The Jefferson Hotel receives AAA’s Five Diamond rating; Shagbark restaurant makes Four Diamond list for first time

The Jefferson Hotel has taken its luxury accommodations to the next level.

The historic hotel in downtown Richmond has completed a three-year major upgrade of its rooms and other parts of the property to give it a “luxury residential feel.” It has 81 fewer rooms, but the remaining ones are bigger and more spacious, with upgraded amenities including bathrooms with a television in the mirror above a dual vanity.

With the upgrades, The Jefferson Hotel returns to receiving AAA’s coveted Five Diamond rating for 2017. It is one of 120 hotels and 63 restaurants across the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean that earned the Five Diamond rating this year, AAA announces this morning.

The hotel, which had received AAA’s Five Diamond rating from 1993 through 2013, was not on the list for the past three years because of the renovation project. The Jefferson had asked to be placed on a list of properties under renovation, which are not rated.

Getting a Five Diamond rating means the hotel is an elite property worldwide. “But service is key,” said Joseph Longo, The Jefferson’s managing director. “You have to be able to provide outstanding service.”


Three Richmond-area hotels and two local restaurants made AAA’s Four Diamond list for 2017.

The Four Diamonds went to the Wyndham Virginia Crossings Hotel and Conference Center in Henrico County, rated since 2004; The Westin Richmond in Henrico, rated since 2009; and the Hilton Richmond Hotel and Spa/Short Pump in Henrico, rated since 2010.

Not on the Four Diamond list this year was The Berkeley Hotel in downtown Richmond, which had been on the list each year since 1989. It received a Three Diamond rating for 2017, the travel organization said.

Lemaire restaurant at The Jefferson Hotel again earned a Four Diamond rating, which it has received since 2010.

But the Richmond region now has a second Four Diamond restaurant. Joining the list this year is Shagbark, the restaurant in Libbie Mill-Midtown development that acclaimed chef Walter Bundy opened in June. It was named one of “20 new restaurants to try this fall” by USA Today last year.

Only one other hotel in Virginia earned a Five Diamond rating — The Inn at Little Washington in Northern Virginia. It has received the top rating every year since 1989.

The Inn at Little Washington Dining Room earned the only Five Diamond designation among restaurants in the state. It is AAA’s longest-tenured Five Diamond restaurant, earning its rating for the first time in 1988.

In Virginia, 20 hotels and 14 restaurants earned a Four Diamond rating.


The Jefferson did a complete overhaul to its guest rooms and other parts of the hotel.

The hotel reduced the number of guest rooms by 31 percent — from 262 rooms to 181 rooms. The rooms increased in the physical size on average by about 40 percent to about 500 square feet.

“We wanted to give the rooms a luxury residential feel,” Longo said.

Each has what Longo called a five-fixture bathroom — walk-in shower, dual vanities with a television in the mirror, soaking tub and a separate room for the toilet.

Even the entrance to each room has an electronic system that enables the guest to hit a button that would display a red light for don’t disturb or a green light to makeup the room. No need to hang a placard on the door handle.

“It is hard to imagine taking The Jefferson to the next level but that is exactly what has happened with more spacious and impressive guest rooms that will further enhance the guest experience and public areas that will continue to impress even the most distinguished visitor,” said Martha Mitchell Meade, manager of public and government affairs for AAA.

Sections of the hotel were gutted over the past three years while other parts of The Jefferson remained opened. The project was invisible to most hotel guests unless they saw the construction barricades along Jefferson Street, which should be removed in the next couple of months, Longo said.

The plumbing, electrical, heating and air conditioning systems were completely redone.

“The positive responses from our guests have been overwhelming,” Longo said. “Many have expressed appreciation and surprise that this degree of reconstruction has occurred so quietly and without interruption or compromise to service or their experience.”

The only noticeable impact was the restoration of the Rotunda ceiling, which took place for about 60 days this past summer.

Other improvements included new furnishings in the Rotunda and Palm Court areas and in the Lemaire restaurant.

A makeover of the Presidential Suite is nearing completion, Longo said.

Longo declined to provide specifics on how much the renovation project cost, except to say: “It is a substantial price tag. (One of the owners) said he gave me an unlimited budget and I exceeded it.”

The Jefferson is owned by the Riverstone Group, which is part of Richmond businessman William H. Goodwin Jr.’s real estate empire. His group bought the hotel in 1991.

Riverstone Group’s holdings include The Sea Pines Resort in Hilton Head, S.C.; Kiawah Island Golf Resort in Kiawah Island, S.C.; and Keswick Hall resort and development in Albemarle County. The company bought the three-building James Center office complex off East Cary Street in downtown Richmond last week for $108 million.

“This is a real testament to the ownership group for the investment in this historic property. It clearly demonstrates a commitment to this iconic historic property, but also to the city, to the region and to the employees,” Longo said.

The major overhaul would have been easier, less expensive and completed sooner had the hotel closed for a period of time, Longo said. But that wasn’t an option.

“The Jefferson is extremely important to the city,” he said, adding the hotel preserved jobs by keeping it open during the renovations.