The GM of the Colony Palms Hotel Will Drive You to Blockbuster: A Q&A with David Dittmer

Constructed in 1936 by Purple Gang mobster Al Wertheimer (best known for co-orchestrating the Valentine’s Day Massacre with Al Capone), the hotel known as The Colonial House quickly became the town’s hot destination, known primarily as a speakeasy, brothel and gambling house. In 1951, during the heyday of Palm Springs, the property was sold to Robert Howard and renamed the Howard Manor, where it welcomed guests like Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin and boxing great Jack Dempsey over the next 25 years. After an extensive $17-million renovation with designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard, the Colony Palms Hotel is back to reassert its place in the new vibrant-again Palm Springs. We spoke with David Dittmer, the General Manager of the Colony Palms Hotel, to get an insider’s look at his hotel:

Where is your hotel located within your city? It’s in Palm Springs, and we’re located more towards Uptown, which is the newer and more up-and-coming area, called the Design District. All the trendier places are located here, and we’re in Palm Springs proper, so you can take advantage of both neighborhoods.

How long have you been with the property? I’ve been on since the opening of the hotel in 2007.

How would you characterize the overall feel of your property? If you’ve ever been to the Chateau Marmont, it’s a very historical feel, like that, but with a lushness to the landscape and the design, done by Martin Lawrence Bullard. Rather than feeling like you’re in the desert, which a lot of hotels here play up, it actually feels more like the South of France, or somewhere more tropical. It lends itself to that sophisticated glamour. I think one of the things that really defines the Colony Palms hotel from more design-centric hotels is that is really has soul. The physical part of the property has a lot of character and history. Everywhere you walk around, there’s a real heartbeat, which I think is why we’ve been popular with a very creative clientele.

What are some of its unique design features? We pull a lot from other parts of the world—two of our signature features, which you’ll find in every room are the custom Suzani tapestries on the headboards, which have become kind of the de facto signature of the hotel, and these French tiles which are handpainted cement. They’re sort of a pain to work with, they were all handmade in the South of France and shipped over, but they line our restaurant, the Purple Palm, and there’s a tile carpet in every room in front of the vanity. In general, the hotel is very colorful. I think modern, luxury hotels are scared of bright, vivid colors because when it goes bad, it’s very bad, but Martin Bullard is an expert—the restaurant is an amazing example of that.

What’s the best dish on the menu? As of right now, I think the handmade pastas which we do daily are pretty amazing. If I had to pick a signature dish, which is hard since the menu changes four times a year, the short ribs are really amazing on the fall menu. The chef is really into the farm-to-table thing; originally it was a very traditional fine-dining restaurant, but there’s an earthiness now too it, in the ingredients and the plating, that feels a bit more fresh.

Which room or suite is your favorite, and why? The casita is by far our most popular room type, and I love them—the interior is very basic, but it has these sliding glass doors that go out onto a private patio with an oversize sofabed, and a bathtub—it’s outside living that feels very luxurious and private. Even the TV is positioned so you can watch it from the patio and stay outside.

What’s a special amenity or service guests should be aware of? Our spa is small but the treatments are really amazing—we use this body product that’s very fresh and we’ve been known for these very unique treatments; our signature treatment is a facial detox.

Where do you send guests for a great night out? For a drink we’d send you to Birba, a really cool bar uptown with great cocktails and small plates, it’s got a lot of outdoor space. And Melvyn’s we love because it’s like a time warp of Palm Springs. It’s a remnant of the old resort culture from 50 years ago, with an old-school lounge and piano bar.

What’s the best place to shop in your city? The number one store in terms of furniture is BLVD, by far the best source of that midcentury modern furniture that everyone comes here for. Uptown is full of great little shops for all kinds of things, including Trina Turk for clothing, which was here right at the beginning of the resurgence of Palm Springs—she’s a big supporter of the place.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen happen at the hotel during your time there?

Robert Downey Jr. stayed here, and one day he was kind of hanging around, and he asked me where he could go rent a movie. I told him I’d run and get it for him, but rather than giving me a title he wanted, he jumped in the car with me and was like, “Why don’t we just go together?” So for a couple hours, it was just me and Robert Downey Jr. going to get some DVDs. He’s an incredibly smart and brilliant artist, and a really nice guy, but I think it also speaks to how comfortable our guests get with the staff, and how much they feel like a part of the family here.

