chance to visit our establishment, please take some time to do so. Give us a call at 908.996.3200, or email us at marie@thenationalhotelnj.com, and we'll give you a personal tour of the building and share some tidbits about its history. It's wonderful to have the opportunity to meet so many people who have been to the building before, or those who are new to the area, as well as those who have driven through the town but never entered this historic property. Make the time to come out, and we'll make the time to share some stories with you.

It's a gem of a town, Frenchtown. Now that the weather is better, be sure to come and see us, whether you're planning an event, birthday, wedding, girls' night out, or just taking a drive through our scenic country roads on a Sunday afternoon. We'll work with you side-by-side, to make your special day memorable. We hope to see you soon.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day



Earth Day is celebrating it's 40th year. As a parent with school-age children, one hears about the importance of this day, from a child's perspective. Rather than looking at the macro--at issues that are so big that in fact cause "decision paralysis" among many of us--children have a way of concentrating on the micro--on manageable, small changes we can all make that collectively make a difference.

There are lots of sites that have information on Earth Day and ways to make a difference in a personally relavent manner. Just do a quick google search and you'll find lots of great websites, blogs, and tips.

How about re-using that printed sheet of paper, flipping it over, and running the back-side through the printer when we are just printing out receipts or "works in progress?" Or don't print it at all...or, how about using discarded sheets of paper for scrap paper? Seems simple enough, but you'd be surprised how often we waste opportunities to be "green," because it's just not on our radar. Our girls are even re-using poster board from projects they've completed, and always find use for wasted or discarded printed paper, for solving math problems, scribbling, or test practice.

When Pete and I were in Chile, we made notes as to how even the liquor stores collected the empty bottles from clients who visited the shops to purchase new bottles of wine. And, in India, we witnessed the work of "rag pickers," people who have little in life and who sift through garbage to pick out rags/fabrics, which can be reused; nothing is wasted. Bottles are recycled or reused, tins the same, plastic too. Perhaps we can learn from our third world nation neighbors, who have considerably less, but who help keep our planet green, on these very basic levels.

Reusing, reducing and recycling are big buzz words today. So is "going green." Even small acts can help, and sometimes, that is a huge accomplishment. Making this personal commitment with one's family is a major step!


In a sense, we have tried to make that commitment at The National Hotel too, being very conscious of the paper we waste, the electricity we use, the sustainability of the building in general. We are constantly assessing and reassessing our operations, our business plan, vendor practices, etc., and we know we can do better...but every little step counts. And our Frenchtown neighbors often do the dame. Many have their own gardens, composte waste, walk or ride bikes instead of driving, and enjoy walking down the Towpath that abutts the Delaware River choosing to be outside with nature rather than consuming energy indoors or increasing their carbon footprint.

Frenchtown is just a gem of a town, an innovative, forward-thinking community, full of artists, entrepreneurs and caring individuals. I've often written about the breadth and range of artistic endeavors that happen right in the town. All you need to do is come out and listen to our poets on Poetry Open Mic Sundays, or join us tonight at The Rathskeller Pub Lounge to be a part of (in action or by supporting them by being present and listening to) the musicians who take the microphone every Thursday night at 9 p.m. (sign-ups are at 8:30 p.m.) for Open Mic Night. It really is amazing...it's going on right now...are you there?

And what a great way to celebrate Earth Day--together!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

New Entertainment, New Menus, Inside and Out


We can’t wait until later this afternoon, when Chuck Schaeffer ("The Chuck Wagon") together with Vern Warta, makes us all move, when he entertains us with his mix of Rockabilly, Folk, Americana, and Country Rock. Does the word “FUN” come to mind? We’ve been approached by so many talented musicians, that we are now pleased to offer music at The National Hotel almost every Sunday through the end of June. Be sure to join us today, Sunday, April 18th, from 5 p.m. - 7 p.m., downstairs in The Rathskeller Pub Lounge to catch Chuck Schaeffer.

And don't stop there, because you'll find that we're going to play hosts to other wonderfully talented musicians throughout the next couple of months. There are so many people involved in putting together a successful event. I know this from my own life, having worked in the non-profit sector for nearly 20 years, but what's so unusual about The National Hotel, is that so much of the "fun stuff" we offer, the Open Mic Nights,

the Poetry Open Mic,

the Sunday Music in the Afternoon series, actually happens because of the efforts and interest of the community. Pete and I essentially play hosts, offer the venue, but it is our Frenchtown and Hunterdon County friends and neighbors, who have made it a point to ensure that their treasured gem of a building never again closes its doors, never again is boarded up to create sadness and angst amongst all who pass by. Pete and I have been charged with taking on a business venture that is less business and more passion. We have engaged in an exercise of personal and community necessity, which drives us every single day to do our very best to make sure we meet (and wherever possible, exceed) expectations--our own, and those of our great neighbors.

