Midcentury style with modern taste
By Bridget Callahan
Photos by Chelsea Cronkrite
470 Skyline Lodge Rd, Highlands, NC 28741
The website for the newly renovated Skyline Lodge promises that the Skyline already knows why you're there. Maybe there's something to that - after all, everyone who moves to this special area has the same familiar origin story, "we came here to visit and fell in love with Highlands." It’s General Manager Jason Daubles' story too. After visiting for years from Atlanta with his wife, he jumped on the opportunity to team with Steve Palmer and bring the mountain retreat back to life when the historic Skyline became available and investors from Indigo Road Hospitality Group, including Steve Palmer, started lining up.
"I love the Carolinas. My sister lives in Charleston. But I never found the right reason to move the whole family. I thought we might move up here one day when we retired but never thought I would get to move here for work. It's a special place for sure," Daubles says.
The lodge itself is a work of art. Opened in the 1930s as a mountaintop escape for the wealthy, it was designed by Arthur Kelsey. The architectural influence of Kelsey's mentor, Frank Lloyd Wright, is apparent everywhere. From the stone to the warm wood, Kelsey's interpretation of Wright's organic architecture provides a perfect stage for the lodge's midcentury modern style.
"There was a lot of patchwork done to that property over the years. The design that was originally there had been long covered up. There was no central heating and air. There was no cable TV. No internet. We had to remove popcorn ceilings, and you know, it was a seasonal property, so every year that it closed, it got mustier and moldier. We basically had to go in and remove everything except the bones," Daubles says.
Now restored to its former glory, Skyline Lodge is a quintessential mountain retreat, with amazing, panoramic views and gorgeous, airy rooms. Last July, they opened with only five available bedrooms and half a restaurant. Now all forty rooms, Butlers Bar and Oak Steakhouse Highlands are fully open. The vibe is luxury summer camp - fill your days with waterfall hikes and bear watching, then come back, sip artisanal cocktails from Beverage Director Michael Searles around the fire and watch the sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains.
"I knew Michael in Atlanta; he's a mixology genius. His passion is definitely behind the bar, and he's created some wonderful cocktails. He's also got a wealth of knowledge with wine. He even used to make wine in California. We have a 200-bottle wine list now, which will be expanding soon. We want it to be approachable, so our staff is educated enough to help guests feel comfortable ordering their regular drink or trying something new. There's something for everyone," Daubles says.
The Indigo Road Hospitality Group is well known for its collection of high-end restaurants, stretching now from Charleston to Atlanta to Nashville and D.C. This newest jewel is a worthy addition to their crown. Oak Steakhouse Highlands, much like the original steakhouse in Charleston, takes pride in celebrating the individuality of the culinary region it thrives in. Chef Matt Marcus from Atlanta brings with him the love of fine Southern cuisine that earned him a name at Watershed and Portofino. So, while the steaks are still aged Certified Angus, and you can still find Chef Bacon’s Oysters Rockefeller, Chef Jeremiah Bacon's original recipe, everything else is unique to the Highlands menu.
Hiking all day in the mountains is beautiful and completely exhausting, especially if you're used to lower sea level. So, start your meal off by sharing some carbs, like the herbed goat cheese agnolotti with white wine, hazelnuts and lavender. Or go for a classic charcuterie board and splurge on the bread service, served with orange zested ginger butter. After all, you'll work them all off tomorrow when you go on your falconry experience, take a class on mushroom foraging or visit the award-winning honey farm.
Try to stop yourself from ordering the whole starters menu because you'll want to save room for the venison Wellington with smoked bacon and wild mushroom duxelles, or the 12oz heritage pork loin with spaetzle, parsnips and an apple cider jus. Since this is a steakhouse, there are, of course, the filets and ribeyes you've been dreaming about, all Certified Angus Beef aged to perfection. Get your body calorie-ready for the Ranger Falls waterfall hike with the 5oz carved tenderloin with pecorino truffle fries, whipped redskin potatoes and rich creamed spinach with shallots and parmesan.
Then finish the night by sharing the decadent eight-layer chocolate cake or splitting the apple spice souffle with brown sugar ice cream. Sip some excellent port or a cocktail around the fire while enjoying the stars, then crawl gratefully under your covers and do it all again the next day.
While the lodge historically has been seasonal, the new Skyline is open year-round, making it a perfect holiday destination away from the city. With Christmas and New Year's events already planned and a calendar filling up quickly with weddings, booking as far in advance as you can is recommended. Daubles is currently working on planning their Under the Stars series for 2022.
"We're only selling 50 tickets to each one, and they sell out very quickly. We bring in a chef from somewhere else, sometimes two chefs, set up the kitchen outside. It's an intimate, outdoor experience in the pavilion where guests come in as strangers and leave as friends," he says.
To follow events as they are announced or make your reservations for this incredible spot, check out the Skyline Lodge website and get excited for what promises to be a vacation experience you'll remember for years to come.