W Hotels Taps the Future of Fashion for ‘Fashion Next’ Program

Earlier this week, W Hotels Global Fashion Director (and fashion darling) Jenne Lombardo hosted a private party at the W New York – Union Square‘s new subterranean bar, Lilium, to kick off Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week and announce their latest lineup of Fashion Next designers. Now in it’s fourth season, W Hotels started Fashion Next to provide local and emerging talent with the opportunity to shine during fashion week and elsewhere. Past designers include cult favorites like Michael Angel and Nomia.

For fall 2012, W Hotels selected a blend of new and returning designers to represent the various genres of innovative fashion: Haus Alkire, Nomia, Suzanne Rae, Rochambeau, and Bibhu Mohaptra. They’ll host four of the designers’ presentations in the Box at MBFW and assist Mohapatra in producing his debut runway show in the Studio at Lincoln Center next Monday.
Peep the official W Hotels FW12 Fashion Next schedule above, and watch the spiffy promo video below.

Gabe Cardarella Stays with Starwood, Spikes Your Hot Chocolate

There’s no better way to learn about hotels than from frequent travelers, and if those travelers come bearing cocktails, then we’re all in. Gabe Cardarella, bartender and brand ambassador for Dewars, told us a little bit about his booze-soaked existence (in a good way), and filled us in on his favorite drinks

Where are you based and how long have you been there?
If you travel as much as I do for work, then calling anywhere home can be difficult.  The best answer I can give you is JFK, ORD, LGA, DFW and LAX.  I travel a lot.  Being the Ambassador for the best selling blended whisky in the United States to means I have a lot of ground to cover.  At the moment I’m in Hollywood, hosting a series of tastings at Jim Henson Studios, giving consumers a look into our double-ageing process that is so unique to our brand.

How many days a year are you on the road?
Last year I traveled roughly 240 days, this year closer to 280. The demand for the Scotch category as a whole is growing not just in the US, but all over the world, Dewars is no exception. This past summer, I spent my time visiting our Caribbean market in places like Curacao, Puerto Rico and Aruba where Dewars is one of the most popular spirits. 

Sum up your job in one sentence.
My main task is to bridge communication from the brand to the market place, sharing our whisky’s story with trade and whisky enthusiasts. 

What are your favorite cities to visit?
Every year I’ll spend a few weeks in Scotland, visiting out distilleries, brush up on the lasted techniques and spend time in our blending lab and bottling plant in Glasgow. Scotland is a beautiful place, everyone is very friendly and a limitless supply of Scotch, naturally making it one of my favorite places in the world. Next month I’ll be traveling to Hawaii for a week, which I’m sure won’t be so bad either.

Where/which are your favorite cocktail bars right now?
In LA, La Descarga is one of my favorite bars for custom cocktails, they’re making fantastic cocktails using scotch, my favorite being their take on the Dewars 12 Manhattan.  When I’m in the Midwest, Delilah’s in Chicago has one of the best whisky selections I’ve ever seen and places like The Brandy Library and Soho House in New York are great places to have a dram of whisky, to name a few.  For me, nothing beats a great dive bar.  Give me a good jukebox, bartender that knows my name and glass of Dewars 18 and I’m a happy man. 

What’s is your drink right now?
Lately I’ve been doing a lot of Dewars 12 Rusty Nails.

What’s the last great meal you’ve had?
Any time I can get a home cooked meal I’m psyched. If you’re reading this, Grandma, time for some spaghetti. 

What’s the best hotel you’ve stayed in this year?
The Scotsman in Edinburgh.  You get your own private loft with beautiful views of Princess Street. 

What makes a great hotel?
It’s all about the points. I’m loyal to Starwood, in fact just went platinum my last stay. Comfortable beds and a TV remote that works is a nice touch too. 

DEWAR’S Holiday Cocktails:

DEWAR’S Hot Toddy

1 part DEWAR’S® 12 Blended Scotch Whisky

3 parts hot water

1 tea bag

Honey and lemon juice, to taste

 Coat the bottom of a mug or an Irish coffee glass with honey. Add DEWAR’S 12 and the lemon juice. On the side, heat water in a tea kettle and add the tea bag to make hot tea. Pour the hot tea into the glass and stir.

DEWAR’S Hot Chocolate

2 parts Dewar’s 12 Year-Old

3-4 parts hot cocoa

Whipped Cream

In an Irish coffee glass, combine DEWAR’S 12 with hot cocoa/hot chocolate; top with whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa powder.

