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Historic Dubuque, Iowa Hotel, the Julien, Reclaims its
Past Glory Following $32 million Renovation


By Melanie Radzicki McManus, September 14, 2010

 Its boxy, red-brick-and-limestone exterior is decidedly unremarkable. But step inside the Hotel Julien Dubuque and you're in for a pleasant surprise. Recently reopened after a $32 million-plus interior renovation and exterior restoration that included the addition of a pool, fitness center and full-service spa, the 133-room boutique hotel dishes up history, charm and elegance at affordable prices.

Renovated lobby at Hotel Julien in Dubuque, Iowa.

The hotel's origins stretch back to 1839, when a four-story inn called the Waples House was opened on the site -- the first building visitors saw upon crossing the Mississippi from east to west. The inn was later expanded and renamed the Hotel Julien after the city's namesake, Julien Dubuque. In 1913 it was destroyed by fire; the current building rose from its ashes. In 1962 the once-grand hotel became the rather lowbrow Julien Motor Inn. At one point, doors were covered in shag carpeting.

When downtown Dubuque began its renaissance several years ago, the hotel's owners decided it was time to similarly resurrect the grand Hotel Julien. Rooms were enlarged, suites crafted and the historic lobby and ballroom were restored. Today, the hotel exudes elegance, from an impressive grand staircase in the lobby to soothing chocolate-and-honey-toned guest rooms, which feature high-quality linens and towels, granite-topped vanities and Aveda bath products.

In the lower level, employees of the Potosa Spa are waiting to pamper you with a full complement of treatments inspired by the American Indian medicine wheel and its four elements: earth, wind, fire and water. More than 50 services are available, including massage, bath treatments, body treatments, facials, hair care and nail services. Prices here are also modest for a boutique hotel: a 60-minute facial is $60, a lavish hourlong pedicure, $70.

Down the hall from the spa is Caroline's Restaurant, where you can grab breakfast, lunch or dinner daily. Breakfast and lunch menus feature typical fare; the dinner menu offers seafood, steaks and sandwiches, along with creative dishes such as apple- and fig-stuffed pork fillets and andouille portabella quesadillas.

Historic postcard of the Hotel Julien Dubuque.

History buffs will appreciate learning that the hotel was yet another one of gangster Al Capone's hiding spots. Letters from the private records of Louis Pfohl, who purchased the property in 1962, along with testimony from a longtime hotel employee confirm Capone stayed there often, and may have even owned the hotel for a while. Capone supposedly commandeered the entire eighth floor when in town, using a vault in one guest room to stash valuables -- and sometimes himself -- when the feds were hot on his tail. 

You can rent the multi-room Capone Suite, complete with the infamous bank vault, for $499 per night. Not nearly as affordable as the rest of the hotel's rooms, but not criminal, either, given the swanky accommodations.

For information or appointments at the Potosa Spa, call 1-563-588-5570.

Melanie Radzicki McManus is a freelance writer in Sun Prairie, Wis.


 Melanie Radzicki McManus

Also See: Aimbridge Hospitality Selected to Manage Hilton Garden Inn in Dubuque, Iowa / July 2010

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