The Boom Boom Room Is Doomed

A sweet tuxedo girl you see A queen of swell society Fond of fun as fond can be When it’s on the strict QT I’m not too young, I’m not too old Not too timid, not too bold Just the kind you’d like to hold Just the kind for sport I’m told Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-re!

The Boom Boom Room isn’t doomed at all, really — it’s just changing its name. A source tells me that “they were sort of trying out the name but decided we need a new one … we didn’t realize how many other Boom Boom Rooms were out there, one of the names André Balazs is considering is QT, as in on the QT.” For those who don’t know the expression it means on the quiet; it’s been around since the mid 1800s and was featured in the movie LA Confidential. It’s the Danny DeVito sign off of his newspaper column: “Off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush.”

QT or whatever it ends up being called is the best room ever. Changing the name will not take the boom boom from the room. There is nothing Standard about it. The crowd is wonderful, the design’s the best this town has seen so far, and the view is spectacular and romantic. I told Kamil Parchomienko, who’s running the room, that its old school elegance reminds me of the clubs in the old black-and-white movies where everyone wore a tux or a gown. Kamil said, “Yes, it makes everyone want to dress up,” and he had the courtesy not to look me up and down.

Opening night was all that I ever dreamed nightlife could be. It was like a Jay Gatsby, party only André Balazs is no phony. He is at the top of his game here. He has created and orchestrated the best room I’ve ever seen. Every door was opened by a gentleman with a polite hello or thank you. Every staff member was impeccable and intelligent and helpful with a smile on their beautiful faces. The only thing missing was pretentiousness so often found in the “best places.” It’s even better than what everyone is saying. Now the whole downtown hipster crowd may never embrace it, but the ones with substance will. I didn’t see much plaid in the room, but style ruled this roost. It is “the” best adult playground I’ve ever seen, and I left awed and inspired. Sometimes nightlife is like a big meal, and you leave it bloated and exhausted. I left the Boom Boom Room full but inspired and wanting more. There were no lines outside as you were either in or you were not, and it’s going to be like that. QT, if that’s what they end up calling it, is Old Hollywood, putting on the ritz New York, F. Scott Fitzgerald and all André Balazs. It’s not really “off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush” anymore — indeed it’s the talk of the town. I’ll use this new American slang to commend Mr. Balazs: he can talk the talk and he can walk the walk.

A text from BLVD honcho Eddie Brady read “Mr. Steve, Mr. Black’s preview party is tomorrow [that’s tonight] within their new home in the private area in the back of BLVD, coming?” That Eddie sure is clever, and yes I am. I would not miss it for the world. I don’t know if that message was for everyone though, so keep it off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush for now, OK? This is the perfect spot for Mr. Black. Although a bit smaller than Mr. Black guru Stuart is used to, its downtown location is a big plus. Much of Stuart’s crowd can stumble home from the Spring and Bowery location.

So Pink Elephant members shuffle into the Room Service space, displacing Mr. Black just as I get a message off the M2 mass text service declaring Tiësto and his considerable boom boom skills will be actualized at the 5th anniversary party this coming Tuesday at the Pink Elephant we all know on 27th Street. This is going to get testy — I can feel it. I hear the name is going to be fought for. It’s one of the best names ever for a nightclub, and it’s a brand that all parties worked hard to establish. Rocco Anacarola is still on 27th, while David Sarner goes to Room Service. So what will the Sarner Pink Elephant crew call the Room Service space? How about the Room Room, room?

There’s lots more to tell you but I’ll leave you with this off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush, despite denials and a huffy hush-hush “don’t print that.” Two and a half good sources swear that the Freemans Alley crew will land squarely in the the Kelley & Peng space at 2nd Street and the Bowery. I called Uva owner Massimo Lusardi, who has the lease, and asked him if he was involved with the Freemans dudes, and I was told a serious “no comment.” A no comment is not a “what the f are you talking about, that isn’t true at all,” and never will be. So for now I’m heading boom boom boom back to my room. Does anybody remember that Paul Lekakis song? Youtube it.

Ian Gerard & Gen Art

imageI’ve known Ian Gerard of Gen Art from the beginning. Gen Art parties are must-attend events that combine an eclectic mix of the film, art, and an amazing social scene in clubs around town. Ian was originally very hands-on with the details at every event, and he did everything short of popping the popcorn. He booked the films, did the invites, arranged for the after-party venue, got the liquor sponsor, invited the crowds, did the door, then went inside and schmoozed with everyone — and at the end of the night, he swept out the place. Gen Art has gotten too big for that much control, and Ian has delegated to a creative crew, but the upcoming Gen Art Film Festival has gotten better and better and more significant over the years. I stole Ian away from his furious preparations for this years’ festival to ask him a few questions about Gen Art.