W Hotels Have New Concierge Robots & DJs

People are really taking advantage of their hotel concierges these days. Take the W Hotel. Not only does their concierge team suggest the best places to eat, drink, and shop in the area, and order up room service at the drop of a hat, but they are also personal DJs who help you plan your itinerary with tips on local happenings—and they Tweet for their guests. That’s because in addition to old-school human concierges, W Hotels now have robots—otherwise known as iPhone apps.

W Hotels recently released the W Hotels Worldwide app, a free application that provides information like photos, maps, booking capabilities, and mini travel guides surrounding each of the Starwood brand’s hotels. The apps also ups the ante by providing users with unique music content, curated by Michaelangelo L’Aqua, W Hotel’s music director. Through a collaboration with Coca Cola’s energy drink Burn, emerging DJs will be showcased via the ‘W Hotels and burn DJ Lab.’ There will be an offline component, too, a global tour featuring these DJs, which will also be streamed via the app.

You might be wondering what this has to do with your hotel stay—especially if you have no desire to listen to music (to which we ask: what’s wrong with you?). The app gives you access to room service at just a swipe of a screen, saving you from calling the front desk, or figuring out what extension to dial for towels versus tuna tar tar. Even if you aren’t staying in the hotel, you can order anything from their store and send it anywhere in the world.

TripAdvisor released the results of a US survey that said 60 percent of Americans have downloaded travel apps, and a further 38 percent have used them to plan a trip. To which we say: Download the BlackBook travel guides here! After you figure out what nabe you want to stay in, download the W Hotel app here.

The Hidden Charms of Generic, Low-Budget Corporate Chain Hotels

For our recent Presidents Day weekend getaway to Washington, D.C., my wife and I had originally planned to stay in some trendy boutique hotel – the kind with designer furniture in the rooms, modern art on the walls, and a sceney restaurant and bar filled with the city’s movers and shakers. After seeing the holiday weekend rates for a few of those trendy hotels, however, the idea of cashing in credit card points for a cheap corporate chain hotel suddenly became much more appealing. And that is how we wound up at the Four Points by Sheraton Washington D.C. Downtown. It was as cookie-cutter and bland as they come, but it was also worth every penny Starpoint.

Before I go on, a bit of disclosure: I used to have a freelance gig writing for thelobby.com, a blog run by Starwood, the hotel’s parent company. (Sue me, it paid well.) A corporate shill no more, I’m now free to dish on any hotel in the Starwood portfolio – Sheraton, W, St. Regis, Westin, Aloft, Le Méridien, etc. – without having to use the word “rejuvenate.” But I have nothing bad to say about the Four Points D.C. other than the ice machine on our floor didn’t work, which was a minor inconvenience since I brought along a cooler full of beer and Perrier. Because it actually ended up being a spectacular place to party and chill in D.C. for a couple of days.

Four Points is supposed to be the most downscale of the Starwood brands, geared toward convention attendees like Ed Helms’s character in Cedar Rapids, but the D.C. iteration is actually quite spiffy. They let us check in at noon, giving us a tidy room on a high floor (room 718) as we requested. The room was clean, decent-sized, and well-appointed. The bed was big and comfy, there was free wifi (which more expensive hotels tend to charge for, weirdly), a flat-screen TV with cable (on which we watched the latest episode of Shameless), and a nice framed black-and-white photo of the White House on the wall. It really wasn’t very different than our room at the much more upscale St. Regis Washington D.C., where we stayed over Independence Day, except the Four Points D.C.’s bathroom was a bit smaller and sadder and lacked a Mirror TV.

But the best parts of the Four Points D.C. were found outside the room. The fitness center, which we actually used, had well-maintained stationary bikes, elliptical machines, and treadmills, each with its own TV. And the Capital Grill restaurant, where we had lunch shortly after we arrived, had much better food than a chain hotel restaurant needs to have (try the pulled pork), along with the Best Brews program – a selection of five draft and seven bottled microbrews like Small Craft Warning Über Pils and Burning River Pale Ale. I had a pint of Rogue Dead Guy, which was a great start to the weekend.

Up on the roof, which would be the tenth floor if it was a floor, there is an indoor swimming pool, where we went after waiting the requisite 20 minutes after eating. The pool’s great, especially since so few people seemed to know or care about it. It’s glassed in like a greenhouse, allowing the winter sunlight to warm our lounge chairs (pictured), which were set among tropical plants. And it’s not a three-foot-deep pseudo-pool like you find at some hotels these days. The depth of the Four Points pool ranges from four to six feet, so even if you were drunk enough to dive in head first, you probably wouldn’t wind up paralyzed, not that I recommend that. I cannon-balled in without so much as dipping a toe in the water first. In an instant, I entered vacation mode.

