Jackson — Want to spend a night with Elvis or Faulkner or Walter Anderson? Those are just three of the Mississippi greats whose names lend atmosphere to the guest suites of the Old Capitol Inn. You’d never know the inn on State Street was for many years the YWCA. The red brick building opened its doors in 1952 but since 1997 has been an elegant hotel, restaurant and meeting facility.
It took two years for local attorney Michael J. Malouf to convert the large building. His daughter, Mende Alford, manages the inn and says the conversion was a labor of love for her dad. “He likes to fix up old buildings and is very big in preserving downtown buildings,” she said.
She also gives him credit for the idea of asking interior designers to decorate the suites as a designer showcase project. The theme was Mississippi and each of the 24 guest suites is a famous person, book or place. That’s why names of the overnight accommodations read like a geographical, literary and cultural tour of the state. Some of those include Mississippi Delta, Beauvoir, Ponder Heart, Itta Bena, Windsor’s Legacy, Walter Anderson, Mynelle Gardens, Tchula Hunt Club, Shubuta, Elvis Sleeps, Faulkner’s Flat and Shuqulak.
“It was a really, really neat idea and gave us the opportunity to work with designers from all over the state,” Alford said. “They were enthusiastic and good to work with.”
She says her dad also thought of the inn’s name because of its proximity to state government’s Old Capitol. The downtown location has been a plus bringing in business guests from the world of sales, accounting, medical, pharmaceuticals and others. “We deal with all types of businesses. I’d say we’re 90% corporate,” she said. “I don’t think we would be as successful if we weren’t downtown.”
Amenities include free shoeshines. Guests put their shoes outside their doors at night and find shined shoes waiting for them the next morning. Secure, off-street parking, breakfast and complimentary wine and cheese are also provided. For business needs, there’s Internet, copy and fax service. There’s even access to a gym next door.
The Old Capitol Inn also hosts meetings and is especially convenient for out-of-town guests who can sleep and meet at one location. Alford says it’s a big drawing card for guests to wake up and be where their meeting will take place since many don’t have cars with them. Meeting rooms can accommodate small and large groups and can be set up theatre style, conference style or as classrooms. Any requested audio/visual equipment is provided, too.
“We have meetings on a daily basis,” Alford said. “The public has been real supportive. Business is good and we’re very grateful.”
She says the inn is versatile and hosts meetings of all kinds including continuing education, campaign events, legislative parties, Bar Mitzvahs, board retreats and holiday parties. Sometimes companies rent the whole hotel for meetings.
In addition to the meeting rooms, the Old Capitol Inn has a large gala ballroom that was the old Y’s gymnasium. It overlooks an enclosed garden where the Olympic-size swimming pool was. This area can accommodate 250 to 600 people.
“Everyone on our staff wears many hats and we give a lot of personal attention,” Alford said. “We have to do a good job. Every year it gets better and better.”
This innkeeper says food for guests is definitely not a problem with chef Bruce Cain in charge of the kitchen. “He’s very personable and meets with meeting planners to create menus,” she said. “He has a lot of different options and can do anything guests want.”
She recalls that Cain created a star- shaped dessert out of cake, ice cream and chocolate for guests in town to present a new fragrance with the name Star. Everyone who meets at the Old Capitol Inn gets Cain’s artichoke dip as a complimentary appetizer. Other specialties include crab cakes and shrimp and grits. “Everyone raves over that, but he can do something on the lighter side,” Alford said. “Also, he does beautiful presentations.”
The inn is now open for lunch Monday through Friday with seating for about 40 diners. That’s a service that’s really taken off, she added.
For Alford, 32, running the Old Capitol Inn was her first job after graduating from Ole Miss with a degree in social work. She truly enjoys what she does and is thrilled with the inn’s success. “It’s a unique facility with a lot of Southern charm, she said. “We have everything a large hotel has but on a smaller scale.”
She is especially proud of awards the inn has won as Hotel of the Year in the limited service category from the Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau and a full-service award from the Mississippi Restaurant Association.
Her advice to anyone planning a meeting or party: “The minute you know you want something, book it. It’s never too early. For Christmas events, we book six months to a year out although we’re still fitting in some Monday and Tuesday parties and we can still do some luncheons.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.