Tuesday, July 19, 2011

#14. Stay the Night at West Baden/French Lick

Located in the rolling hills of southern Indiana are the French Lick and West Baden hotels/casinos. Just a few minutes away from each other, these hotels are remnants of a by-gone era, examples of the baroque and borderline gaudy luxury that the rich of yore once experienced. Established in 1845 and 1902, respectively, French Lick and West Baden were once popular getaways for the wealthy. They were drawn by the medicinal mineral water, gambling, and, during the Prohibition, illicit booze. Because of this, it is no surprise that gangsters such as Al Capone were frequent guests.

This pair of photos, located outside of the French Lick Casino, captures the old time glamour of the hotel

Today, the clientele is changed; the majority of guests are either families on one-two night getaways or middle aged men on golf and/or business trips. Despite this, the hotels have managed to maintain their air of cool extravagance. A queue of porters stands at the ready to assist newly arrived guests, and the impressive lobby is dripping with gold, jewel tones, and chandeliers.

French Lick Hotel lobby
After the initial elation wore off, I checked into the room with my grandparents and cousin. We wandered around the hotel and grounds until dinnertime. Outside, the heat and humidity were overwhelming; the heat index was 116. This inferno, mixed with the boiled egg sulfurous scent emanating from the hot springs, was hardly pleasant. This was when I learned the unfortunate lesson of the trip: never visit French Lick on one of the hottest days of the year, especially if that day happens to be a Monday.

Slogans located in the Pluto Springs gazebo behind the French Lick Hotel
Because we were visiting on a Monday, few activities were available. Live bands and afternoon tea were only available on the weekends. A dive-in movie (a.k.a. movie shown while you hang out in the pool) was cancelled because a private party had booked the pool. I decided against horseback riding the next day because of the heat. I refused to pay $40 to drip sweat onto the miserable horse beneath me.

Even without comfortable weather and a full activity schedule, we still managed to enjoy our stay at French Lick. We shopped on Main Street, played in the pool, danced to '70s music outside of the casino, and even found the home of Larry Bird's mother. Although the trip wasn't as awesome as I expected it to be, spending time with my grandparents and cousin made it worthwhile.

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