Of course it’s still a little slice of shopping-mall America in the midst of Our Nation’s Capital, a fact that the 200 or so high school volleyball players staying there for a tournament wouldn’t let us forget. But they were having fun and so were we, acting like it was a five-star resort and spending the money we saved on a fancy dinner at Bibiana and expensive souvenirs from the Newseum. After 48 hours, we came to the conclusion that the generic nature of the Four Points by Sheraton Washington D.C. Downtown isn’t a bad thing at all. It means the hotel is a blank slate. It’s as cool as you make it.

Puerto Rican Luxury Means Your Own Private Beach

Starwood’s first Caribbean resort, St Regis Bahia Beach in Puerto Rico, brings a level of luxury to the island not seen in decades (it officially opened three months ago). First, let’s explain “luxury.” Luxury is back-bending, back-breaking service. Beach and pool staff will carry your towels, whether you like it or not.

You will have a welcome glass of champagne upon check-in, only to be topped off by a welcome mojito in your room made fresh at your request. Your room will be turned over twice, with candles lit on your balcony at night. All 139 rooms come with an appointed butler. The Remede Spa exceeds 10,000 square feet and expectations. Luxury is the Jean-Georges Vongerichten signature Fern restaurant offering a gourmet lover’s menu of local ingredients. Best of all, luxury is a two-mile beach you’ll have practically all to yourself.

image While the 483-acre resort is completely isolated on its own beachfront paradise, there’s no shortage of activities. image You can go on nature hikes (the resort is located on a former coconut plantation right at the edge of Bahia Nature Reserve), take tennis classes, opt to golf at the Robert Trent Jones Jr-designed golf course, laze at the pool, have a drink at the Fern bar or, like me, just walk around barefoot all day on the beach with your Blackberry locked away in your safe. image

The New Downtown: W New York Downtown Hotel Opens

What is Downtown? Is it a location or a state of mind? The new W New York – Downtown hotel is located so far downtown that if it went any farther south it would be swimming with Luca Brasi. Out of the ashes of tragedy, a new downtown is being born. It isn’t the old Financial District that’s being reconstructed, but a new vision, a new idea, a new city. As glass and steel is welded and manipulated into place, the W is focusing its energies on the soul of the area. For many, the area still brings back hard memories, but going there is also an opportunity to honor courage, and strength, and the reasons we all live here. The new downtown is all about residences and nightlife and amenities that just a few years ago were not available without going at least a good mile north. I used to live in Tribeca, just north of this developing district, but far enough south not to find what we are used to finding. Getting an OJ at midnight was an ordeal. Laundry, restaurants, and fun was a trip to another hood. The new downtown has almost all the services you would ever need, and every day what’s missing is being addressed. It’s becoming a self sufficient little burg. It feels like another city, until you walk into the W. Then it feels like home. I caught up with the grand dame of the WNYDH, the lovely Sofia Vandaele, and asked her what it’s all about.

You are the general manager of the W Hotel on Albany St. It’s W New York Downtown and our official address is 123 Washington St. We’re on the corner of Albany, just a block south of the World Trade Center perimeter, and two blocks away from Wall St.

I just got a tour of the hotel, and it’s spectacular. And I’m not just saying that—I think it’s absolutely beautiful. This area is booming now. The old is being washed away and the new is going up. How does the W Downtown, the WNYDT, intend to embrace this neighborhood? What are you trying to do here? Well, when you look at the neighborhood, the first feeling you have is a sense of energy, and we’re a part of it. There’s a lot of regeneration, a lot of revitalization happening in this area, and not just with new buildings and construction. I think it follows you in every aspect of life here. Whether you come to work, whether you come to live here, it’s the fastest growing residential community in greater New York. It’s a community for us, as a hotel, to reach out to.

For people looking for an apartment in New York, something I’m doing right now, this area has always been an area where you can find good rent, because there’s been nothing here. In the past, you couldn’t get groceries, you couldn’t get this, you couldn’t do that. There was nothing here, but that’s changing rapidly. Massively. You almost sense that people really come here to live in New York. You get an area where people live and work that has a fantastic Whole Foods close by, that has a phenomenal Bed Bath and Beyond, great restaurants in the Battery Park City area. Stone St. is going through a revival, South Street Seaport, and everything in between. Plus the area is accessible from anywhere in Manhattan, and it’s also accessible to niche areas, Governor’s Island, for example.

