Green Room at Hotel du Pont likely losing its century-old name amid other big changes

Patricia Talorico
The News Journal

The beloved macaroons are staying, but the name of the Hotel du Pont's iconic Green Room will likely change when the restaurant is redesigned in 2020, Delaware Online/The News Journal has learned.

The Buccini-Pollin Group, the Wilmington-based real estate acquisition, development and management company, purchased the historic downtown Wilmington hotel from the DuPont Co. in 2017

After months of evaluating the hotel, it began making changes, starting with updating the hotel lobby and bar furnishings in 2018. 

Now, the elegant, fine-dining restaurant that's been known as the Green Room for at least 100 years will close after service Jan. 1 while it undergoes a makeover.

The closing of the restaurant which has received Four-Diamond Award recognition from AAA for 30 consecutive years is expected to last about four months.

Dining service for breakfast, lunch and dinner will move to the hotel's Brandywine Room.

The current plan is to reopen the Green Room in April 2020 under a different name and with a modern French brasserie-style concept.

END OF AN ERA: Hotel du Pont's legendary Green Room closing for major renovations

"It was a tough decision," Dave Pollin, co-founder and president of The Buccini/Pollin Group and chairman of PM Hotel Group, told The News Journal about renaming the city institution.

Pollin said Buccini/Pollin talked to loyal, longtime Green Room diners, staffers, members of the du Pont family and others with a vested interest in Hotel du Pont, long known as the city of Wilmington's "front door."

"No one has lacked strong opinions," Pollin said. The Green Room has hosted birthday, anniversary, engagements and holiday celebrations for generations of Delawareans and has fed U.S. presidents, celebrities and royalty.

Despite its storied history, the restaurant at 11th and Market streets overlooking Rodney Square will probably not be called the Green Room after this year.

"That is something that is likely going to change," Pollin said. "It was probably time for the Green Room to evolve."

In 1994, Julia Child taped a segment for "Good Morning America" during the Hotel du Pont's Sunday brunch in the Green Room. She met with then-executive chef Tom Hannum.

He did not disclose any names being considered.

Pollin also would not say if new chefs would be hired. He said more information should be coming in about a month. 

The continued modernization of the hotel will take the business into the next century, he said. 

"It was probably the right idea to think about what the Green Room should be in 10 and 20 years and start the process."

"I look at this as a public trust," Pollin said, adding diners have shared stories about dining in the space, and having tea and brunch with friends and relatives. "That's not something to be taken lightly. We're just stewarding this for the next generation."

Tom Hannum, who spent 33 years working at Hotel du Pont before retiring in 2011, wonders if changing the name of a century-old city institution is being a steward of Delaware history. 

"The hotel is The Hotel. And the Green Room is the Green Room. You're not going to get away from it," said Hannum, now one of the co-owners of Buckley's Tavern in Centreville.

Hannum and some business partners were one of two local groups competing to buy the Hotel du Pont several years ago. He said they wanted to keep the Green Room in the similar style it is now, but only open it two nights a week.

Hannum said he is unsure if remaking the Green Room into a French brasserie is the best move.

"That space isn't a brasserie. If you go to any brasserie in Paris, it doesn't look like the Green Room," he said. "Whether it will attract new customers, well, time will tell."

The Green Room at the Hotel du Pont in 1977.

Jacques Amblard, who retired as general manager of the Hotel du Pont in 2003 after nearly 30 years, believes the Green Room "was part of the bundle of services provided in the good old days." 

But, now, he said, the name should describe its offerings. Amblard points to Balthazar brasserie in [New York City's] SoHo "which for years has had a strong reputation and high business volume."

Amblard said during his tenure at the Hotel du Pont, he even considered opening an indoor/outdoor terrace on Market Street to be perceived as more casual.

While New York architect and interior designer Campion Platt designed the current look for the hotel lobby and bar, Pollin said a different design group will do the work in the Green Room. He did not give the name.

