Hearne: The Incredible Lightness (& Loneliness) of The Elms in Excelsior Springs

IMG_2822Holy crap, I’m trapped in Excelsior Springs and the bloom is off the rose…

After staying at the historic Arlington in Hot Springs, Arkansas last spring I had a brainstorm. Flattering online photos aside, the Arlington was a dump – beautiful outside, run down inside.

Which got me to thinking, why drag all the way down to Arkansas when the newly remodeled Elms in Excelsior Springs is but a hop, skip and jump away? 

It’s closer; they’ve spent a ton of dough fixing the place up – unlike the Arlington – and it has the same, now bogus mineral water rep that bankrupted the former owners of both hotels after the American Medical Association released research studies in 1932 negating the healing and health effects of mineral water.

In other words, these are effectively snake oil resorts. Harking back to a time when people believed the simple things in life; like that water was really, really good for you.

Classic rock rules in downtown Excelsior Springs

Classic rock rules in downtown Excelsior Springs

So after I got back from Hot Springs, I tried and I tried to book a room at The Elms just to see. To compare.. However, being a last minute guy, several of my efforts were met with failure because – I was told – The Elms was sold out for weddings.

That’s right, turns out The Elms is a wedding mill.

“Two weeks ago we had two weddings on Thursday, two on Friday, two on Saturday and one on Sunday,” said the woman taking reservations at the hotel’s restaurant.

No wonder I couldn’t get in.

I finally broke through this past Saturday and was able to snag a room with a kingsize bed ($184) and reserve a pair of spa treatments ($200 and change) for Sunday afternoon.

Wedding, anyone?

Wedding, anyone?

So I went for it.

Unfortunately, even though The Elms is close to KC and in far better shape than The Arlington, it’s lacking in other ways that make the claptrap Arkansas hotel appealing.

The biggest being, there’s nothing whatsoever to do in Excelsior Springs…besides get married or eat at Applebee’s or Arby’s apparently.

The town’s historic downtown – Hall of Waters aside – is a rundown, half-or-more vacant – shadow of its past self. It’s pretty sad actually.

Hot Springs may be more than a little weatherbeaten and long in the tooth, but its downtown is World Class by comparison.

singleSmallBottleAs for The Elms itself, in general the hotel looks pretty darn nice.

Until you start to peel back the layers of its onion.

I mean, it’s nice having a 42 inch plasma screen in your room, but by cheaping out and not opting to provide a high def picture, it actually looks worse than the standard definition tube TVs of yesteryear.


Who wants to watch a fuzzy, blurry football game on state of the art flat screen TV in a hotel bar or lounge, let alone your room. A really sucky picture on a state of the art television makes absolutely no sense to me.

That most of the fireplaces outside of the one in the lobby don’t work is disconcerting too. And while the hotel’s restaurant and cafe prices are quite reasonable, the food is mostly forgettable, and how can you make a nonfat latte when you’re out of skim?

The room decor – according to my wife – who has impeccable taste:

“Clean and classic, a little cookie cutter, but nice,” she says. “But our room with a king bed is really small and the windows are really, really dirty. I can’t enjoy the view with all the dust, spider webs and dirt. The bed is pretty comfortable – I think it’s memory foam – but it takes up more than half of the room. Actually, it feels like it takes up three quarters of the room.”

The bathrooms are small, modern and nice, except that “the blinds are really, really dusty,” she says. “There’s a thick layer of dust on them.”

Another thing that was off putting was the twin wedding receptions jammed into The Elms small lobby and going on when we checked in. It’s hard to feel like you’re at a resort while navigating a hotel full of strangers trying to get hitched and/or hammered.

“It’s loud and you feel like you’re an intruder, especially if there’s more than one. I couldn’t even tell it was the main lobby when we walked in. I felt like we walked into a private reception or something..”

runaway-brideThe bottom line: weddings aren’t vacationy.

“It just feels like this hotel got plunked down in the middle of a low to moderate end neighborhood. And for what you would pay for a suite here, you could go to a really nice hotel in Kansas City where they would have all the amenities that they have here – a pool and workout room – and be in the middle of a city where there are fun things to do – and for a lot less money.”

Which brings us to the Elms spa…

Unlike Hot Springs, nobody here even seems to want to pretend anymore that the water is good for you. I didn’t see a single sign or bottle of local water on display or for sale – whereas in Hot Springs Mountain Valley was everywhere – including in every hotel room. A quick Google search revealed that small bottles of Excelsior Springs Minreral Water are sold at the Hall of Fountains downtown.

The spa is nicely appointed in the hotel’s basement. Too bad it’s so small and half the  stuff there – including the “dry sauna” and “wet sauna” – didn’t work.