What is your title at Gen Art? I am the CEO and co-founder.

Tell me what Gen Art is. We are a national arts entertainment company that showcases the best emerging talent in fashion, film, music and art. We’re based in New York but we have offices in LA, San Francisco, Miami, and Chicago. We produce fashion shows for young designers, film festivals, and screenings for independent filmmakers, live music events, art fairs, etc.

How long has it been going on? We started in 1994, so this is unfortunately a bad year, but it’s our 15th anniversary.

Right from the start you had a relationship with nightclubs, and you still do a lot of events at nightclubs. Why is that? The big thing is that we’ve always had a huge social element to all our events. It’s never been just a fashion show where you walk in, watch the show, and you walk out. It’s about bringing together the people that enjoy these art forms. We want them to see the shows, but we also want them to interact with each other. Obviously nightclubs are a place for social activities to occur, so whether we’re doing an event that’s actually taking place in a nightclub, or we’re doing an after-party for an event taking place somewhere else, there’s always that social element where people that have similar backgrounds can mingle and talk about what they’ve seen.

The Gen Art Film Festival is coming up; what are the dates? It’s April 1-7, and the tagline is “Seven Premieres and Seven Parties,” so we’re very upfront about the social aspect. There is a red carpet premiere each night followed by an after-party at one of the many hot spots in New York — for instance, this year we have events at Hudson Terrace, 1Oak, Antik, and then some that have been around a little longer like Home and BLVD. We do the big opening at The Park because we need a place that can hold 1,000 people.

So it’s not the Sundance Film Festival, it’s not the New York film festival — what is the criteria for this? What’s the difference between a Gen Art film and a Sundance film? There’s more of a difference in the format and the fact that we do only seven premieres — which mean’s it’s one short film and one feature, so we’re really highlighting a very small number of filmmakers. That means that you don’t have to be an industry insider to know what to see. If you go to Sundance, which is 150 different films, by the time you figure out what’s the buzzed-about film, it’s completely sold out. Here, because we’re doing only seven nights, any night is going to be a good film. So you don’t have to have the inside track; you can just pick whatever night you want to go, and it’s going to be an awesome film.

I see you promoting on Facebook, which is something I do also; it’s become an important part of getting my word out there, and it seems effective. Yeah, we just sold out two shows on Friday. I put the word out to my friends on Facebook because I wanted them to actually go out and buy tickets for the nights that I knew they were going to be more interested in. I got that out there before I even got the official invites out to our regular supporters.

I think it’s important to have this social aspect because I know that if I was going to a film that interests me, chances are that the people in the audience share some kind of creative interest with me. We have had weddings come out of Gen Art, and a lot of other stuff that doesn’t go anywhere near weddings, but yeah, it’s very social … it’s probably about 75 to 80 percent single people and people with similar interests, so it’s a great way to meet somebody. It gives you something to automatically talk about when you’ve just seen a great movie or a cool fashion show — it’s better than a pick-up line.

The Gen Art Film Festival is in New York; does it travel to the other cities you’re in? It doesn’t travel, but with Acura, who’s our title sponsor, we launched a secondary festival in Chicago three years ago that happens in June. It follows a similar format, but it’s a little smaller … it’s only four nights of premiers and parties. It’s the same basic concept, but there are different films.

And you plan expanding to other cities? What does Gen Art do in the other cities? We do the whole range of programming in other cities, but we don’t do the festivals — doing two is complex enough, so I don’t think we’re going to travel with it, and generally it really takes a lot of dollars, so Acura really made that possible. In the other markets we do our “Fresh Faces in Fashion,” which is our anchor fashion program that we do in all of our markets, in addition to special-event screenings and parties for independent films one night before they get released to the public. We do behind-the-scenes art collector tours of galleries and auction houses, dealers’ homes in all the markets, shopping events where we take the young designers’ items off the runway and you can buy then directly — 50 designers in one place on one night instead of having to travel all over the city to find them.