And there’s a waterfront. Are you basically servicing the guests in the hotel with your food and beverage strategy, or are you hoping that the neighborhood will feed you as well? Do you expect people from the traditional downtown, or other parts of Manhattan, to travel here? All of the above. With the 58 floors we’ve built here, WNYDT is a hotel, but it’s also 223 residential units. It’s really about being part of a residential community. Our BLT Bar and Grill is a 24/7 experience, because the person that works down here will come with a colleague for a drink. Then they might go for dinner at BLT Bar and Grill, or invite friends over for after-dinner. On the weekend they come back with the family.

This neighborhood is expanding. As I look out this window, the Deutsche Bank building is being taken down two floors a week. The neighborhood is growing exponentially. Can the hotel grow? Is there a roof? There are different parts of the hotel that will definitely be activated. Our key element is on the 5th floor. Our Living Room bar and terrace has no equal downtown. We will definitely tap into our connections to get the best possible drinks on the menu. We’ve worked with celebrity mixologist Charlotte Voce. She’s put a fantastic cocktail menu together. We have the outdoor space, a complete wraparound terrace on the 5th floor bar that really nobody else has. But at the same time, BLT Bar and Grill is our culinary provider throughout the whole building, and next summer they’ll have an outdoor space on our public piazza in the back on the hotel. We have our own DJ booth. We have a music director

Who’s your music director Michaelangelo L’Acqua

He’s an old friend of mine, he’s part of my family. So Ma, as he is known.

New York City is the only major city I can think of that has a waterfront but rarely uses it. You’re downtown, you’ve got Battery Park, you have these new developing spaces, Battery Park and Riverside Terrace. Do you believe that the water can be developed into a major attraction? We’re really at the tip of Manhattan. We’re surrounded by water, and I think that flux of energy in itself is felt. Whether you arrive from Brooklyn via water taxi, or you come around the tip of Manhattan, or you come to the World Financial Center, you have a little harbor here.

SV:Hotels are increasingly being driven by hospitality. Most hotels are being hospitality retro-fitted. You built this hotel around hospitality. How important is hospitality to a hotel? It’s the core. What’s so unique about the positioning of W is that we build everything around the core of our “Whatever, whenever” service. We strive for that passion, that personality within our people that will consistently deliver that “whatever whenever” service. It’s in small little things. We had such an amazing experience this week. There was a young boy here who just had surgery, wasn’t feeling well, and our doorman, Richie, took it upon himself to actually build a rapport. He said to managers, “I really want to do something for this kid.”

What did he want? Charleston Chews. The candy. Oh, they’re amazing—don’t have them, or else you won’t stop. So you know, the kid said, “That’s my favorite candy.” So we got them and sent him a note with the sweets that said “From your buddy Richie. That’s whatever, whenever. You go that extra mile. It’s the core hospitality spirit. It’s small things, sweet simple things, or it’s big wow experiences. You can book a chopper or a helicopter to go to your house in the Hamptons. We’ll get it arranged for you

You people know where to get Charleston Chews in this town? We actually found them in a small deli close by.

Are hotels the future of New York nightlife? I think they have been for a while, and I think they will continue to be an important part of the nightlife. We don’t just offer the bar or club experience. You can come and have a fantastic dining experience. You can have great drinks, but you also have the music, you have fashion. It’s much more about the 360 degree experience.

You’ve got the Ace Hotel, you’ve got the Standard hotel, you’ve got the Gansevoort Hotel, and of course Ian Schrager. Gotta give Ian credit for starting the boutique hotel. That’s what people say, anyway. How did the industry change after this? W brand is evolving. What did you borrow, steal, learn from the experiences of these other NY brands that have broken so well. The Standard, in particular, had a way of regenerating the Meatpacking District. We really feel the W has led the pack of these lifestyle hotels for 12 years already. When W Union Square came to that area, it added something, and we really feel that WNYDT, as a hotel, will be the catalyst to assist people like the downtown alliance and other partners that are so critical to the success of downtown. We will definitely be a catalyst to help them succeed in putting downtown, as a destination, on the map.

How did a nice girl like you come to this? Well, for me hospitality, literally, comes from within, it comes from the heart. It’s something that I grew up with. My mom and dad they were in hospitality industry In Belgium. It’s something that I have always embraced as a passion. I’ve been with Starwood for close to 15 years. When I started in hotel operations, it was like a tailor-made jacket. And then I got an opportunity here in NY, so it was a designer jacket that I got to put on. It’s an amazing brand to be with.

You’re a busy gal. Where do you go out and play? I live near Nolita, so my neck is definitely East Village, LES, Nolita. I love Madame Geneva, I think it’s a great. It’s the back of Double Crown. Everybody knows double crown! I’m Belgian, so I love steak frites, which is my national dish, and I go to Lucien for that, which is on 1st and 1st. Lucien is great, and the Pink Pony is obviously another one.