By Annalise DeVries
Photography by Stephen DeVries
When Patrick O’Connell was growing up in Washington, D.C., his parents would take the family on excursions through central Virginia to the Shenandoah Valley. These were the days before interstate highways, when small towns littered with gas stations and restaurants served as important stopping points for travelers traversing the country. Though Patrick had no way of knowing it at the time, he would later make a tire shop in the small, drive-through town of Washington, Virginia, into his own special corner of the world.
More specifically, Patrick has spent the last 37 years transforming the intersection of Main St. and Warren Ave. into a lavish retreat called the Inn at Little Washington. The endeavor began in 1978, when he opened a restaurant in the former service station. A self-taught chef, he set about combining the culture of French fine dining with American flavors, and quickly received rave critical reviews. He purchased the rest of the building a year later, and began creating the larger inn.
Patrick sees Washington as his ideal place in the world. Its rolling hills, he says, have a “calming, healing, and nurturing quality.” By establishing the Inn at the Little Washington, he has carved out a quiet sanctuary, free from the many distractions of urban life. “Our ultimate mission is to be true to the origin of our name as restaurateurs and actually restore people,” he says.
“Food is only one element in the process.”
Today, the Inn at Little Washington includes not only the original building, but also a property across the street, three nearby cottages, and a recently renovated parsonage. The surrounding grounds are home to gardens, a sheep pasture, and chicken runs.
Step inside any part of the Inn, and Patrick’s attention to detail is soon on display. Having worked with London designer Joyce Conwy Evans since 1981, vibrant color, and detailed patterns, and a touch of whimsy pervade the decor. The dining room feels like a storybook, with intimate tables and cozy, richly upholstered seating set under silk lampshades. While at the bar, monkeys dance in the wallpaper. Each element—from the bed linens to the breakfast menu—is crafted to put customers luxuriously at ease.
The real highlight of the inn experience is the food. Patrick’s culinary achievements have made the Inn at Little Washington a destination for gastronomes around the world. Here Patrick draws from classic French cuisine, while incorporating modern, multi-ethnic flavors and ingredients grown and raised on the property.
Patrick explains, "A great dining experience has the capability of increasing a guest's self-esteem and restoring the sense that life is worth living." One of the highlights for Patrick is hearing happy patrons as they depart the Inn making plans to return, and, next time, bring loved ones to share the experience.