What defines a great hotel? A billion-dollar location certainly. Would the Plaza Hotel be the Plaza if it wasn’t sitting at the entrance to Central Park? Spectacular rooms? Of course. I’ll take a 4-poster bed with sumptuous pillows and a Juliet balcony at The Gritti Palace in Venice any day.
But I think the hotel industry has forgotten the one feature that can easily take a hotel from good to GREAT. And it’s not free WiFi, heavenly beds, or fragrance butlers. When renovating or building hotels, I’m suggesting that the Marriotts, Hiltons, and Hyatts of the world ignore the rooms, forget modern amenities and bring back a feature of legendary historic hotels: the killer lobby.
Think about every book you’ve read that features foreign intrigue. Something nefarious always happens as characters connect in the lobby. A note is bundled into a copy of The Times and passed slyly from a sweating agent in a linen suit to our James Bond-like hero who then vaults the bellhop’s cart to avoid splattering gunfire delivered by two evil henchmen.
It’s rumored that William Faulkner penned his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in the lobby of NY’s Algonquin Hotel. I wish I could time travel just to stumble upon him. “Hey, Bill,” I’d ask. “Could you possibly clarify a couple of points in ‘As I Lay Dying.’ They’ve bothered me since I got a 68 in AP English.”
If you’ve ever stayed in a historic hotel, the best of them have magnificent lobbies. They’re huge and comfy and inviting for a reason. The rooms are small. Really small. During a stay in Oregon’s Columbia Gorge Hotel, I resorted to walking across the bed to get to the other side of the room.
There were also no flat screen TVs in those old hotels. Folks migrated to the lobby to socialize. To read. To drink. To play cards. I know it sounds quaint and a bit twee.
But think about it. Self-help articles extol the virtues of a digital detox. We’re morphing into cellbots who stare at screens all day and have forgotten how to engage with one another. When traveling, don’t you retreat to the room, climb into your plumped-up bed, flip on ESPN, grab your laptop, and login to the hotel WiFi?
What if you brought a book downstairs to the lobby instead? Consider the embrace of a deep leather armchair, a roaring fire, and a brown liquor drink. The gentleman seated next to you opens up the same bestseller. You strike up a conversation. He’s no secret agent, but a dad shepherding his son’s baseball team to a travel tournament. A lively debate ensues about who makes the best hot dog in Chicago (You’re Team Portillo’s; he’s a fan of Jimmy’s Red Hots). Thank you, Mr. Stranger. I feel human again.
Give it a try on your next trip. Seek out a hotel with a famous lobby and, instead of shuffling back to your room with your morning coffee, grab a paper and a seat. Let the adventure begin!
Mysterious and weird things happen in hotel lobbies. Like a rave? That’s what happened recently during Marriott’s One Millionth Mobile Check-In.