Color Your World: Our Top Five Art Hotels

There’s something to be said about surrounding yourself with great works of art. Take advantage of the fact that more and more hotels understand this, and are eschewing the generic sunset watercolor that’s long been a hotel staple, for more refined pieces. Here are the top five hotels who take art seriously. 

If you dream about Renaissance elegance: The Rome Cavalieri, owned by Waldof Astoria, sits perched over the hills of Rome, and while it plays up the palatial atmostphere, it’s the $700 million dollar art collection that will truly have you feeling royal. Works from the old masters abound, from the lobby to the spa. But things get more modern with Andy Warhol originals adorning some of  the rooms.

If you wish you could dive into a David Hockney: Popular with both Los Angeles natives and those looking for a quick SoCal weekend escape, Shutters on the Beach has a lot to recommend: the prime Santa Monica real estate has easy access to the beach and the pier, as well as an award-winning restaurant serving fresh California cuisine. But it’s the all-American art collection, including luminaries like Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, and Frank Gehry, that really gives the property a sense of style, as well as a sense of place.

If you’re sad you missed out on the Chelsea Hotel’s glory days: The New York art scene has always been transient in nature, with talent coming to feed off the city’s creativity. So it makes sense to capture that spirit in hotel form. Ian Schrager’s Gramercy Park Hotel was designed by artist Julian Schnabel (himself a fixture on the downtown art scene) and is adorned with pieces from provocateurs like Damien Hirst, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Richard Prince, as well as serving as a clubhouse for the new class of creative types and those who love them.

If you wish you could do contemporary art like a Chinese mogul: Design in Hong Kong is an integral part of the city’s fabric, from the attention paid to feng shui in the business district, to the museums and public art that have grown along with the city’s presence on the international art circuit. Hotels have followed suit, creating art and design-focused hotels from the small (like the boutique Upper House, centered around Hiroshiwata Sawada’s atrium piece, “Rise”) to the Langham Palace Mongkok, a massive 42-floor tower housing more than 1,500 pieces of contemporary art—there’s a free iPod tour to help you work your way through the collection as you move about the hotel.

If you’d rather step inside the artist’s studio: The James Chicago has fostered local artistic talent since it opened about a year ago, with works like the wall installation by Demarcus Purham in the lobby, and the installation “Room 28” by Joel Ross in the permanent collection. They’ve also been collaborating with the Monique Meloche Gallery to find work to rotate through the hotel’s other public spaces. Most recently, that was done through an artist-in-residence program, where five young artists competed against each other to come up with a work for the hotel’s collection. Winner Kristina Estell took the mandate to find inspiration in the hotel literally, sealing leaves from the hotel’s shrubbery in tape, and incorporating them into a work between two panes of glass.

Industry Insiders: Brad Wilson, King James

Back in September, the James New York opened in Soho. It’s hard to make a serious racket in New York’s over-saturated hospitality market, but with their rooftop bar Jimmy attracting a young, professional crowd, and the recently-opened David Burke Kitchen fast become a hub for foodies, the James is staking its claim as one of the city’s premiere hotels.

Brad Wilson is the man largely responsible for the James’ emergence, having spearheaded their first major opening in Chicago. As VP of Operations for W Hotels Worldwide, Wilson was a member of the founding team of what’s now one of the world’s largest and most popular hotel chains. He jumped ship in 2005 to join The James Hotel Group as its CEO, and is now the COO of parent company Denihan Hospitality Group. Here’s Wilson on his start in the hotel business, why he left W, and the future of the James.

What was the first job you had in hotels? I was an elevator operator in Chicago at the Drake Hotel.

Was working in the hotel industry aspirational? It was, actually. That was the year before I went to college. My mother owned a catering firm and bakery, so I kind of grew up in the kitchen, working catering jobs, leaving school and chopping carrots, then eventually serving. So I always wanted to progress, originally thinking I would go into the restaurant business. The whole events process kind of defined my life, and so my mom taught me to throw really good parties, and that’s kind of been the direction of my life since then. When I was young, I was first thinking about going into restaurants.

