Every time I go to The Whitney I stand at the foot of that fabulous staircase and think about Scarlet O’Hara elegantly descending a similar staircase at Tara. (At the same time I know if tried it I’d trip down the stairs.)
I know Gone With the Wind is a very old movie but The Whitney and Tara have so much in common. Both are grand old dames of architecture and beauty that speak to the opulence, magnificence and classic elegance of days gone by.
That elegance, in the form of a special dining experience, is what owner Bud Liebler and his team want patrons to experience at this beautiful restaurant on Woodward.
Liebler, who’s owned The Whitney since 2007, hired a new chef, Jason Gardner, who worked at Mosaic and the 24 Grille and a new director of operations, David Duey, who was at the Fox & Hound in Bloomfield Hills. There’s also a new maître d, Lou Wiedeman, who was the original maître d at the Townsend and Ritz Carlton.
They’ve also added Adia Dobbins, a jazz vocalist who comes from Broadway. She performs Thursday through Saturday nights and plays songs made famous by the likes of Ray Charles and Johnny Mathis. Joel Seah, The Whitney’s long-time piano player, accompanies her.
“We want The Whitney to be a place you come for a special occasion … a birthday … an anniversary … a wedding … an engagement,” says Liebler.
“We want people to feel like they can get away from everything around them. We are big believers in saying ‘yes’ to our customers,” he says.
I recently witnessed a spectacularly planned marriage proposal at the table next to me. As my friend and I sat there we noticed the waitress returning often to a table where a young couple sat completely engrossed in each other. Each time she stopped by the table she presented the young woman with a rose … 12 times.
Smiling at each other my friend and I (two old married ladies) knew something was up. When the twelfth rose was delivered he proposed and put a beautiful diamond ring on her finger. Tears flowed, not just from the newly engaged young woman but also from many seated nearby … all of whom started clapping. We took a picture with her cell phone so she would have a visual memory and could get it up on Facebook immediately.
That was truly an elegant special occasion but it was also an intimate one.
The Whitney’s menu is geared toward elegance as well with Oysters Whitney, Beef Wellington, Lobster Mascarpone Mac & Cheese, a smoking seafood tower, award winning wines and much more. The menu is focused, with only 12 entrees. The Beef Wellington is the signature entrée and accounts for about a third of sales. (It’s terrific!) The lamb chops come from Colorado and the salmon is line caught.
“We’ve raised the prices a little,” says Patrick Liebler, executive director. “The prices rise up with the experience.”
One of the foodie experiences is the tomahawk bone- in rib-eye. At $79 it’s not cheap, but it is exclusive. There are only 6-12 a night available each night and when it’s gone, it’s gone. “We usually sell out by 8:30,” Duey says.
High tea is also available Monday through Friday … for a select few. Only 6-10 are seated daily so make your reservations early. The menu includes scones, soup, finger sandwiches and a trio of pastries. Need to bring the kids? No problem. There’s a kid friendly version with crustless PB&J and grilled cheese.
Sunday brunch is available. “It’s the most local period we have,” Liebler says. “People are coming from church. We can always tell when there has been a baptism or first communion.”
Of course, The Whitney is open New Year’s Eve. Make your reservations early.
This is all great stuff for foodies but what if you want more? Well, here’s something else to look for while you’re dining.
Check out David Whitney’s monogram carved into the limestone above the door and in the silver-leaf plaster above the massive fireplace in the Great Hall. You can also count the rooms … 52 … the windows … 218 … and the fireplaces … 20.
You might even ask them to show you the secret vault in the original dining room and the elevator.
Then there are the ghosts. Yup, the Whitney has ghosts.
It seems both David Whitney Jr. and his wife Sara died inside the house, which might account for the ghostly occurrences reported by past guests and staff. Reports of supernatural activity started when the house was restored in the mid-1980s.
On Halloween it’s not uncommon for groups to hold a séance in the basement. In one case, those attending swear a child named Sophie spoke to the group through the medium. Who’s Sophie? No one knows for sure.
Then there’s the Ghost Bar on the third floor of this 21,000-square-foot mansion. There’s more there than just the spirits behind the bar. Some say Mr. Whitney, Sarah and others sometimes visit. Patrons say they’ve seen the ghosts and one even got a picture. I’ve included it in this blog. Check out the shadowy woman on the left.
To top it off the staff says they’ve seen strange things. Shadows passing by, lights going on and off, objects moving for no reason.
Hmm … that’s something I will think about tomorrow at Tara – oops, I mean The Whitney.