For the past several months, my husband of nearly 35 years and I struggled with how to celebrate our upcoming anniversary. Most years, we’ve purchased a couple of steaks and a bottle of vino at the local grocery store. I guess you could say we’d gotten ourselves trapped at the bottom of a very deep rut. This year would be different. Last Saturday, hubby and I trekked from the suburbs into downtown Houston and checked ourselves into a sparkling gem that is the Hotel ICON.

Located at 220 Main Street, I soon learned why the affordable, luxury hotel was named one of the “Top 100 New Hotels in the World” by Conde Nast Traveler in 2004. From the moment we stepped into the hotel lobby, I could tell we had landed someplace special. The rich red colors, plush fabrics, and extremely tall ceilings made for a striking setting. Did I mention that the lobby desk is located in front of gigantic bank vault doors? There is a reason for that. After check-in, the front desk agent handed us our room keys and wished us a most happy anniversary. “How did he know it was our anniversary?” I whispered to Rick. I’d be asking him that same question during our entire stay at the Hotel ICON. It seemed all the staff knew and went out of their way to make it extra special.

Before I continue, how about a little history lesson? The Hotel ICON is housed in the former Union National Bank Building built way back in 1911. For the past 25 years or so, the building was vacant. In early 2004, the 12-story Grecian brick-and-limestone tower reopened after a $35 million historic reinvention. The lovely hotel features 135 opulent guest rooms, including nine, custom designed signature suites. Rick and I stayed in one of the stunning signature rooms, the Oriental Suite. It had a luxurious living room and separate cozy bedroom. The large bathroom had his and her marble vanities with an antique claw-footed tub and separate rain shower. I loved the fresh flowers in the room. Rick enjoyed the complimentary New York Times on Sunday morning with the delicious, in-room, white tablecloth breakfast ordered the night before.

The hotel offers other unique services like a bath butler and handles special catering requests with ease. We had chocolate covered strawberries and a bottle of red wine waiting for us in our room when we checked in. Hotel guests also have available a real London taxi to drop off and pick up from downtown locales like the opera, theater, or an Astros game. The hotel has a day spa, huge 24-hour fitness center, a spacious wine vault room for private dining, as well as meeting and party facilities. But let us move on to their restaurant!

The Hotel ICON lobby’s soaring 30-foot Doric columns also houses the award-winning BANK restaurant. Extremely talented Executive Sous Chef Cody Vasek is in charge of BANK’s delicious New American cuisine with Asian and French influences. Our waiter, Mike, was friendly and most helpful with the extensive menu choices. Our signature culinary experience began with appetizers. I chose the foraged mushroom soup with herbed polenta croutons. Now I’ll admit to being a tad confused when our waiter set down the empty soup bowl. That is, it was empty, except for the croutons. I didn’t notice the small covered pot from which was poured the tasty soup around the croutons. Nice presentation! For his entrée, Rick chose a grilled ribeye, medium rare, with sautéed root vegetables and truffled mashed potatoes. I had sea bass in papillote, red grapes, pancetta, thyme and sherry. Need I say more? We shared a side of creamed spinach with crushed cayenne pepper seeds on top. Let’s just say our taste buds were tantalized at every turn.

Dessert was indeed a difficult decision with Pastry Chef Charles Allen at the helm. Rick was a happy camper with the apple pecan blondie and butter pecan ice cream. Being the typical chocoholic, I went for the chocolate soufflé tart with molten center and vanilla ice cream. I was not disappointed. After dinner, a contented Rick and I strolled upstairs to the Hotel ICON bar. My mission was to check out their signature cocktail, the Smoking Cosmo. What I noticed first about the bar were the low ceilings and inviting couches, which made it intimate and cozy. Katrina served my Smoking Cosmo in a martini glass. And yes, it was really smoking and bubbling. I suspect there was a little dry ice involved. The drink is made with Svecka Criton Vodka, Cointreau and cranberry juice, a most lovely combination of ingredients. The cost was $12.

It was late when Rick and I finally walked through the hotel lobby toward the elevator. We crossed paths with a newly married bride and groom. “We have to come back here every year,” I whispered to Rick. “How about next month? We can try out the Astros Package,” my husband of 35 short years countered.

The Hotel ICON is located in downtown Houston, at 220 Main Street, just steps away from the Theatre District, downtown night life, Minute Maid Park, and is the only downtown hotel on the METROrail line. Weekend rates for guest rooms generally range from $139 for a standard room to $339 for an executive suite. For prices for the nine signature suites, check out the hotel’s Web site. Hotel ICON offers many affordable packages such as the Stay & Play Astros Package, Romance Package, Opera Dinner Package, and Bed & Breakfast to name a few. For more information on rooms, hotel amenities and packages, call 713-224-ICON, or visit

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