July 25, 2012 at 11:09 AM ET
Convenient as they are for a quick bite, hotel restaurants can get a bad rap for uninspired menus and bland atmosphere — sometimes, deservedly so.
But there’s been a countervailing trend gathering strength since the mid-’90s, and some of the hottest restaurants are now opening in hotels, proving to be destinations for locals and tourists alike. As Spanish chef José Andrés says, with “so many great dining and drinking experiences in hotels, it is bringing back a golden age when hotels were the only places to meet out for a dinner.”
Savvy hoteliers like Ian Schrager, Andre Balazs and Steve Wynn were among the pioneers, seeing the possibility of luring guests with high-concept design and high-caliber culinary talent. “Vegas had a lot to do with it,” says Charlie Palmer, who has seven hotel restaurants. “They wanted the branding, not just someone to cook. They realized a lot of people travel by their stomachs, and a great restaurant from a well-known chef not only offers a great dining experience, it brings notoriety to a hotel.”
For chef Daniel Humm, of the three-Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park, opening a new restaurant at the NoMad Hotel in New York stoked his creativity. “We had the opportunity to think about the kinds of things people want to eat while they’re reading in the hotel library or soaking in a luxurious bathtub, things we had never done before,” he says.
Creating a distinctive identity can be crucial to a hotel restaurant’s success. At the Dutch at the W South Beach Hotel & Residences, chef and restaurateur Andrew Carmellini insisted on a separate street entrance (“No one wants to walk through a lobby to get to a restaurant,” he says) and contrasting music and décor. He says that, as a result, “the place feels authentic, like it has soul.”
Let’s face it: no one, even a jet-lagged, hungry traveler, wants to eat at a restaurant jam-packed with tourists. Travelers today seek experiences rooted in a place — and that’s the goal of many of these new hotel restaurants, including a newcomer at Atlanta’s InterContinental Hotel Buckhead that takes southern comfort foods to a new level.
“I really believe this is the future of our industry,” says Wolfgang Puck, who certainly helped fuel the trend; his latest in the revamped Hotel Bel-Air brings his hotel restaurant count to 16. “A great hotelier, a great restaurateur: it’s the perfect marriage.”
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