Where did you develop the business acumen that you obviously need in your position? I went to Cornell hotel school, so I have a Bachelors in hotel management, but I have a MBA from my mother. After I left Cornell, I actually did work at the Plaza in NYC, and was the manager of the Oak Room. After being there for a while, my mother had started a commissary bakery, baking desserts for a lot of the big restaurants in Chicago, so she asked me if I would come back and take the wholesale bakery she was working on and develop a retail line of bakeries for that. So after a couple years at the Plaza, I left and went to Chicago to open this new business, which was a chain of retail bakeries. We did everything from really great brownies to cookies, and the world’s most amazing cinnamon rolls and coffee cake. It was my job to go out and find a location, hire an architect to design and build it, staff it, open it, develop the delivery systems, the accounting systems, and all this stuff to just build the business. So I jokingly say I got my MBA from my mom, because she gave me this truly entrepreneurial opportunity. It’s a very small microbe of what I do today. Today we find locations, we build hotels, we design them, create them, and open them. A lot of what I do is not that far off from what I did before, but just on a much larger scale.

What mark did you leave on the W that we can still see today? I’m the guy that actually coined the phrase, “Whatever, whenever.” So I guess that’s a big one, because they overuse that today. Back then, I was proud of it.

During what stage of W’s evolution did you get on board? I was one of the first people hired for W. I think there was one woman, Diane Briskin, that did the marketing, that was hired before me. I came in right after her to develop the operations side of the branch for our first opening, which was the W New York on Lexington. I was there before it was called W, when it was called Urban Eclectic Group. image The lobby at the James.

Were you involved in the birth of the James or did you come in when it already existed? I guess I was pre-birth. I came in shortly after the first James opened in Scottsdale. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the James Scottsdale, but it was kind of this fun-in-the-sun little resort, not so much the James you think of today. The guys that had partnered to do that hotel — which was Danny Errico, the founder of Equinox gym, and Steve Hansen, the owner of Be Our Guest restaurant — opened that hotel, and then turned to me. I had worked with Steve when he had done some restaurants for us at W, so we were all friends, and they really wanted to get into the hotel business and create a company, so I came in to build a hotel company out of this initial hotel project.

The staff at your New York location is stunningly nice. We believe that nice starts at the top, and in turn we try and really build a nice culture. We use a term around our office, “Classic hospitality,” which at a boutique hotel seems kind of odd to say. We really try and come back to the ideas of a guest-centric focus. It’s nice to be well-designed and all that, but in the end it’s nice to be well-designed for the guest. We really try and focus on that and we really feel that if you’re in the hospitality business and you start with nice, hire nice, be nice, nice will come out to the customer. Every comment I get is like, “Your people are so nice!” We get it all the time from Chicago, and everyone was saying it’s because you’re in Chicago and it’s the Midwest, and that you won’t be able to do it in New York, but we do.

Were you worried about opening another hotel in an already crowded New York Market? How will you distinguish yourself? We’re going to define ourselves by quality. A lot of hotels go through whatever their trick is of the moment, whether it’s the shark in the lobby or whatever. But if you build it on quality design, not just trendy design, but quality design — our top designers are really rooted in classic modernism, and you’ll find we’re going all the way back into mid-century hand-craft that you’ve seen in Frank Lloyd Wright — not on things that are flashy and unique, a true sense of elegance that’s a little more sophisticated will emerge. It’s more subtle than a lot of our boutique competitors. Hanging out in our lobby is not quite so showy.

The lobby in New York is incredibly welcoming and homey. It’s kind of interesting, because when I was at W, we did a lot of the “wows,” and we had this flaming bar and all that kind of stuff. One of the things I saw a lot of earlier in my career, as far as boutique hotels go, is that people don’t actually want to come to their hotel and have people in their face with martinis and that kind of stuff. Sometimes you just want to be a little intimate and have a quite moment. We have those opportunities, where you can retreat.

Can you talk about the future of the James? One of the reasons I left W was because I thought it was becoming too big to be kept into a consistent model. So big is not necessarily our goal. I do think we can be in several cities, and we certainly want to be in LA and Miami, and then after that, San Fran or Seattle, Boston, Washington…

Do you view W as competition? Not really. I can see us competing with Morgans to a certain extent. We do independent luxury and it’s a slightly different niche than the W — the customer is a little bit different, and they might even reject the idea of W being too much of a chain.

Top 12 Hotels for a Dirty Weekend

These are getaways for lovers — or lusters — only, without the family, just-good-friends, kids, laptops (lap dancing and clothing optional) or other encumbrances. Either you want to see and be seen, or you don’t. Whether you’re after an in-room Jacuzzi, couples massages, meals, or just a fireplace and a view, read on.

