The Foundry Hotel Review – An Impressive Property with Mediocre Service
One of my favorite places in the States is Asheville, North Carolina – a small city in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Boasting a variety of museums, lounges, architecture, outdoor activities, breweries, shameless tourist experiences, and beautiful landscapes, I enjoy repeat visits to the Asheville area. Indeed, I can never do it all in one trip – I’ll have more on my overall visit in a future article. Today, I’m focusing on my Foundry Hotel review. This quaint property is loaded with character but skewed average (at best) in a few areas during a recent stay. Let’s jump in!
I’ve described ad nauseam my ongoing free night certificate (FNC) drama, and I booked this property with two long-held Hilton FNC’s. The Foundry, a member of Hilton’s Curio Collection, was available for 80k points per night, and nightly cash rates came in just under $500 (well over that figure after taxes). I visited during the peak week of the area’s fall foliage, and the cash rate seemed to reflect that. Cash bookings are slightly cheaper in other timeframes, but the entry level points rate maintains at 80k per night. I felt great about using my FNC’s here – I wanted to get back to Asheville, anyway (remember goals), and the cert value on this redemption was solid.
The Foundry is located in downtown Asheville within walking distance to most all areas of the city. One can even walk beyond the city to other attractions with a bit more effort – and the fall scenery dares a visitor not to. A variety of bars, lounges, coffee shops, dining options, and museums are available within a few blocks of the hotel. Wicked Weed Brewing Pub and Pack’s Tavern are nearby, and PennyCup coffee is located in the building next to the Foundry. Multiple art galleries, including the Asheville Art Museum, are an easy stroll from the hotel.
While the Foundry boasts an undeniably convenient location, a few other downtown hotels are more centrally-located. As I walked throughout downtown, I noticed several of them, including the AC Hotel, Hotel Arras (Kimpton), and the Cambria.
I arrived at the hotel just after 3 pm after driving most of the day. Upon entry, a front desk agent offered sparkling wine. While he uncorked the sparking wine, I continued check-in with a second agent. She provided a $30 daily food and beverage credit due to my status as a Diamond member. (I have leftover Diamond status from my previously closed Aspire card.) After she mentioned a room was ready for me, I asked if any upgrades were available. The agent appeared puzzled by the question, saying nothing and looking immediately at the first agent (the sparkling wine uncorker). The first agent took the ball from there. He offered an upgrade to a junior suite but advised the room wasn’t quite ready. I happily accepted and waited with my bags in the adjacent lounge while enjoying my sparkling wine.
At this point, I pondered checking my two small bags with the bell staff to go explore. I hadn’t seen any bell staff around, though, and didn’t want to bother pursuing this option (yet). I chose to linger in the attractive Workshop Lounge (more on that later). Fortunately, my room was ready about 15 minutes later. The second front desk agent called my cell phone to notify me – a bit comical since I was about 50 feet away from her.
I received a second floor room at the far end of the A building. The hotel is made up of five separate buildings (A-E) which have been connected – very cool. I walked through a (logical) maze of hallways, downstairs, upstairs, an elevator, and finally arrived at my room. Some may find such a journey cumbersome, but I caught myself enjoying it. Upon my entry, I noticed what the front desk agent called a junior suite was actually what the Hilton website terms a Foundry Historic King room. This appears to be one slight step up from the entry level Foundry King room.
I was drawn to the juxtaposition of old and new in the room. The room definitely felt historic – exposed brick from the original buildings, real hardwood floors, a cavernous closet and bathroom. I didn’t mind the smoothed over imperfections in the flooring; those added to the feel, anyway. The room was tastefully decorated with items noting the Foundry’s history. The room housed a huge wet bar, fridge with complimentary bottled water, and Nespresso machine.
The large TV appeard small from the bed, mostly due to the fact the room was so big. What a problem! The gargantuan windows took up the majority of the outer wall. Unfortunately, I had a prominent view of thick power lines. I was neither surprised nor disappointed by this. Indeed, embracing the throwback charm of such a property comes with its pluses and minuses.
