Hotel lobbies go way upscale

Bill Regardie Founder, Regardie's Magazine
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The hottest profit center in upscale hotels today is the lobby lounge. No longer just a place for a casual drink, or a place to meet friends, it’s become essentially a 24-hour cash generator as hotels in the Far East have long known.

There is no more prestigious hotel chain than the Five Seasons and its Washington operation is among the best in the country — and among the most profitable. Especially its trademark “Elite Lounge,” as I discovered when I spent a full day there recently scooping out this column.

Regular rooms at this posh rooming house start at a thousand a night and suites begin at $2,500 and go all the up to $25,000 for the King Saud suites, of which there are six. Hey, this is Washington.

Thanks to my generous editor, Tucker Carlson, I got to live there like a tycoon for a day. I showed up when they opened for the first of two breakfasts and a long, grueling day.

From 6:30-9:00 a.m., their trademarked Elite Lobby (in addition to the main dining room downstairs) was configured into “The Spot” for men’s power breakfast. Exquisite table linens, impeccable service and a sumptuous breakfast for only $27.50, plus a 24% cover and a 20% tip. Coffee was extra.

As soon as the guys cleared out, the east corner of the room got a linen makeover — pink and lilac — for the ladies’ light breakfast after their workout in the hotel’s health club.

The other two-thirds of the lobby were cleared of the breakfast tables and replaced with privacy modules with business chairs, electric outlets, WiFi and a coffee table.

When the ladies moved out, their area was converted, too. In effect, small business meeting spaces for two, three or more were created with appropriate food and beverage at New York prices. A noiseless hum, like in a court room, quietly protected conversations.

Standing by discreetly were concierges to meet any need. And beyond them, should the need ever arise, god forbid, were the famed Five Seasons security recruited from the Secret Service.

Naturally, such service was priced accordingly. Coffee was $7.50 a cup. A traditional club sandwich was $25. Lunch was anything you could dream of. More importantly, each chair carried a $35-per-hour cover charge. In other words, just like leasing an office by the hour but with food, beverages and valet parking.

Literally every inch of the Elite Lobby was a profit center.

The only things free were the rest rooms.

The cocktail hour began as soon as the business hours wound down. The business decor was gradually replaced with elegant chairs and deep love seats. Cocktails were priced from only $15 until 8 p.m., when alcohol was only available by the bottle. Gray Goose vodka, the house brand, was available at $595 a bottle.

No tea and cucumber sandwiches at this joint.

While the dining room was open one flight down, a full menu was available in the Elite Lounge. Of course, it was no problem to set up an impromptu table for dinner. This soon became the hot spot in town and a supper tab for four could run easily into four figures.

Then, after 11 p.m., the serious partying began. The hottest DJs rocked the joint. Bottles of booze and the finest wines flowed freely like the nearby Potomac. A newly constructed, outdoor cigar emporium offered the best brands available including, according to rumor, real Cubans. Women to rival the great beauties of London and South Beach flooded the Elite, but I was fading.

Finally, at 4 a.m., Security had to shake me awake since my Bose headphones had blocked out all sounds since sometime around midnight.

I’m turning in my expense account today and praying that Tucker’s checkbook has four figures left in it.

Bill Regardie is the founder of Regardie’s magazine.