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Travel: Redesigned boutique hotel now open in West Lafayette
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Travel: Redesigned boutique hotel now open in West Lafayette

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I love fall road trips.

And I was happy to take one last weekend — only my second overnight trip since the onset of the pandemic. The weather was perfect — alternating between sunny and slightly overcast, and warm enough for summer attire, but not hot enough to require blasting the air conditioning.

Each batch of trees we drove by displayed a palette of fiery red and weathered green and each hue in between. Our destination was West Lafayette, to the Purdue University campus and the newly renovated Union Club Hotel.

This was my first time in the Lafayette area and we spent a little time exploring. We stopped at the Lafayette Brewing Company, Tippecanoe Battlefield, Wolf Park, McCord’s Candies and the Tippecanoe County Courthouse before making our way to the hotel.

The Union Club Hotel re-opened in August after a $35 million renovation. It is owned by Purdue University and first opened in 1929 as an addition to the Purdue Memorial Union. Additions were made to the property in 1939 and 1955 and the last set of renovations had been done in the 1980s. The new look of this boutique hotel is sleek and modern with nods to the past throughout the property.

The 182-room Union Club Hotel is managed by White Lodging, based in Merrillville. Founded by Purdue alum Bruce White, the company is one of the largest hotel development and management companies in the U.S., with more than 80 premium-brand hotels across the country. Plans are for a program to launch next year using the hotel as a hands-on learning laboratory for students in Purdue’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

Throughout the hotel are Boilermaker touches, including the school crest embedded into carpeting in the public spaces and on pillows in the rooms, historic photos hanging above the beds and tartan prints. The lobby has a very cool bookcase design above the front desk with rotating black and white photos projected onto it, and there are several cozy nooks to have a seat and relax. I love the stylish room decor and luxurious in-room touches like comfy robes, Pharmacopia products (shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion) and Caribou Coffee. Rooms feature WiFi, mini fridges and large flatscreen TVs.

We took a walk on the second floor beyond the hotel into the Purdue Memorial Union, which has stunning architectural features and busts of past presidents, along with an information desk with campus maps and information on the area.

Within the hotel are three dining options, and my husband and I had the opportunity to experience each one while we were there. A little bit after checking in we had a reservation for dinner at 8Eleven, the hotel’s full-service restaurant that is named to honor two NASA missions: Gemini 8 and Apollo 11 — both commanded by Purdue alumnus Neil Armstrong. Described as their “refined and sophisticated gathering spot,” the French-American bistro has an open kitchen concept and an impressive menu.

It was difficult making a decision on what to order. We started with oysters and gulf shrimp cocktail, and it was immediately apparent that everything is top-quality. For entrees, we decided on the halibut with heirloom tomatoes, fennel, lemon and sweet pepper and that evening’s special, the Filet Oscar — a medium filet mignon with lump crab, covered in Hollandaise sauce over asparagus. It was phenomenal, and our meal earned a spot as one of my favorite eateries in the state. I never expected to enjoy seafood that good in a small Midwest college town.

We topped off the dinner with profiteroles and mille fuelle, prepared by their in-house pastry chef. The wine and cocktail lists were large and varied, and we sampled a couple of their five Old Fashioned options and a seasonal drink, the Watermelon Mule. It was so nice to enjoy dinner and then retire to our room without having to get the car and drive back to our hotel. When I reflect back on some of the best meals I’ve ever had, many of of them have been at hotel restaurants — this one included.

We made our way back to 8Eleven for breakfast early the next morning and were greeted with an exciting menu of brunch specialties — everything from steak and eggs to grilled tuna salad to quinoa cakes. We settled on a crepe and a smoked ham and gruyere omelet.

Later in the day we visited the Boiler Up Bar for lunch and cocktails. It was serving up the same brunch menu, and this time I couldn’t resist the Brush Creek Ranch Wagyu cheeseburger. I’d been craving a good burger and this one was delicious with arugula, gruyere, onion jam and aioli on toasted brioche with crispy fresh-cut shoestring fries. Hubby ordered the prime rib French dip, which was equally delicious. I also had a refreshing prickly pear margarita with lunch. The bar includes a cool whiskey room to sit back and sip.

On our way out, we stopped at Leeps Coffee & Artisan Pastries for iced coffee, tea and muffins for the road.There was a nice selection at this grab-and-go counter that's open throughout the day when you're ready for a snack, caffeine pick-me-up or sweet treat.

To learn more about the hotel, go to purdueunionclubhotel.com.

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