The bathroom was huge – about the size of a mid-size bedroom in a typical home. It held a double vanity, lit mirrors, and a walk-in shower with room for plenty. The highlight of the bathroom for me was the large, powerful showerhead. I was befuddled by the smorgasbord of non-matching bath products – Neutrogena shampoo (the same used at Hampton Inns), Beekman conditioner/bar soap, Aveda body wash, and Esthetique lotion. Beyond this and the randomly placed wastebin, the bathroom was in order.
A Bit of History
Before I dive into the properties amenities in earnest, I want to share a bit more about the charm of the Foundry. In its past life, this historical property provided a variety of metal products and services for building projects throughout the area. The Foundry forged the steel used to build the nearby Biltmore Estate, still the largest private residence in the country. Steel from the Foundry was also used to construct the well-known Grove Park Inn nearby.
So then, one can’t ignore the aged wrinkles throughout the property. I only used an elevator once during my stay, because stairways (old and new) were conveniently located throughout the property. Along the stairway up to my room in building A was an industrial elevator that was converted into a wine cellar for Benne on Eagle, the adjacent restaurant. I had fun roaming around the five different connected buildings of the property, ducking my head in low doorways and readying myself for sharp turns to the other buildings. I found myself enjoying my roams throughout the property. It was fun getting lost. Indeed, this may be the most fun I’ve had exploring a hotel’s interior since staying at The Hotel Pulitzer in Amsterdam.
Guests have the convenience of two dining options on property – the Benne on Eagle restaurant (daily breakfast and dinner, brunch on Sundays) and the Workshop Lounge for drinks and small plates. In terms of the food and beverage credit, the Foundry is an excellent property for solo or plus-one travelers. I enjoyed the flexibility of using one $30 credit at Workshop Lounge on the first night and another for breakfast the next morning. I’ll now chronologically cover those two experiences.
Adjacent to the front desk, Workshop Lounge is a huge, striking space with plenty of lobby-style seating which flows seamlessly into the bar area. I enjoyed the nightly music, particularly the jazz trio on the first night over a few drinks. The lounge offers a variety of local draft beers, wine, and the usual mixed drinks. I stuck to local beers, but I overheard multiple patrons complimenting the bartender, Cam, on her excellent Old-Fashioned. The bar was active but not overly busy during my mid-week stay. I enjoyed socializing at a distance with other visitors in the spacious lounge. The space opens up to the Foundry’s courtyard formed by the semi-circle of attached buildings.
Benne on Eagle
The next morning, I arrived for breakfast at Benne on Eagle around 8:30. The cheerful hostess asked me if I was with the business group already seated (and taking up most of the restaurant). When I answered no, she asked me if I was okay sitting at a high-top table. I was fine with that, but then taken to the darker arm of the restaurant facing the bar. I say dark because there no lights on in this nook of the otherwise well-lit restaurant. On top of that, most of the furniture and decor was dark, as well. But I didn’t bother asking anyone to turn on the lights. The gradually rising sun and steadily brightening room fit my own mood, anyway.
Benne advertises itself as Appalachian soul food, and I enjoyed the offerings focused on comfort dishes. I went with the biscuit, sausage gravy, and eggs over medium. I wasn’t disappointed. Coffee came from nearby PennyCup and freely flowed. Service from Alandra was attentive but not smothering.
Prices at Benne are tremendously reasonable for a restaurant within a hotel aiming for the higher end. Even without a Hilton food and beverage credit, one can enjoy a meal here without breaking the bank. Many breakfast dishes are closer to $10 than $20, and bottomless PennyCup coffee is $2.50. Benne charges for juice by the glass, though – $3 per. My second $30 credit covered the economical breakfast and a healthy tip.
The property’s fitness center is open 24 hours a day and has a full selection of cardio equipment and free weights. The center has an airy feel with the big windows facing the cardio equipment.