Pan Deï Palais (Côte d’Azur) – A princess’ historic palace turned boutique hotel in the heart of St. Tropez. With only 12 guestrooms, the palace is exclusively reserved for hotel guests — so unless the people you’re trying to avoid are staying there, you’re safe. Valmont treatment fit for a princess are available in guestrooms and spa. Also rans: Château de la Chèvre d’Or, L’Hôtel Du Cap – Eden Roc, La Réserve Ramatuelle.

Ritz-Carlton (Chicago) – The Ritz-Carlton (a Four Seasons Hotel which makes it a double whammy) has a special weekend suite. After drinks in their Greenhouse, and couples massage in the Kiva Spa (or in-room), have sushi delivered from Kamahachi on Wells Street for a sultry beginning to a long weekend. Also rans: Trump International Hotel & Tower, The Drake Hotel, The James Chicago.

The Address (Dubai) – Possibly the only example of design restraint anywhere in this town, but never fear — you can still glance out the window at the world’s tallest building across the lagoon. The eight bars and restaurants serve high-class eclectic without the gold-foil-sushi trytoohardy madness found elsewhere. Spa Suites probably the most hip yet peaceful hotel accommodation in the Emirates. Also rans: One & Only Royal Mirage, Burj Al Arab.

Hilton Baltimore Convention Center (Baltimore) – Who, besides John Waters, is going to see you in Baltimore? Half the rooms and the fitness center face Camden Yards for sports fans. This big-box hotel actually feels a little homey, with works of local artists adorning public and private rooms, blueberry pancakes delivered by room service, and in-room pampering from Spa Sante. Their beds can, quite literally, put you to sleep — if you‘re not careful. Also ran: Admiral Fell Inn.

Sunset Marquis (Los Angeles) – Granddaddy of all the rock ‘n roll hotels meanders over an entire city block. Much has changed since Flea jumped for the swimming pool — and missed. The hotel bought all of the surrounding houses and turned them into villas, complete with swimming pools, Jacuzzis, and gardens combined for an in-town oasis. Try the one Keith Richards uses, complete with a gym they built for him (no kidding).You’re lucky if the waiter can find you, much less an angry spouse. Also rans: The Charlie, Andaz West Hollywood, Hotel Bel-Air, Chateau Marmont.

The Palms (Las Vegas) – The Fantasy tower is filled with one-of-a-kind suites with names like Erotic Suite, the Hugh Heffner Villa, the Barbie Suite, the Hardwood Suite — you get the picture Also rans: Four Seasons Hotel, Wynn Las Vegas, Red Rock Resort Casino Spa.

The Mayfair (London) – The Suite Seduction weekend package includes intimacy enhancers by Agent Provocateur (e.g. a paddle whip), champagne, Jo Malone essences, late checkout, chocolate-covered strawberries, unlimited internet service, music, movies, and chauffeured pickup from the airports (for an extra charge of £180 pounds), beginning at £1,500 for the Schiaperelli suite, the Opium suite, or one of ten others. Also rans: The Dorchester, Brown’s Hotel.

The Tides (Miami) – Redesigned by Kelly Wearstler, the hotel features just 45 suites, each with a view of the ocean. Intimate cocktails are available in the lobby — or in your suites — as is cuisine from La Marea’s chef Gonzalo Rivera. Also rans: Fontainebleau Miami Beach, The Standard, Mondrian Miami, Viceroy Miami.

Hotel Opus (Montreal) – Boutique hotel with modern design in an original avant-garde structure built in 1914 in the historic setting of downtown Montreal. Early art nouveau outside with an interior curving staircase by architect Dan Hanganu; a hot-hot-hot spot with Koko Restaurant and Bar featuring Pan-Asian cuisine. Minimalist guest rooms are nevertheless luxurious. Also rans: Hotel Le-St-James.

Hôtel Fouquet’s Barrière (Paris) – One of those discreet lovers’ magnets: silk linens, personal butlers, huge mirrors that turn into televisions (there are even tellys above the Jacuzzi bathtubs). “Paris by Night” package includes welcoming caviar and champagne, intimate breakfast each morning, champagne dinner at Le Diane restaurant, and transport to and from the airport at 1,599€ nightly with a two-night minimum stay. If you actually want to be seen, the “Paris C’est L’Amour” package takes couples on a photo shoot to duplicate Doisneau’s famous photograph “The Kiss” (Le Baiser, taken in 1950). Also rans: Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme, Hôtel du Petit Moulin, Hôtel Plaza Athénée.