Pete and I are just blessed to have been embraced by this community of artists and art aficionados. And to have captured the attention of the media, just means that we are also getting recognized for consistently creating quality dishes and providing an inviting atmosphere for the local resident as well as the traveler who comes from afar.

It ‘s only been about a month since our last review in The Courier News, where The National Hotel dominated the front page of one of their interior sections. The reviews of the food were fantastic and of the establishment itself too. And now, just 2 weeks ago, we were fortunate enough to have been a featured center story in The Good Times section of The Trenton Times. They captured one of our bartenders, Tobi “in action” pouring a martini, and offered a beautiful photo of our historic Bar.

It also captured the new covers to our menus, which we just LOVE! It seems like such a small detail, but to us, a lot of thought, time and attention to detail went into picking out just the right covers, making sure there was synergy between them and the room’s d├ęcor. Have you seen them? Do you like them?

And then you open them, and you find the most incredible assortment of wonderful food carefully planned and prepared by our kitchen, led by our executive chef, Ron Rittenhouse. From the appetizers to the small plates, to the main entrees, we have gotten such wonderful feedback from our patrons. They love the food, they love the classics on the menu, they love the exotic seasonings we offer for some of our dishes…and they love the prices.

It’s still a recession out there. There are still so many people hurting, looking for work, struggling. The National Hotel is not the kind of establishment you frequent only once a year. Oh no. Pete and I are living the American Dream, but precisely because this great country has allowed us to do so, we are also well aware of the struggles and road blocks/challenges we have faced and that others in our community are currently facing. Two immigrants, naturalized citizens from two different parts of the world—it could really only happen that one person with an Indian passport meats another with a Chilean passport and actually connect—came together, formed a family, took a risk and started their own business, and now have the support of neighbors and friends, many of whom can trace their roots for generations in this very area.

And that’s a very powerful reason why we want to offer a variety of choices on our menu where everyone can find something that they can afford and that they can enjoy. And this extends to our commitment to support our local merchants and our local farmers. Pete and I want very much to make sure that our establishment adds to the growth of our local community. And we are pleased that Ron has been able to make our vision and our goal a reality, by working with local producers and farmers and to offer these great products to our patrons.

From menu choices that run the gamut in ethnicity to sensitive pricing of the dishes, to offering what used to be “alternative” choices, and are now desirable and sought-after food choices labeled as vegan and vegetarian, The National Hotel’s vision is to create a culinary experience that will keep you coming back.

I hope we have achieved that. I know our patrons have embraced our Thursday to Sunday Specials Menu, to the point where we were just “testing the waters” to see if we should even deviate from the main menu, and now have made it a weekly tradition to offer new options at the end of the week to liven things up a bit. Your feedback did that. It was your comments, your suggestions, your interaction with us that helped us bring these dishes to fruition. Pete, Marlon (our General Manager), and Ron, always keep their ears open for these nuggets of information. Hearing our patrons tell us that “We’ll have to bring our parents next time. They’d love this place,” or “What a great meal…and those martinis!” We can’t get enough of it. And Ron and Kasey Goyette, our lead bartender, who designed the signature drinks for The National Hotel, just get such a bolt of energy when they hear that they’ve hit a home run, that we cannot thank you enough for letting us know.

Now that our Thursday to Sunday Specials Menu has been so successful, keep your eyes open for our summer menu that we’ll kick off as the weather gets better…we’ve even planned some dishes that have a stronger ethnic fusion, while still offering your traditional favorites. We can’t wait for your feedback once we launch it!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Poetry Open Mic, Music, and More!


Sunday was a beautiful day. Sunny, flowers blooming...oh yeah, still can't get over Kristine Marinelli's ability to keep this hidden from me for so many months...beautiful cars driving slowly


by, taking in the sights and enjoying a spring day on Race Street in Frenchtown.

How appropriate that it's National Poetry Month and that The National Hotel would be carried into the month by the hands of those who write and read poetry, who took the time to organize, arrange, and participate in our first Poetry Open Mic.

