By Sherry Thomas
By Sherry Thomas
For the next 24 hours, you will be addressed as English nobility. In this case, a Lady, but Lord is another option, or perhaps Duke or Countess.
And as perplexing as that might sound, when you’ve just checked in to the Deer Path Inn—noshing on a delicious cake left just for you, reviewing a decadent itinerary that includes an invitation to a traditional English tea—it might feel, well, normal.
This is no ordinary hotel and what you’re about to experience is nothing short of extraordinary.
Originally built in the 1860s as a home for Colonel William Sage on the site of an old hunter’s log cabin, the Deer Path Inn as we know it today was the vision of an architect from the legendary Holabird & Root firm. Its half-timber and stucco details were inspired by traditional manor houses in Chiddington, Kent, one of England’s oldest villages. And while a fire destroyed part of the hotel in 1938, that aura that you’ve accidentally stumbled into a royal villa in the English countryside remains.
Sure, you may have dined here at The English Room or met friends for a pint downstairs in the White Hart Pub, but to truly understand why this Lake Forest gem (now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a proud member of the Historic Hotels of America) has earned Travel + Leisure magazine recognition as one of the Midwest’s leading resort hotels, you need to commit to the story.
That means checking in. Getting a Britstyle, oversized key. And from that moment, time and place become as filtered as the old photos on the walls. As you settle into your suite, beautifully appointed with postcard views over the English garden courtyard, the relaxation takes over. Suddenly, the city and the stress of daily life seem far away.
You are a Lady or Lord here, and the adventure has just begun.
Your first order of business today (other than enjoying the aforementioned cake) is to venture out for a curated “scavenger hunt” on Market Square—another historic landmark. The concept is brilliant. Visitors to Deer Path Inn (which could include all of your friends and relatives visiting for Thanksgiving and other winter holidays this year) are treated to a full immersion into the splendor of the Square and some of the finest retailers on the North Shore.
As part of this Local’s Only hotel package, you will receive a souvenir tote bag that features a vintage-style illustration of the city by Lake Forest artist Mark McMahon and a document that serves as a treasure map of all the participating shops and boutiques. This tote will quickly become very useful to collect the gifts (valued at approximately $250) you will collect along the way.
True locals know that the historic Market Square (another nod to English architecture, designed by the legendary Howard Van Doren Shaw) is merely steps away from Deer Path Inn but the walk can feel invigorating in the crisp fall air. The first stop is naturally the popular Starbucks Reserve, offering the perfect place to caffeinate and plot your next move. While the directions are pretty straightforward, there is an air of enigma to the “hunt.”
Next up is the Lake Forest Bookstore, a local institution founded in 1949 by a consortium of 12 local women. You won’t be able to stop yourself from browsing the shop’s many offerings, leaving with the first of many small treasures of the hunt (we’d tell you what it is but you need to do it for yourself).
From there, it’s a quick walk over to the iconic Lake Forest Shop. Say hello to the new owners, Lauren Peters and Nicole Carrabine, and see how they are reinventing the boutique for a new generation—again leaving with a very fun gift bag.
The hunt continues to such local businesses as Susan and Jonathan Dick’s beloved Sweets emporium (with the toffee to die for); Missy Poth’s fabulous M on the Square floral shop; and Smith’s Men’s Store—a 1937 landmark that’s been rejuvenated by new co-owners Trey Gonzales and Kip Helverson. Your final stop will be Amidei Mercatino, an alley-turned-open-air-market that has enough European charm not to break the spell that you have actually been transported across the pond.
Speaking of which, by now you’re famished. Good thing it’s time for tea.
In keeping with the Deer Path Inn’s nearly century-old tradition of excellence, it’s no surprise that the Garden Room’s afternoon tea menu has been selected with the help of Malcolm Ferris-Lay, a Master of Tea whose family has been connected with the tea trade since 1842. The 1929 Blend—an Oriental blend lightly scented with oil of bergamot from Sicily—is particularly intoxicating.
This is one of more than 20 varieties of teas you’ll have to choose from (others range from Deer Path’s own blended teas to single estate teas, Chinese teas, and herbal and flavored teas) as high tea is served. Paired with a chilled glass of Champagne (wine is also an option), there is no better way to unwind and embrace the elegance of the ritual.
A selection of sweet and savory treats will be presented with all the pomp of a posh London hotel. Featuring house made scones, quiches, and an exquisite selection of traditional tea sandwiches, it is an experience you’ll be telling all your friends about (and perhaps booking for them when they visit).
This luxurious diversion is available to anyone clever enough to make a reservation (Wednesday through Saturday only, with seating at 2 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.) but fortunately for you, the English immersion does not end here.
After tea, ask to take out one of the old fashioned bicycles around town for a spin, retreat with a book in front of the fire in the Deer Path’s sumptuous “living room,” or merely go back to your suite for a short, decadent nap.
The sun is about to set, which means the true magic of the Deer Path experience is about to begin.
As with any establishment that serves a community for nearly a century, the Deer Path Inn has many chapters in its story. This grand dame of Lake Forest is now serving the fourth and fifth generations of the same family as the site of weddings, anniversaries, and other life celebrations.
Earlier this day you may have been walked through the hallways and secret passageways to private event spaces that reveal decades of history— walls displaying black and white photos snapped throughout the years. While the property was extensively remodeled and restored in 2016, it retains its intimate inn ambiance with just 57 guest rooms and suites. Ranging in size from 350 to 800 square feet, each is different in its own way, marrying modern luxury with bespoke, old world charm.
Dinner tonight is in The English Room, the property’s most formal offering. Evocative of the same mythical English manor on which the inn was created, the lavishly appointed room is both elegant and intimate. Though not strictly enforced, the dress code here is more formal, as it should be.
The menu is as curated as everything else on the property with both classic dishes and innovative creations—all paired with one of the best wine lists on the North Shore. Glass of white in hand, you order the Diver Scallops appetizer, served with English pea puree, bacon and tomato jam, and crème fraiche, followed by the almond-crusted Dover sole with a champagne beurre blanc sauce.
Part of the thrill is the waiting for the dishes (which are going to taste as amazing as they sound) to appear, soaking in the ambiance around you. And while you might be tempted to retire to your noble den after such a decadent meal, one more stop is needed to complete this 24-hour fantasy.
You’ll tiptoe back through the hall and corridor to take the steps down through the White Hart Pub (renowned for both its bangers and mash, as well as fresh sushi) to The Bar—a wood-paneled hideaway with a floor-to-ceiling wine rack and a speakeasy vibe that harkens back to the Deer Path’s 1929 origins.
With an Old Fashioned (the inn’s signature cocktail) in front of you and the reality of ordinary life (stress, deadlines) waiting for you in the morning, lingering a bit longer seems like just the thing any noble person might do. After all, a Lady never sleeps.
The Deer Path Inn is located at 255 E. Illinois Road in Lake Forest. The Local’s Only package includes a two-night stay, self-guided scavenger hunt through Market Square (collecting items valued at $250), Afternoon Tea Service, and dinner for two in The English Room. For reservations, visit thedeerpathinn.com.