Sky Lodge (Park City) – Off the hook. Every room has a Japanese hot tub on the balcony, granite countertops, Subzero stainless kitchens, and a private bar and cocktail lounge for hotel guests only. Also ran: The Chateaux at Silver Lake.

The Mansion on O Street (Washington DC) – The most luxurious hideaway for a dirty weekend in this three-piece-suit city. Off DuPont Circle, everyone who stays there is so famous that nobody — but nobody– will notice you. No keys: each guest gets a code, and none can be reached by telephone unless the guest provides the caller with a room name, as in: the John Lennon room; the Log Cabin suite … Also rans: Mayflower, Hay Adams, The Willard.

Hotel Mini Bars Slashing Prices, Gettin’ Fancy

Bars are expensive. And people are broke. So it’s no wonder in-room service is on the rise these days, with nearly 77% of travelers taking advantage of in-room selections once during their stay. With that in mind, some forward-thinking hotels in cities around the US have amped up an oft-dismissed amenity to keep their guests from straying and spending shiny nickels elsewhere. To keep you and yours in-situ and in-ebriated, these sharp crash pads are offering beefed-up luxury versions of their mini bar. We’ll call it the not-so-mini bar. You’ll call it your little in-room drinking buddy. Check out a few examples of the haute mini bar done right.

Gansevoort South, Miami – Basket snacks under $3 and Dean & Deluca treats. 375mL bottles of Grey Goose, Bacardi, and Bombay paired with Red Bull, juices, and a variety of sodas in the appropriate glassware; rapid ice delivery comes in bottle service fashion from hotel staff. Bring the pool party back to your room.

The Liberty Hotel , Boston – 19th-century jail turned 300-room hotel with mini bar instructions for Stirrings’ mixers. Play amateur bartender with the “25th Hour.” A rousing 1.5 parts Belvedere vodka, ½ part Red Bull, and a splash of pomegranate. Mix together in a martini glass. Instructions say serve immediately, often, then proceed to place the hotel’s lampshade on your head.

The James Chicago – For the Sasha Petraske wannabe in all of us. A signature mixing glass, strainer, tongs, spoon, and corkscrew are standard amenities at the James, where 13 top-shelf liquors, an extensive list of mixers, and four types of eco-friendly water ensure the proper cocktail for drinkers and non-drinkers alike. Also available is an umbrella, mile high kit, and 16 midnight munchers. Handlebar mustache — de rigueur for any self-respecting neo-mixologist — not included, but can be crudely drawn on after consuming several self-muddled cocktails.

Business as Usual at the James Hotel Chicago

So you’re going to Chicago on business, which is either true or just what you tell your wife. Where do you stay? You could crash at your cousin’s place in Wicker Park, but that wouldn’t be very high-powered-exec of you. May we then suggest The James, a boutique of a hotel which specializes in staying in tune with the needs of the modern business traveler (that’s you).

To optimize your chances of negotiating that big deal while on the road, the James has on offer something called The Office, which is a work space that can accommodate up to six people, and is equipped with all the amenities you’ll need to always be closing. Guests using The Office may also order AV equipment, flip charts, and laptop computers, or take advantage of The James’ full in-room dining menu catered by the adjoining David Burke’s Primehouse. The steakhouse has its own 2,500-pound bull nicknamed “Prime,” due to his capacity to sire offspring that achieve the coveted USDA quality grade of prime, which less than three percent of the 35 million head of animals graded annually in the United States achieve. Be sure to avoid the crowd at the Primehouse bar, which often spills into the lobby. That is, until you get all your work done. Once that happens by all means, get wasted.

Industry Insiders: David Burke, Foodie Wizard

David Burke builds a foodie empire, parties in Vegas, drinks up a new name, and pours some out for Jerz.

Point of Origin: I was born in Brooklyn, and left there as a one year old, and went to the Jersey Shore. Although I trained at the Culinary Institute of America, I traveled to France where I spent several stages with notable chefs such as Pierre Troisgros, Georges Blanc, and Gaston Lenôtre, but eventually returned to the US as a sous chef for Waldy Malouf at La Cremaillere, and then worked for Charlie Palmer at River Café. Charlie hired me as [his] number two, which is how I got back to Brooklyn where I lived for ten years. Two years under Charlie, then five years as a chef.