We had the most amazing weekend at The National Hotel. When Pete and I started planning upcoming events, we had our “wish list.” Among them was our Open Mic Night where music would fill our grand old building. Another “wish” was to have poetry readings, so that local artists could have a venue where they could feel free to share their creative talent, express themselves, and enlighten those of us fortunate enough to be in the room listening.

However, Pete nor I could ever have envisioned the support we received from the community, and especially from our local Frenchtonians. Between Alex Wolfson, Banjo Bill, and Jesse Ketchel (among others stepping in & out of the picture when there were conflicts with schedules) taking the lead in organizing and hosting our Thursday Open Mic Nights, to now having Skye Van Saun (a poet, editor, author and teacher) with her partner in crime in this undertaking, John Smith (a Hunterdon County high school teacher and poet), to organize and host our monthly Sunday afternoon Poetry Open Mic, Pete and I are in awe of just how fortunate we are. As my mom said,

“How appropriate to carry forward the tradition of the arts that have been a center-point of The National Hotel for more than a century and a half. Writers put on paper what we all feel, what we wish we could say, what needs to be shared. What a wonderful experience to share with everyone.”

What’s next on our wish list? You’ll have to keep checking-in.

Our Poetry Open Mic launched this past Sunday with very little fan fare, no media coverage, no e-invites, no special planning…just Skye and John putting up flyers all over Frenchtown, and verbally mentioning it to people. How amazing to walk downstairs on Sunday at 2 p.m. and find that 10 people were already sitting in The Rathskeller Pub Lounge. And by 2:45, we had 40 people…STANDING ROOM ONLY!

The power of the written word, recited for all to hear, was mesmerizing. The beauty of the angst, the pain, the humor, and the tales of love lost, love gained, and love shared in a mere two hours of poetry readings, left us trying to figure out just what we’ve done right in some past life to deserve an afternoon filled with creative treasures within our reach. As Julie Andrews sang in The Sound of Music, “I must have done something good…"

The joy of listening to writers read their works, and to readers who read others’ poems that resonated deeply and profoundly with them, is a very personal experience. For both Pete and for me, poetry and the arts are a necessary part of life. Pete shared with Skye how his mom used to read poetry to him as a child. She is a wonderful poet, orator and has a memory for sharing stories and poems that is astounding. Pete can credit much of his ability to tell stories like no one else I’ve ever heard, to his mom. (Take that with a grain of salt, because he is my husband, but I really do feel that way). My own mom is a published author in my home country, Chile. To this day, I find poems, words, written and scribbled on scraps of paper near her bed when I visit her. Every time I read them, I can hear her voice and see the beauty of things through her eyes. Poetry has been a part of her life since her youth, and she always made it a part of my brother’s life and my own. Our daughter, Shiara, participated in a poetry anthology workshop in her old school in New York City, PS 6, The Lillie Devereaux Blake School. Her teacher submitted the work to the Anthology of Poetry book series, where her poem was published, which delighted my mom most of all. And our youngest, Laina, has a way of capturing the essence of what she sees in just a few words. I think her favorite poet to date is Shel Silverstein, and his book "A Light in the Attic." Wait till they both get to Edgar Allan Poe—I’ll need to take them to the famed street on the Upper West Side of New York City, where Poe lived and worked for many years and where Edgar's Cafe now stands in the spot where Poe had his farm nearly 200 years ago, at 255 W. 84th St. And what about Robert Frost…oh, there are so many wonderful writers and poets.

And oh, how many wonderful writers and poets abound in Frenchtown! If you joined us, you know that what I’m saying is the absolute truth. If you missed it, be sure to join us next month for the next installment. You missed witnessing young men, barely at the start of their 20s, filling the room with stories about their first true love or heartache, followed by a more “mature” poet, spilling her heart out about her ex-husband, or another one about her dead husband; the age range and depth of content was incredible. I created a little vignette of the poetry that was read on Sunday, can be found at the bottom of this post and on youtube too, but if you want to hear the entire poems, you'll need to join us next month!

It reminded me of the nights I’ve been in The Rathskeller with Pete and how we enjoy listening to the conversations of the 22 year-old customer talking with the person next to him who is 50 years his senior—but both are enjoying the same vibe and rhythm of conversation. Only in Frenchtown. Only at The National Hotel.



This was followed by yet another appearance of The Jericho Mountain Grass (“The Grass”), who wowed a room-full of diners with their new-age grass tunes and unique sound. It was a pleasure seeing them again following their last appearance in February. Our two daughters called it “foot-stomping happy” music…how true! Check out the YouTube clip for a little glimpse on The Grass's performance this past Sunday.