In the beginning it was all Ian Gerard — you did everything. How have you found delegation to be? How difficult has it been as the company grows to delegate responsibility to others? It definitely was a learning experience, and it took awhile to figure it out. But I quickly realized that the first thing I definitely had to delegate as the company grew was to people with expertise. I had a cursory knowledge of the art and fashion worlds, but once we actually started getting into that programming, I needed to bring on people that knew those worlds. So once I had a fashion director and a film director, it was easy to delegate to them. But in terms of the events, it’s a little bit harder for me to totally step out; I’m a little bit of a micro-manager, making sure we have a good list of people showing up, etc.

Blackbook is now available on iPhones and Blackberries; are you making those sort of moves? Will Gen Art be on a phone soon? We just finally got around to re-launching our website after about seven years, so that was our newest initiative; we’re trying to get a lot of our content out via the website, in terms of video contact from our events and things like that. We haven’t really gotten to the mobile scene yet. I know that’s the next frontier, but I think we need to conquer the internet first.

So you mentioned that it’s not exactly the best year to celebrate your anniversary; how is the economy treating you? It’s obviously a harsh economic climate out there, so one of the few nice things has been that consumer interest has not gone down at all. In all of our markets, we’re selling out tickets faster; I think people realize that our events are actually a great deal. Instead of going out to 1Oak and spending $18 on a drink just to go there for the night, you can come to one of our events that has the open bar built in, and it’s a whole packaged evening that’s not that expensive. For the film festivals, the regular night is only $30, and that gets you a premier and a two-hour open bar at these clubs — that’s a steal, because when I go out, I spend god knows how much money each night. So I think that the good thing about the economy is that people are focused on things that they enjoy and that are cost-effective. And one other really fun thing about the “Seven Premieres and Seven Parties” is that since we use a non-commercial theater — we use the SVA theater — we’re actually able to serve cocktails and drinks before the movies, so we get in the social aspect even before the films start, which is cool. You really have to give people something worth their money.

The Top 10 Acts to See at CMJ

Ah, the modern institution of the Indie Rock Music Festival. If there’s a better way for western youths to stay drunk for a week, I haven’t found it. And while drinking alcohol on its own may be a wonderful way to spend one’s time, it’s always better in the presence of live music. And unless you’re Usain Bolt and can sprint across avenues and bridges in record time, there’s no way you’ll get to see even a fraction of the bands playing at this year’s CMJ Music Marathon in New York City. So here are our picks for the top 10 shows to see at the fest. For a list of the top 10 liquors to get plastered on quickest, please consult your local bar wench.

1. Jay Reatard – at Maxwells on October 23 at 11 p.m. , because, while a little predictable, he’s the best rock star out there at the moment, and it’s always great to hear an artist that cites The Ramones and the Clean as major influences, rather than The Beatles and The Beach Boys.

2.Duchess Says – Mysterious as always, there’s no venue or date listing — because they are already legendary in their hometown of Montreal for truly brain-busting shows and kickass, balls to the wall, “take no prisoners and burn down the village” electro-rock.

3. Janelle Monae – At the Bowery Ballroom on October 23 at 8 p.m. Full disclosure: Just putting this one down because I think she’s unbelievably beautiful and has one of the wackiest music videos out there at the moment, “Many Moons.” Android Auction? Are you serious?

4. Land of Talk – At the Brooklyn Masonic Temple on October 24 at 8:30 p.m. Because these Montreal natives know how to get your ass shaking while still seducing.

5. Oakley Hall – At 92Y Tribeca on October 23 at 10:10 p.m. This Brooklyn six-piece does more than just rehash the southern-rock playbook. They tear it to shreds, set it to flames, and dance around its ashes.

6. Chris Bathgate – At Union Pool on October 22, 9:15 p.m. This Ann Arbor, Michigan, singer/songwriter is responsible for some of the most hauntingly dark country and folk out there at the moment.

7. The Del McCoury Band – At the Highline Ballroom on October 21, 10 p.m. It’s an old fashioned bluegrass jam, and their album with Steve Earle from 2001 (The Mountain) is on constant rotation on my stereo.

8. Crystal Castles — At Webster Hall on October 23 at 9:45 p.m. These Toronto glitch-freaks come as close to thrash metal as you’re going to get with MIDI samples and a drum machine.

9. HR (Bad Brains) – AtCrash Mansion upstairs at BLVD, on October 21, 11:45 p.m., because whether he’s with his legendary Washington hardcore band Bad Brains or a man alone, he is the real deal and a force of nature to be witnessed.

10. Apache Beat – At The Annex on October 21, 8 p.m. This Brooklyn-based band knows how to make powerful indie rock that sounds truly epic.