Occupations: In 1992, I opened the Park Avenue Café with Smith & Wollensky CEO Alan Stillman. My first cookbook, Cooking with David Burke, was published in 1995, the same year I became Vice President of Culinary Development for the Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group. In 2003, I teamed up with Donatella Arpaia to open davidburke & donatella. My second book, David Burke’s New American Classics, was published in April, 2006. I then purchased Fromagerie, a fine dining restaurant in Rumson, New Jersey where my culinary career began under founders Markus and Hubert Peter. David Burke Las Vegas opened in the Venetian hotel 2007. Back in 1996, I launched David Burke at Bloomingdale’s, offering both a full service “Burke Bar Café” on one side and a “Burke in the Box” take-out/eat-in on the other … then David Burke’s Primehouse in the James Chicago Hotel.

Any non-industry projects in the works? Table to Table in Bergen County: Each year we honor a chef and a restaurant. Everybody thinks Jersey is Siberia, but all of the money we raise goes to feed the poor, and the support is good. Claire Insalata Poulos partners with this. Everything is tied to the industry, QVC in pots and pans, and we’ve shot a pilot of a day-in-the life of what goes on in the life of a celebrity chef, budgeting, staying ahead of the curve, working out consulting projects, and the fun part of the night when you let out some steam. I fly all of my chefs for a weekend in Vegas. It’s actually funny; it captures the people and the corporate office. We’ve got a television project going with the Gordon Ramsay temper — it’s not the focus of the show, but it sells. We’ve got a little bleeping there about the mashed potatoes.

Favorite Hangs: I’ve got to tell you, I like the neighborhood restaurants like Geisha, Aureole, and of course my own in Bloomingdales. I live in Jersey, and there are two or three places I go: Grissini in Englewood Cliffs; River Palm, Armando, J.D.’s, a rib joint, and a Korean barbecue place I can’t even pronounce (that does sushi and bbq). And I try new restaurants in New York. I don’t tend to go back because there are so many new restaurants to try. I’m not a nightclub guy, I’m just too busy to hang out. When I go to other cities, I dine out more than I do in New York — you’re never in a rush when you go to a neighborhood restaurant with Springsteen.

Industry Icons: I got to tell you, I’ve worked for Alan Stillman and Buzzy O’Keefe, and without Buzzy O’Keefe, I wouldn’t be here. Alan taught me a great deal about managing, marketing, and knowhow. I like Drew Nieporent a lot; he’s a down-to-earth real guy — he got his hands in the kitchen in the front, so he’s got his finger on the pulse of what’s happening, and we’re close. Annie Meyer, and of course the chefs I’ve worked for like Daniel Boulud, Wally Malouf. I like some of the service guys: wine guys like Josh Wesson, and Joey DeLissio who has been at the River Café before I was, and is one of the best out there. My son is now in restaurant school as of Monday — he didn’t tell me he was going to apply, as he didn’t want me pulling strings for him at the CIA, so he started at Johnson Wales in Providence in restaurant management. I always tell him to work for the best guy, and he wants to do it all himself. My other son is a junior at the University of Vermont.

Who are some people you’re likely to be seen with? I’m really friendly with all the chefs, and if I’m out, Rick Moon, Wally, Terry Brennan — when I see guys, most chefs connect. Daniel and I see each other at events, Drew and I get together as families; his brother and I are on the board of a charity together.

Projections: We’re at a turning point in the community and company: We bought Donatella out recently after five years, we’re opening a fish restaurant, and we’re expanding the fast-casual and the steak concept. We’re reinvigorating the lollipops, flavor sprays, pots and pans line, another cookbook … But we want to take it at the right pace — we’ve opened very quickly, but the future means having a great core of people around you. We’re hard workers, but it’s hard to keep your hand on everything. It’s a big family of restaurants, and we want to build nice restaurants with nice people working for us. The goals are quality and profitability.

What are you doing tonight? I’m picking a name for my new fish restaurant. We’ve been playing with 20 names for 45 days, and tonight we’re getting together 10 guys and a bottle of wine to wrap our hands around the new restaurant and chef. Tomorrow is designers, a writer for the day, catering on a yacht. We’ve got a catering company opening next January in New York City. Rumor has it that we’re going to be consulting for the new Yankee Stadium. I’m a Mets fan, but … when the Yanks win, it hurts my business! I’m a Giants fan!