That’s what can happen at The National Hotel. This building is unique. It’s an institution. It’s a gathering place for all and a hub for town events—better yet, life events. This great old lady of a building creates the ambiance, the “seductive atmosphere” that a patron described just two weeks ago. She couldn’t get over how the building seemed to be alive, to draw people, to be inclusive and inviting. She found the entire building, with its historic charm to be a “seductive atmosphere.” You gotta love that! How fantastic that Pete and I are along for the ride.

Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment, share a story, ask a question. Pete and I hope to see you soon, at The National Hotel. You never know. Pete might take the microphone next…

Thursday, April 8, 2010

MUSIC, POETRY, AND MORE MUSIC


It's Thursday and it must be Open Mic Night at The National Hotel's Rathskeller Pub Lounge! Last week's Open Mic Night ended in a spontaneous jam session at the bitter end with the musicians still "in the house." It was great!!! Make sure you make it out tonight. Sign-ups start at 8:30 p.m. and the music kicks off at 9 p.m.



And there will be more music this Sunday, April 11th in the upstairs Restaurant, where the Jericho Mountain Grass ("The Grass") return to The National Hotel from 5 p.m. - 7 p.m. The Grass blends traditional ballads and new-grass tunes. It consists of Carl Klingler on mandolin, Toby Hoffman on banjo, Peter Kane on fiddle, John Stetson on bass and John Gehman on guitar.

Right before The Grass take the microphone, we're hosting our FIRST Poetry Reading in The Rathskeller Pub Lounge from 2 p.m. - 4 p.m. This is the brainchild of Skye Van Saun,
[photo courtesy of StepSisterPress.com]
who is a recognized poet, writer, editor, and teacher. She recently completed a chapbook, Versus Verses, and is Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge Poet.

Do plan to come by...spend the weekend if you have the time. We are so fortunate to be able to host these events, fill the building with music and the arts, and also the comfort of 10 luxury guest suites that can make the weekend feel truly special--especially if you add-in some special packages (like a spa session, a yoga lesson, or a pilates session...in your very room, or at our partners' facilities). Now I sound like a commercial, but the feedback we've gotten from our guests has just blown me away. I feel that I need to share this part of the building's success, and not just the music, the food and the drinks. With Marlon attending to every detail, our hotel guests have truly wonderful things to say--and I'm talking about the middle of winter, the bitter, cold winter days we've had! It's going to be so much nicer now that the good weather has arrived. The fact that each room was carefully designed and features bathrooms en suite, WiFi and modern amenities--not to mention breakfast the next morning--has helped The National Hotel become a truly complete hospitality destination--for our local neighbors and new friends who've come from far away. We are so proud to be able to be a part of the rebirth of The National Hotel and the renewed growth and spirit of Frenchtown itself.


And all this follows quite a busy week. Easter Sunday was just jumping with people filling the different areas of our great old building. And best of all, the weekend weather was so beautiful that guests were able to enjoy the porch.


The flowers are blooming...just a little over a week ago, they were just breaking the threshold between darkness and sunshine. This week, they are in full bloom. What a joy to see them grow. And what a surprise they were to me! Kristine Marinelli, our incredible interior designer, planted the bulbs in the fall when she helped us with our landscaping and floral designs. She, Marlon Aranha, our General Manager, and even Pete, kept this a secret...and I got the joyous surprise of seeing little green spokes piercing the ground around the mums that had long ceased blooming.


You've got to stop by and look at them now! They're screaming, "SPRING IS HERE," and make the entrance to The National Hotel so inviting! The porch is just clamoring for people to take a seat, order some food or just gather with friends to enjoy a drink and watch the people walking down Race Street--not to mention the beautiful classic cars that often drive slowly by, or the classic motorcycles that share the roads with these cars. There is "eye candy" everywhere you look in Frenchtown.

And to close out the weekend festivities and come back full circle, don't forget to come by tonight for Open Mic Night, and on Sunday for the launch of our Sunday Poetry Readings (2 p.m. - 4 p.m.) in The Rathskeller Pub Lounge, followed by The Grass, back by popular demand in "the great upstairs" Restaurant (5 p.m. - 7 p.m.). It's going to be a beautiful, sunny weekend outside, and a beautiful, fun weekend inside The National Hotel too. Do join us!