French Lick Springs Hotel and West Baden Springs Hotel have been grandly restored - from an architectural standpoint. But no historic restoration can be considered a success until the staff is as genteel as the architecture.
At French Lick Resort Casino (which encompasses both hotels), the past is no longer the problem. The present is.
The fragile spell cast by antique chandeliers and gold-leafed carved moldings is broken the moment an employee substitutes peskiness for hospitality or smirking arrogance for poise.
I think the word I'm looking for is as old-fashioned as the hotels themselves: impertinence. That best describes these service drawbacks I experienced.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
At French Lick Springs Hotel
A fidgeting bellman was so full of personal questions, I tipped him just to go away. The reception desk was not knowledgeable enough about the property to answer anything beyond general inquiries. Housekeeping had overlooked a previously used washcloth hanging on the shower curtain rod in my room.
An employee at the spa's reception desk made light of my request for a female reflexology therapist: "It's just your feet; what difference does it make?"
Dinner in The 1875 Steakhouse brought an unpleasant moment when I asked for further explanation of how a certain dish was prepared and the server told me sharply that she had already answered my question.
I got the feeling that I was supposed to be grateful for the opportunity to eat at the French Lick's fine-dining restaurant without having made reservations. I wasn't able to do that the following evening at West Baden.
At West Baden Springs Hotel
I hadn't made reservations, so the restaurant greeter at Sinclair's refused me a seat, even though on the two occasions that I tried fewer than half a dozen of the tables were occupied. The greeter didn't suggest alternatives until I asked where else I might eat. She enumerated the resort's other venues, emphasizing that The 1875 Steakhouse required reservations as well. But she didn't call and make a reservation for me; she didn't even offer.
Someone wearing a name plate and walkie-talkie was talking with bell staff in the entry.
I don't know if this person was employed by the resort, but he gave that impression, and not a professional one as his many-pocketed safari pants were so long that he was walking on inches of hem.
When I was standing in the elevator, a bellman, in a uniform complete with white gloves, boarded his guests and their luggage onto the elevator in such a way that he was farthest from the doors. "We're going to three," he said to the walls. I took that as a command to press the button for the third floor - no please, no thank you.
And neither hotel's reception desk warned me at check-in that a mandatory resort fee would be added to the bill at check-out. The only reason I knew it was coming: I had specifically asked the telephone agent when I made my reservations.