If you have any doubt that downtown Eau Claire is changing rapidly and for the better, look no further than The Lismore, the towering, soon-to-reopen hotel.
Just over two years ago, the former Ramada Inn at the corner of South Barstow and Gibson streets had fallen into disrepair, and vacationers and business travelers steered clear.
“We knew Eau Claire needed a big investment in this property,” says Zach Halmstad, the entrepreneur who spearheaded the $20 million renovation. “We knew a small investment wouldn’t cut it. … We decided to take it upon ourselves, for better or worse.”
The project – now within days of final completion – definitely turned out for the better, giving the hotel an entirely new look and feel. (There’s even a new address: 333 Gibson St.) Nearly every surface, inside and out, is new. The aging exterior bricks were replaced with anodized metal panels in four shades of black, while the outside of the first floor is clad in pre-weathered Corten steel, which lend an urban yet earthy glow to the inviting entrances to the lobby, restaurant, and coffee shop.
Inside, 112 guest rooms are bathed in natural light thanks to larger, less-obstructed windows. The furniture is sleek and modern with a muted color palette; the rooms have warm wood highlights, including repurposed barn boards in the suites. The walls are papered with large-scale reproductions of 1920s newspapers from Lismore, Australia, which add an offbeat, historic touch. (Lismore is Eau Claire’s sister city and the hotel’s namesake.)
The Lismore and its associated dining establishments will be opening their doors to eager visitors and locals in the coming weeks. Eau Claire Downtown Coffee is scheduled to open Wednesday, April 20; the restaurant, The Informalist, will begin serving dinner on Thursday, April 28; and the hotel itself and its the second-floor bar, Dive, are slated to begin operation the first week of May.
Halmstad said he’s pleased with how The Lismore is shaping up. “We are right there,” he said of his initial goals for the project. “We wanted to have a really high-quality hotel, and we are delivering that.” The “we” is Pablo Properties, the partnership that owns the hotel; it is led by Halmstad, co-founder of JAMF Software, which employs about 200 people a few blocks away.
At various times over the years the 40-year-old hotel was a Hilton, a Holiday Inn, and a Ramada. (Now, coincidentally, it has come full circle and will operate under Hilton’s semi-independent DoubleTree brand.) Those familiar with the hotel’s previous appearance will be in for a (pleasant) surprise when they step in the door: The place is virtually unrecognizable.
The Informalist restaurant covers roughly the same footprint as the previous dining area, but it’s far more open. The restaurant is separated from the lobby by large glass doors and a long “art wall” created by Tim Brudnicki, a local woodworker, and Greg Johnson, of Artisan Forge Studios in Eau Claire. Across the hallway, in space that was previously rented out as offices, you’ll find Eau Claire Downtown Coffee (ECDC for short), which will offer coffee, baked goods, and grab-and-go foods.
Near the front desk, a new staircase has been installed, twisting its way to the second floor under an enormous print that will be recognizable to anyone who’s gazed through a beer glass at a coaster in The Joynt. The stairs bring guests to the bar, which has taken the place of the atrium-covered swimming pool.
The number of guest rooms in the hotel has decreased from 123 to 112, with rooms on the eighth floor being transformed into larger suites: There are five one-bedroom suites as well as two suites with two bedrooms and two bathrooms.
“The views are probably the best part of the rooms,” says Julia Johnson, also of Pablo Properties. From the upper floors guests get a bird’s-eye perspective on familiar landmarks (the rivers, Phoenix Park, UW-Eau Claire) as well as new ones (including the soon-to-be-finished Haymarket Landing complex and the yet-to-be-built Confluence Performing Arts Center a few blocks away). The panoramic views from the spacious eighth-floor suites are particularly breathtaking.
Not only did the rooms turn out beautifully, Halmstad says, but the hotel will offer food and beverage options that visitors and residents alike might not expect to find in Eau Claire. The Informalist will seat 120, with patio seating for 40 more outside, plus a private dining area. It features a L-shaped bar topped with 25,000 pennies, a massive mirror on the ceiling, a reclaimed oak floor, an open exhibition kitchen, and a custom-made wall print of Chopin sheet music (Halmstad majored in music at UW-Eau Claire). The restaurant will serve regional cuisine with international flair, featuring locally grown ingredients and a frequently changing menu.
While the guest rooms are about to open to travelers, The Lismore has already been hosting events for months: The convention halls were among the first parts of the facility to be renovated, and the roughly 20,000 square feet of space has already hosted everything from art fairs to fundraisers to presidential rallies.
Now the rest of the facility is poised to follow suit. As Johnson explains, “This is another step in fully revitalizing downtown.”