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Inn offers respite for weary city escapees

By Maggie Wolff Peterson For The State Journal

LOST RIVER — It's been less than a year since Michael Cooley and Gary Robinson decided to leave behind careers in Washington, D.C., and become the proprietors of a favorite West Virginia destination, the Guesthouse at Lost River.

Located in Hardy County, the country inn has been a retreat for travelers from Washington and Baltimore since its opening in 1982. What started as a personal getaway for a real estate developer has become 30 acres adjacent to the George Washington National Forest that lures hikers, anglers, equestrians and folks who simply seek the verdant quiet of a secluded river valley.

"We're definitely a unique respite for the D.C. and Baltimore work force," Robinson said. "We're all about relaxation."

Onsite are spa amenities that include a gym, Jacuzzi and steam room and staff masseuse. Indoors are a pool table, media room and multiple fireplaces that invite a cozy afternoon. Outdoors are a swimming pool, patio and decking furnished for gathering. The style of the inn is rustic. However, the 18 guest rooms, spread among five buildings, all feature English-made Molton Brown bath and body products. Some rooms permit pets.

The inn first came to prominence as a gay-friendly resort that received glowing reviews in such publications as the Washington Blade. The new proprietors intend to keep that vibe, but extend it as well. "We are absolutely inclusive," Robinson said.

The inn also markets itself as a wedding and corporate retreat. Robinson said with 400 weekend homes in the vicinity, the lodge has always been gathering spot.

"If you think about the Lost River Valley as a country club, we're kind of like the clubhouse," he said.   

Additionally, Cooley and Robinson have localized the inn with the hire of Chef Joseph Hano, a native of Augusta, whose menus change frequently. 

"We're working with local vendors to get what's fresh and in season," Robinson said.

When strawberries ripened abundantly in May, the menu reflected it, even including a strawberry-steak salad. Long-time favorites such as filet mignon remain, but with the strength of chicken farming in the region, the proprietors are using that local product in a new way. A brown sugar-brined, oven-roasted chicken dish now on the menu reflects not only local poultry but also Robinson's palate for southern cooking.

The day-to-day business of hospitality has turned out to be more work than expected. "There are so many aspects of making the inn run," Robinson said.

But there are rewards. 

"It's a joy to have people come in," he said.