On top of that a pair of unhappy young women had driven up Sunday from Wichita, only to find their confirmed spa treatment reservations were nowhere to be found. Instead they had to settle to alternate, shorter treatments, with long waits beyond the hours they’d reserved.

“The hotel is under new management,” one of them said. “And lots of things have been getting messed up.”

So yes, The Elms has come a long way from the time I peered through its musty windows and into its historic past when it was shuttered years ago. Two or three sets of investors have plowed their hard earned into fixing it up since and it clearly shows.

Would I stay there again?

Maybe…for free…or if I needed to hide out for some reason. Or maybe get married in the middle of nowhere.

Short of that, I’ll probably pass.




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28 Responses to Hearne: The Incredible Lightness (& Loneliness) of The Elms in Excelsior Springs

  1. Kyle Rohde says:

    Not sure what made you decide to take a dump on Excelsior Springs; did this suddenly become a travel site? I’m sitting in the Union Station Hotel in St. Louis, a Hilton property, and their TVs are exactly the same. As were the ones at the Knickerbocker in downtown Chicago, the Churchill in DC, the Best Western Plus Normandy Suites in downtown Minneapolis, and the Hampton Inn in downtown Cleveland, all of which I’ve stayed at in the last month (lots of work travel), so dinging the Elms for that is pretty low-brow.

    As for the food, the restaurant in the Elms, Eighty Eight, is fabulous, having spent Valentines Day there earlier this year.

    Granted, the downtown is struggling, which is sad because it’s so charming. Still not sure why you felt the need to crap all over the City though. If you’d talked to more than just two girls from Wichita, bet you would have found a ton that loved the place. There’s a reason they have so many weddings and it isn’t because it’s cheap or easy to get to.

    • admin says:

      Hey, this is a news, opinion and entertainment site and actually we do a lot of travel from time to time.

      The TVs at The Elms are excellent, which I believe I said.


      Do you know the difference between high definition and standard definition? Standard definition provides a very low resolution picture like what we had before HD became available. Most cable companies provide both and all you have to do if you have a high def TV is go to the channels that are in HD and watch those.

      Well, all of the TVs at The Elms were HD but they were all tuned to SD channels only, rendering their pictures very fuzzy and of poor quality. Most HD televisions actually give a worse picture when tuned to standard def than the old tube TVs did that were made to be watched in standard definition only.

      If this sounds a little complex, it isn’t.

      The televisions at The Elms were first rate but the broadcast quality of SD rendered their images all but unwatchable to anybody (such as yourself) used to watching in HD.


      • Kyle Rohde says:

        Sorry I wasn’t clearer – I was saying that all those places I have stayed recently had the same setup. SD picture with HD TV’s, so the Elms is far from unique in that aspect.

        • admin says:

          Well, I take it all back. Sorry.

          Guess I must be leading a charmed life to see HD images on HD screens. But it sounds like you travel more than me so…

    • the dude says:

      Hey, this Hearn’s site and he is obviously entitled to his own opinion.
      If he didn’t like the hotel stay I would rather hear the truth than have some sugar coated bullcrap that you sometimes get from other airbags.
      It seems that hearne might have pissed in your Wheaties this morning.
      My advice- don’t eat the rest of your Wheaties.

  2. mike t. says:

    all i can say is that hearn’s experience sounds a lot like the one i had back around ’96. not terribly impressive. never been back.

    • admin says:

      It’s a lot nicer now, Mike T.

      The hotel, that is. But the execution is spotty, there’s not much to do outside of hanging in the hotel and unless you don’t mind doing the Wedding Crasher thing, it’s a little odd.

      • mike t. says:

        i believe this was after an earlier remodel, but i can’t be sure. i’ve killed several million brain cells since then.

  3. mike t. says:

    ‘scuse me… hearnE’s…. sorry…

  4. paulwilsonkc says:

    Haven’t been there for 5 years; it was such a dump then I wouldn’t give it a second shot. The American Inn on I-70 is a better deal; $29.95, low res, 400 lb. TV’s and absolutely NO expectations. (Or at least thats what the Full Throttle crew told me who stayed there)

  5. PB says:

    Haven’t been to The Elms in years and in fact, it was sort of rundown then so I can’t really speak to it now, but Excelsior Springs can be the shit on Saturday nights from the spring thru summer with the FREE concert series in the Blues Garden outside Wabash BBQ where you can see great local acts like Samantha Fish and TUF along with some decent national blues acts like Mike Zito, Anthony Gomes and Smokin’ Joe Kubek/B’nois King. I highly recommend making the drive for at least one or two of these shows every summer. Great atmosphere, great live music and extremely affordable as far as beer/food prices go. Hard to find a better way to spend a summer evening in the entire metro and slightly beyond.

