FIRST LOOK: A Sneak Peek Inside The Lismore

Tom Giffey, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

Opening in May, The Lismore hotel will feature 112 guest rooms
Opening in May, The Lismore hotel will feature 112 guest rooms, a restaurant (The Informalist), a bar (Dive), and a coffee shop (Eau Claire Downtown Coffee). See photos below.

If you have any question 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. Half of the rooms were unlivable, the hotel had lost its Ramada affiliation, and businesses were embarrassed to have clients or employees stay there.

“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. 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.

The Lismore's main eatery, The Informalist.
The Lismore's main eatery, The Informalist.

Focus on Quality

There have been the inevitable surprises and headaches of any renovation project, but 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.) As the quality of the hotel plummeted a few years ago, local businesses stopped accommodating their visitors there. Instead, JAMF bused visiting clients and employees to hotels on the outskirts of the city a few miles from the activity, culture, and nightlife of downtown, giving them a skewed view of the city. “The first night they were in Eau Claire, they’d say, ‘Why do you guys live in Eau Claire?’ ” Halmstad recalls.

Now that visitors will be staying at The Lismore, that question will likely become far less common. 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 (possible including) Aussie specialties), 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’s who’s gazed through their 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.

The view from one of The Lismore's suites.
The view from one of The Lismore's suites.

Another Step

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 an 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.

Halmstad and Johnson praised the staff they’ve hired to operate the hotel, including Rebecca Staats, a Chippewa Valley native who worked in the hotel business in the Twin Cities and Chicago before returning recently to become director of sales and marketing at The Lismore. Staats says she’s been impressed with the enormous level of community interest in the project, and has fielded a steady stream of calls from people interested in taking tours or booking events.

And 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 a rally by presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Now the rest of the facility is poised to follow suit. As Johnson explains, “This is another step in fully revitalizing downtown.”


PHOTOS: A Peek Inside The Lismore

They're still setting things up and organizing, but check out some interior shots of the soon-to-reopen hotel in downtown Eau Claire, including its restaurant, bar, and coffee shop. 

Interior and Lounge Area

The Informalist (The Lismore's Eatery)

Dive (The Lismore's Bar)

Eau Claire Downtown Coffee

Rooms and Suites