The Chattanooga Choo Choo isn't the only place you can stay in a luxury rail car, but it may be the only one with worldwide name recognition.
Glenn Miller and his orchestra put the city's train station on the map with their 1941 swing classic by the same name. Visitors may still catch themselves humming the tune as they prowl through the gardens or gaze upon the towering grand dome in the former Terminal Station, where the city's last passenger train departed in 1970.
In late October, Jake Lamstein, founder and owner of the Chicago-based Trestle Studio, completed a $19 million renovation of a portion of the 25-acre campus after acquiring the hotel and most of the passenger rail cars last year. The goal, he says, was to usher in a new era of destination travel and reinvigorate the Choo Choo.
Even as he breathes new life into the complex, there's still plenty of history in the modern updates. The nod to nostalgia is especially evident in the 13 train cars that have been fully refurbished into 25 luxury rooms, including one full-length Pullman that doubles as a hospitality suite and lodging.
"These have really been restored to some of the most beautiful train cars on rails," Lamstein said ahead of their debut.
Chattanooga Choo Choo revamp
Want to know more? Here are five things we've learned about The Hotel Chalet at The Choo Choo.
1. The amenities in the 127 guest rooms accentuate luxury. Guests sleep and bathe with linens and towels handcrafted in Italy. The pillows and duvets are made of a hypoallergenic down alternative. The bath is fragranced by skin- and hair-care products from the clean beauty brand The Botanist & The Chemist. The coffee is from Good Citizen, a lifestyle brand out of Nashville. The dog treats, if needed, are made in-house. The 55-inch, high-definition smart TVs have casting ability, allowing guests to transfer an app from a phone or other device to the big screen for viewing.
2. The Pullman train cars are a star attraction. Offering everything but the rhythm of the rails to lull guests to sleep, the 13 cars have been salvaged from two eras and designed in the spirit of their original vintage: 1920s Victorian and 1960s mid-century.
"They were definitely dated," said General Manager Jessica LaRosa, "but you could see the potential."
The Victorian train carriages are highlighted by pinch-pleat drapery, bentwood dining chairs and original Tiffany-glass pendants, representing the golden age of rail travel.
The mid-century carriages "take a slightly more eccentric approach," according to press material, with bold hues of rose, lilac and lime. They are complemented by French-style cantilever breakfast chairs and custom 1960s bespoke wallcoverings.
The metal luggage racks overhead and the curtained closet doors are among the authentic touches that help further the sense of traveling back in time on the Pullman coaches, LaRosa noted.
Except for the full-size MacArthur Suite, the cars are divided into back-to-back accommodations, two per car. Stays in the carriages start at $268 per night (excluding fees).
3. Rooms in the main hotel area evoke another era. The first hotel at the Choo Choo opened in 1973, and the non-train-car rooms reflect that retro time period, but with modern influences drawn from the Appalachian landscape. Design cues include whimsical patterning, hardwood furniture and greenery-filled terraces. Chalet king rooms start at $156 per night (excluding fees).
4. Event spaces are available too. The largest, LaRosa said, is the 3,200-square-foot Beverly Ballroom, named for B. Allen Casey, the Chattanooga businessman who saved the terminal building from demolition in the '70s. The Arbor, expected to be popular for outdoor weddings, is centered by a white gazebo on the lawn. Other spaces feature state-of-the-art technology for business meetings.
5. The holiday season will be festive. Even if you're not overnighting, there are reasons to visit. The rejuvenated campus's first holiday season features the largest indoor Christmas tree in Chattanooga, photos with Santa Claus, a "Polar Express"-themed train car with drinks for all ages and a winter-themed art installation in the Glenn Miller Gardens. Starting Dec. 20, the Choo Choo will partner with Bitter Alibi for "12 Nights of Christmas on Station Street" that concludes with a New Year's Eve bash.
For more information or to reserve a room, go to thehotelchalet.com.