    • admin says:

      We ate at the Wabash saturday and the BBQ was OK but not great.

      It’s a half a block from the Elms, so that’s convenient and its TVs are set up for high def – wonder of wonders.

      However the outdoor concerts end with the summer, so there was no live music action I could track down, just a DJ playing at one of the weddings at the hotel.

      The concert series – I was told – is kind of a biker magnet, so if there are any Ranger Rover types out there, they might want to proceed with caution.

      • PB says:

        Yeah, the biker element is definitely there in force, but they’re pretty mellow and there are enough other folks out there where it’s no kind of issue unless one is adverse to excessive facial hair, leather and cut-off black t-shirts. And you’re right, the BBQ is strictly middle of the road stuff, but I do like the overall setup there right by the hotel and all and those concerts have been in my summer rotation for several years now.

        • kansas karl says:

          Hearne you did not look very far for entertainment. There is actually a live theatre downtown, real folks presenting real plays in a dinner theatre setting, with the Golden Ox serving up the food.


          Learn a bit before you blast a town for being dull.

          • paulwilsonkc says:

            (comment hijacker)

          • admin says:

            I did see that theater KK and I showed it to my wife who yawned violently.

            Was also told of a small bar downtown that attracted “younger people.”

            Passed that dive up too. Didn’t exactly appear to be cutting edge.

            So Kansas Karl, tell me. You actually think Excelsior Springs is a fun town with cools shops, clubs and restaurants?

        • admin says:

          I’m kinda down on the topless biker chicks, too.

          But that’s just me.

  6. balbonis moleskine says:

    Call me new money if you must but I’ll take a well appointed new 2 star hotel like Fairfield or comfort or courtyard over a historic hotel anyday.

    I do have a soft spot for The Columns in New Orleans (thecolumns.com) and The Hotel Del Coronado on Coronado Island in San Diego (hoteldel.com).

    I want to stay in a bungalow at the Chateau Marmont in LA but I’ve only been there to drink at the bar. Maybe Jack’s got a kcc discount? Do they take EBT?

    • paulwilsonkc says:

      Oh man, can’t count the afternoons I’ve spent sitting on the porch of the Del, having a LI Tea and looking out over the “scenery.” There’s just not a much prettier place anywhere….

  7. balbonis moleskine says:

    And Big Up to the Hotel Raphael in KC, the only historic dame in KC worth mentioning.

    I miss their 70 dollar renovation specials though…

  8. admin says:

    Kyle is a car buff and a marketing dude, so I can respect that he’s a cup half full guy as opposed to my suspicious mind. It seems obvious to me though that he’s probably never stayed there.

    As for The Elms most recent round of improvements, the hotel completed a “multi-million dollar renovation” in April of 2012, including redoing all of it’s rooms.

    Amazing how much dust, dirt and spider webs can accumulate in just over a year. Then again, how often does Harley take a bath or wash his car? Gotta keep up!

    • paulwilsonkc says:

      Im not allowed to comment further.

    • Kyle Rohde says:

      Thanks Hearne – no, I haven’t stayed there – just ate there and walked around the place, but have been to Excelsior Springs on a lot of day trips, as the road between there and Liberty is my favorite local driving road.

  9. b12 says:

    The Elms, and Excelsior Springs as a whole…have some terrific people that work very hard to make the hotel and the town what it is. Unfortunately…it is what it is.

    The Elms is old, cramped, and not a good value. I’m with the moleskin. Give me a decent room in a newer Fairfield than making excuses for stuff because it’s historic.

    Excelsior as a whole is basically a bedroom community with not much retail and a lot of stuff left over from 100 years ago that doesn’t look so good now.

    As much as everyone wants me to love the Elms…I’m with Hearne. Color me unimpressed.

  10. harley says:

    here’s my take
    1/ Paul stays at only the nicest places…American hotel?
    2. who can forget the parties at theelms when it was a pretty decent
    place. Remember the environmental rooms? Who can forget the
    parties at that place…I mean you talk about wild…
    3. who cares about the water? at one time people from all over the
    Midwest came to party there….mobstsers from Chicago and st. Louis..
    it was a great party……..and it was beautiful!!!!!
    they’d gamble…go to the track in riverside….party

  11. E.S. Resident says:

    As an Excelsior resident I would say Hearne actually took it pretty easy on the Elms and Excelsior the town. If he would of stayed longer he could of really trashed this town and the good ol boy politics. I mean really it pretty much shuts down at 2:oo p.m. and thank god he didn’t see the job corps gangs out wandering around.

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