This afternoon’s meeting of the Downtown Design Review Committee was cut short when one applicant, the developer of a second ugly building on Canal Street next to the first one now under construction, begged off till next time. In its place came the really big news:
L’Apogée will be reopening! Under another name, perhaps, but who cares!
Mike Abbott and Glenn Gardiner of Northeast (formerly Newport) Collaborative Architects let the cat out of the bag in a presentation that focused on the need to build an 18th-floor vestibule for the glass elevator, which now only stops at the 17th floor. They almost mentioned the new restaurant as an aside. And it is probable that few people in the room, on the committee or in the small audience, had ever heard of, let alone dined at, L’Apogée.
Soon to return to the Biltmore hotel, then, is the top-of-the-town restaurant that graced what was then the top (and almost the only) downtown hotel in the capital city of the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Opening in the mid-‘9180s, it closed several years after my 1984 arrival.
L’Apogée was on the 17th and 18th floors of the hotel. The adventurous could reach the restaurant via an elevator in a glass tube, erected during a mid-’80s restoration in the crook of the hotel’s two wings. Or those with acrophobia could just take one of the main bank of indoor elevators. The restaurant, which was in the north wing, shared two floors with the hotel’s grand double-height ballroom. On the 17th floor of L’Apogée was the main dining area and, up a set of stairs on the 18th, was the restaurant bar.
Shhh, but my first Providence romance was sparked at that bar, so I have fond memories that transcend its delightful views. I was living in the hotel for two weeks at the paper’s expense while apartment-hunting. (Sorry, but except for the fact that she was a delightful view, no more gossip!) Before that, I stayed at the Biltmore twice for interviews before getting an offer. Yes, the Journal was a friendly place in those days. Indeed, it owned the hotel.
After it closed, I returned often to take photographs from its massive arched windows. The north wing had the best views of the construction taking place during the river-relocation project, and often I would put those photos atop my Thursday architectural column in the paper. Plus, any visitor from out of town could be sure of a city overview from this perch.
But there was a real sadness to being up there, because the ghost of dear L’Apogée was always just behind my shoulder as I snapped shots from the empty, forlorn former restaurant space. For years, as the city revived itself from its long slumber, I wished and wished that a new top-o’-the-world restaurant would be the cherry on top of its revitalization.
Divine Providence! The Renaissance City! But it was not to be.
We did get a rooftop restaurant elsewhere downtown at the Providence G – which is great – but it could never hope to fill the shoes of L’Apogée.
Now we will finally get it back, even if under a different name. The Biltmore has a new owner, Graduate Hotels, which intends to call it the Graduate Providence. Five nearby univesities have students whose parents will want to stay there. I hope they will abundantly, but I’ll still call it the Biltmore.
And why not? The owners say they will keep the glowing red B-I-L-T-M-O-R-E sign. Bless them for that!
The renovation is supposed to be finished in the spring of next year. Will the new restaurant open then? I don’t know. But I do know that I will be among the first to reserve a table. I’m sure a lot of people are looking forward to this eagerly, but none more eagerly than your hungry correspondent.
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L’Apogee! Keeping the iconic Biltmore sign! Restoring the outside glass elevator! Can it be? A little bit of elegance – good memories and more to make at once was an elegant part of downtown Providence… 😉