By David Coulson
July 24, 2014.On a typical Sunday evening in the High Country, there are few locations more idyllic to relax, enjoy great food and drinks and listen to music than the historic Green Park Inn.
“Eating, drinking, dancing and enjoying the beauty of Blowing Rock, what more could you want?” asked Lorry Mulhern, the general manager of the 123-year-old lodge that is referred to as the Grand Dame of the High Country.
Last Sunday afternoon, as they have done often during the two-year run of Sunday concerts, the Harris Brothers performed their blend of rock, pop, blues and mountain music before a large crowd under the Green Park Inn veranda — with listeners indeed eating, drinking, dancing and enjoying this extra-special venue.
These Sunday gatherings are called “Music on the Veranda” and the series is in its second season. People are encouraged to bring their lawn chairs and there is no cover charge for the events.
While the popular Harris Brothers appear every other weekend, there are other artists worth checking out.
“People need to know about the other groups who play here,” said Mulhern. “There are some great bands.”
Pop Ferguson, whose mother used to work at the Green Park Inn, will be playing his seasoned blues this Sunday and appears regularly, as does the Todd Wright Quartet and their jazz stylings, the bluegrass of the Neighbors and the versatile, unique Mountain Radio.
During the fall, the music series moved indoors last year and that idea was so popular that the Green Park Inn will do it again when the leaves start to change this Autumn.
On Friday and Saturday evening, music lovers can relax to the piano stylings of Charlie Ellis.
Most of these revelers at the music concerts, the guests who spend days and nights in the lavish rooms and the visitors of the fine restaurants on the property probably have little idea how close that the High Country came to losing one of its most historical buildings just a few years earlier.
The Green Park Inn, which welcomes visitors to Blowing Rock at the border of Caldwell and Watauga counties, was practically given up for dead when it sat unoccupied after closing in 2009.
But through the dedicated work of new owners Eugene and Steven Irace and an exhaustive rehabilitation campaign, the Green Park Inn — which is a National Historic Register property — is better than ever.
“It was in incredibly rough shape,” said Mulhern, who moved from New York to help restore this magical environment’s luster.
The hotel was purchased in 2010 and underwent six months of major renovation that included repainting the entire exterior and most of the interior. There were offers to sell off the extremely valuable chestnut wood throughout the Inn, but the new owners resisted the opportunity to make some quick dollars and instead invested in the future, while preserving the past of this High Country jewel.
The transformation has sparked an on-going renaissance at one of the High Country’s most visible historic sites.
The Green Park Inn was originally the vision of three Lenoir businessmen, among them Major George Washington Findlay Harper, a veteran of the Wat Between the States.
Mulhern said she recently met the great granddaughter of Harper.
That trio of developers took the extensive acreage that was known locally as Green Park and transformed it into a classic hotel that would go on to entertain such guests as Annie Oakley, John D. Rockefeller, Eleanor Roosevelt and a pair of U.S. presidents, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.
When novelist Margaret Mitchell showed up for an extended stay in the 1930s, she penned part of her award-winning book Gone With the Wind while partaking of the hotel’s entities.
For many years, the hotel contained the only U.S. Post Office for the entire High Country. A piece of the original post office remains inside the hotel in an area known as the history room.
During the 1950s, a part of the hotel called the golf wing was built, adding larger rooms and balconies, overlooking the Blowing Rock Country Club.
It is no wonder that the Green Park Inn website refers to this place with the description “Classic surroundings … modern amenities.”
The Chestnut Grille and Divide Tavern lounge have been remodeled and reopened.
Chef Justin Pruitt — a graduate of the fine Caldwell Community College culinary program — is in charge of the Chesnut Grille and has developed a menu that the Green Park Inn likes to call “comfort cooking, with a touch of gourmet.”
A recent diner told Pruitt that the salmon cakes he had consumed that evening were the best he had eaten at any restaurant.
Customers can start also start with strawberry watermelon salad, or grilled asparagus before moving on to the enticing entrees.
The main courses range from ravioli of summer squash and zucchini to the ever-popular chicken pot pie and spicy shrimp and sausage pasta. There also crowd favorites like grilled chicken bruschetta, grilled center cut pork chop, cedar plank grilled salmon, grilled New York strip steak and the fish of the day.
Chesnut Grille is open Tuesday through Thursday from 6-9 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday from 6-9:30 p.m. and on Sundays from 6-9 p.m.
Divide Tavern is a casual setting that serves food and mixed beverages along with an extensive wine and beer menu. There is a great selection of craft draft beers in particular.
Risotto chicken fingers and Scotch Eggs are popular appetizers in the bites section of the Divide Tavern menu.
Among the entrees are the tasty Green Park burger, lemonade pulled pork sliders with mango salsa, those signature chicken pot pies, salmon cake and grilled steak sandwiches and margarita pizza.
The Green Park Inn has become a place for special events, such as the sold-out Fourth of July extravaganza that was complete with fireworks.