The Foundry has a Tesla Model X available for drop off service anywhere in downtown Asheville. The car is available via appointment only from 8 am to 8 pm daily. Visitors’ only parking option is valet at $27 nightly.
An Excellent Property Becomes Ordinary
As much as I like the Foundry, the mediocre service brought down the experience. The entire property appeared minimally staffed. Most experiences, including the front desk, lounge, and valet, involved one fully competent employee, at most. At check-in, it seemed that one agent knew the ropes while the other one was coming up to speed (understandable). The lounge had a capable bartender and a bar back still learning his job. They seemed stretched a bit thin even on a weekday night. But the valet’s limitations were easily exposed.
At least two valet drivers did not know how to drive a manual transmission vehicle. I know this because two brought it up with me. Initially, I wasn’t overly concerned, since I only planned to leave with my vehicle once during the stay. I realize as time passes, stick shifts are less common, too. But I was puzzled how a property could charge $27 nightly for valet parking with such limited-skill drivers. I was able to avoid the matter until check-out.
The Valet Won’t Let Me Leave, Sort Of
I was looking to get a fairly early start on my departure date. Just before leaving my room, I texted the valet service to request my car. I received a response that my car would be ready in five minutes. Front desk check out seemed to go smoothly at about 8:45 am. I then arrived at the valet where an attendant sheepishly mentioned that no one at valet could drive a manual transmission, and no one else was available to bring up my car. I mentioned that I knew where my car was parked (an open lot a few blocks away) and could manage getting there on my own. The valet gave me my key.
I subsequently returned inside to the front desk and politely brought up the matter with the front desk. The agent was the same competent employee who helped with my check-in. After a brief pause, he offered to waive valet fees for my two-night stay. I felt this was an adequate resolution. Matthew, a squared away bellman, subsequently offered to take me to my vehicle in the hotel’s Tesla. I took him up on this surprise offer. Curiously, the valet staff didn’t offer the Tesla option originally.
I have one more small, yet noticeable, observation about the uneven service. During preparation for the Spending Time podcast later that night, I decided to order delivery to my room via DoorDash. While at the lounge the night before, I had seen multiple delivery drivers pass by with food for hotel guests. But soon after I ordered the night after, the front desk mentioned that they wouldn’t allow the driver in, citing hotel security. The front desk delivered the food to my room, and I mentioned that I saw other drivers delivering the night before. The front desk agent basically shrugged and said she would follow up regarding that policy. This was just another example of how the hotel staff isn’t on the same page regarding their policies.
I was satisfied with housekeeping during my stay. They thoroughly performed full service on a timely basis. In the check-in documentation, the hotel noted that they had “suspended turndown to further reduce the risk for guests and employees.” But based on my experience, that change seems primarily based on staffing issues more than pandemic matters.
The property apparently has a concierge available daily from 10 am to 6 pm. I only saw an empty desk whenever I was in the area.
I enjoyed my stay at the distinctive Foundry Hotel, but I cannot ignore how the underwhelming service brought down the experience. There seemed to be remarkably few employees at the Foundry at all times. And the fully competent ones were a fraction of that number.
I can understand the pandemic has been a challenge for most individuals and businesses, including those in the travel and hospitality industries. But the Foundry charging almost $500 for rooms during my stay timeframe, and around $400 normally for this basic level of service seems a bit much. The limited amenities of this property at this price point don’t help, either. The prices are similar to a Ritz-Carlton or even certain Four Seasons properties, but the service I often experienced was on par with an airport Westin. And there’s nothing wrong with competent service from an airport Westin. Oh, by the way, I’ve never had valet problems at a Westin, either. The Foundry’s clearly subpar level of service for what the property aspires to be confounds me.
Would I stay at the Foundry again? Maybe, but only in a specific, irregular situation. I would only stay here again if I was using FNC’s which I didn’t have a better use for elsewhere. Under no circumstances would I redeem 80k Hilton points per night here, and paying their cash rate is laughable to me. Hopefully, a bit more focus on service and staffing can bring more customers, including me (maybe), a higher net-positive experience at the Foundry in the future.