BRISTOL, Va. — Music imagery and history oozes from every sparkling pore of The Sessions Hotel.
From vintage Victrola record player horns protruding from the wall behind the front desk to Victor-brand record label signs outside each room, turntables and radios found inside, lights resembling vintage microphones and round “do not disturb” signs cut out of Gibson acoustic guitars, The Sessions Hotel is singing Bristol’s song.
Named for the 1927 Bristol Sessions recordings dubbed the “big bang” of commercial country music, the new $23 million boutique hotel formally opened for business Monday.
Located in State Street’s 800 block, the hotel property combines three century-old structures — the 1920’s Jobbers Candy Factory, the 1915 Bristol Grocery building and the 1922 Service Granary Mill — into a complex that also includes the recently opened Southern Craft restaurant and bar with other amenities.
The hotel is one of 52 worldwide member properties on four continents of the Marriott Tribute Portfolio group. Twenty of its 70 rooms were booked on opening night, development partner Kimberly Christner said Monday while leading the Bristol Herald Courier on a tour.
“We really wanted to be a part of the fabric of Bristol and tell the story of Bristol being the birthplace of country music, and we think we’ve done a pretty good job,” Christner said. “Every single detail of this property is to tell the story of the buildings, Bristol, as well as the country music from the 1927 sessions.”
In addition to highlighting the history of its buildings, the hotel décor features “Moon Bound Girl” artwork depicting the Bristol Sessions by Twin City artist Leigh Ann Agee and blue denim accents from L.C. King Manufacturing. Hospitality centers in rooms are designed to resemble old record players, and some suites have turntables, with vinyl available upon request.
Features including the Vision Salon and Day Spa, Star Barbershop — another nod to Bristol music history and well-known fiddling barber Gene Boyd — the Rooftop Bar, Simply Grand music and event venue and the outdoor music lawn aren’t finished but are expected to open this summer, Christner said.
Nashville singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale is involved and has agreed to help curate programming and some performances.
Previously scheduled to open in late March, the opening was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When the coronavirus happened, we stopped doing what we were doing and came back at the end of May and took a month to get us back moving forward,” Christner said. “We feel like travel is coming back — leisure travel, destination travel by drive markets, and we’re in a drive market. The drive markets are doing well and starting to come back sooner than the big cities and the fly markets. We feel like Bristol is positioned for a faster comeback in the hospitality and travel business.”
The pandemic will initially impact in-room amenities, Christner said. Items including guest bath robes, decorator pillows, umbrellas, ice buckets and coffee are not in the guest rooms but are available by request due to COVID-19 concerns.
Many high-touch surfaces, including door handles and elevator control panels, use NanoSeptic self-cleaning technology, she said.
The buildings feature original brick walls, exposed wooden beams, historic industrial sliding doors and granary chutes. Some rooms are inside the granary silo.
The project was a collaboration of Creative Boutique Hotels, which includes Todd Morgan and Mike Cagle, owners of MB Contractors; Christner, president and CEO of Cornerstone Hospitality; and retired architect and developer Hal Craddock of Lynchburg.
“As an adaptive reuse project and boutique hotel, the property has taken time for us to complete,” Christner said. “We’ve taken our time, and, as such, we’ve perfected the overall guest experience with curated art, repurposed items from the buildings into functional pieces, designed creative and high-end amenities that serve to add to the overall experience and tells the story of the buildings and Bristol.”
It was originally announced in December 2013 and has taken more than six years to complete.
“We’ve actually been working in some capacity on this project since 2014. As with all projects of this size and complexity, working through the Historic Preservation Trust at the state and federal level and ensuring that we comply with all rules on four different buildings takes time,” Morgan said in a written statement. “We have redesigned it many times to get it perfect as a result. In the end, it’s absolutely stunning and a real showstopper for the Bristol community, Southwest Virginia and Eastern Tennessee. We’ve made sure to maintain authenticity through all of the spaces in the buildings.”