THE SALE: What Hotel du Pont sale means

How much change will take place remains to be seen.

"This is a reconcepting. We are not renovating," Pollin said. "We are reconcepting and relaunching. We are closing one door and opening a new one."

When Hotel du Pont's glamorous dining room opened to guests on Jan. 15, 1913, it was then known as "the main restaurant."

A historic postcard of the Hotel du Pont's "main restaurant" also known as the Green Room.

The Green Room name has been in place since at least the 1920s, according to News Journal archives, and most likely earlier.

Former Hotel du Pont General Manager Harry V. Ayers, who worked for the DuPont Co. for 32 years, once told The News Journal the name came from the restaurant's green ceiling and rug. 

Yet, later in his 1981 book "Hotel du Pont Story," Ayers wrote that the room was named for Helena Springer Green, the wife of John J. Raskob, the builder of the Empire State Building. 

Raskob, whose former estate in Claymont is now the home of Archmere Academy, had been the right-hand man of Pierre S. du Pont. He and du Pont, head of the DuPont Co. and founder of Longwood Gardens, were the hotel's visionaries.

Raskob is believed to have designed the Green Room and then named it for his wife.

This plate from the Hotel du Pont's Green Room could soon become a collector's item. The hotel will likely change the name of its famed restaurant in 2020.

Many of the items in the Green Room were put there to tell a story. For instance, the bronze door handles on the glass door have a French flair, a signal to diners about the fare.  

Pollin said most of the restaurant's historic, ornate and elaborate features, such as its 2½ story windows, six gold Spanish chandeliers, fumed oak paneling and coffered ceiling, will remain in place.

"We would be dumb if we didn't take advantage of all the amazing history in that space," Pollin said. "We're going to go slow. You won't see a sledgehammer, you'll see tweezers."

REVIEW: Hotel du Pont's Green Room still an elegant lady

The famed Sunday brunch, afternoon teas, and the beloved almond macaroons also will return. Pollin said he never considered not serving the macaroons, the Hotel du Pont's signature treats.

"I still want to maintain what's remaining of my health," he joked.

Controversy has long surrounded any changes to the Green Room. When the restaurant was refurbished in 1965, diners' advice to the DuPont Co. was "don't touch it!" 

The News Journal columnist Tom Malone once wrote it was "possible that in no other dining room [in the state] do the patrons take such a proprietary interest in what is going on." 

But the room has been deemed stodgy and the experience too expensive for many as far back as the mid-1960s. A dining room manager in 1966 told The News Journal the restaurant needed younger patrons.

The Green Room has changed little since a 2004 face-lift by Washington, D.C.-based design firm Leo A. Daly, prime architect of the National World War II Memorial. At that time, company officials said the Green Room's new furnishings, including chairs, tables, linens and window treatments, were part of ongoing rejuvenation efforts to stem the tide of a decline in diners.

For years, the hotel and its restaurant costs were absorbed by the DuPont Co. It's last overhaul was in 2004 by the Washington, D.C.-based design firm Leo A. Daly, prime architect of the National World War II Memorial.

At that time, hotel officials said the new look was part of ongoing rejuvenation efforts to stem the declining tide of diners.

Pollin said the Green Room has been considered a special occasion spot, but now owners want it to be more relevant and appeal to those seeking less formal dining with lighter, healthier options. 

"People chose their hotel based on the restaurant and culinary experiences a lot of the time. They're looking for entertainment and excitement." 

Pollin said the 56-seat Brandywine Room is being spruced up with new finishes and artwork. After the Green Room reopens in the spring, it could become a steakhouse.

Seatings for upcoming holiday dining events in the Green Room are filling up fast, hotel officials say. For a complete list of events, visit hoteldupont.com/en/events-en.html 

Contact Patricia Talorico at (302) 324-2861 or ptalorico@delawareonline.com and on Twitter @pattytalorico