Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Six Dallas boutique hotels worth a staycation
These places are both luxurious and hospitable.
To build a quality list of the top Six Dallas Boutique Hotels Worth a Staycation, I was seeking not just to experience nice properties but also hospitality from the staff. I spent 18 years in the hospitality business and have been running a hotel and restaurant program at a local community college for the last two years. Regularly, I share with my students that it is the people that make the difference with the guest. At one time, Disneyland was a customer of mine. What I witnessed in my interactions behind the scenes at Disney was that their magic begins with hiring caring people who naturally provide hospitality as part of their DNA.
My process began with a list of 11 hotels for unannounced visits. If the hotels offered hospitality and a reasonable amount of amenities for a staycation, I went back for another visit. Below is the list of the top six Dallas boutique hotels ranked by the amount and degree of hospitality that I experienced throughout the unannounced and announced visits. In this article, I will be sharing with you some of the unique amenities that made these particular hotels worth a staycation for me as well as what might make each of these six Dallas boutique hotels worthwhile and interesting to you.
Our Visit: Visited the Melrose unannounced for lunch. The hotel is home to The Landmark, a restaurant that is a AAA Four Diamond restaurant. I ate at the Landmark Restaurant about three years ago and it was great! Being a teacher now, we made a beeline for The Library Bar that is located just to the right of the entrance. The bar feels like something out of NYC with many authentic touches (no faux here). I later learned from the GM the bar had undergone a $500,000 renovation, with $50,000 spent just for the beautiful blue lapis stone bar top. Everything was unique at the Melrose and I found the Melrose staff exemplified caring in reams.
From the doorman to the bartender, who served us lunch, the Melrose employees could not have been any kinder. The bartender was great with my young son and genuinely seemed to have the caring DNA gene in droves. The food was great and service seamless! At a subsequent visit with the GM, I shared the best part of the visit was my son’s meal. The GM smiled ... but watching my son manage the six inch strings of cheese from crust to mouth with his three-cheese grilled sandwich was funny! The employees throughout the hotel are “real” as I said to the GM, Larry McAfee. You know, many times we visit expensive restaurants and/or hotels and the caring comes across as systemized caring that is trained. Not at the Melrose. I spoke with the front desk person about a shared concern regarding our children. On my way out, I ran into one of the Melrose associates who greeted me as he crossed the street from the pharmacy. The Melrose set the standard for caring on my short list.
Cool things about the Warwick Melrose: It was built in 1924 and received a multi-million dollar renovation in 2009. Larry McAfee described the design of the rooms perfectly in their press release: “It's luxury, glamour and comfort. Hollywood of the 1920s seemed the era that best represented that blend, and it ties to the time frame in which the hotel opened.” Celebrity guests from Elizabeth Taylor to Martin Sheen have stayed at the Melrose. The Library Bar features some very special entertainment as well. For example, Pat Peterson, who has been a backup singer for Ray Charles, John Mellancamp, and others plays every Thursday and Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. Also, 2009 D Magazine's Best of Lounge Singers performs at The Library Bar every Saturday from 8:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. Admission is free but make sure you get there early to beat the line. Oh yes, the hotel is pet friendly and they have biscuits for your best friend as well ... real easy neighborhood to go walk your dog around.
Insight for your Staycation: You pretty much need to drive to this hotel. Once there, you will find many great retail establishments within walking distance to create a special stay at the Melrose. I would choose to land there on a Friday afternoon (to catch the entertainment mentioned above) and walk up to Eatzi’s Market to grab some of their wonderful artisan bread and other comfort food. On the walk back to the hotel, I stopped by one of the of the fine wine stores and grabbed a little something to stock up the room to make my staycation a little more comfortable. At some point during my stay, I would probably head out for at least one dinner at the Green Papaya Cafe that is within walking distance as well.
Our Visit: Started with breakfast next door at Smoke and ended with listening to guests share their pleasant experience with the Belmont front desk person: “This was another great getaway.” I came to learn the Garlands regularly visit The Belmont for a staycation. A walk around the property told me this is not your average hotel and not such a secret to many. However, it feels like one because the location is just outside the usual confines of downtown Dallas. Most of the license plates are from Texas and there were Jaguars, Mercedes, and Cadillacs parked throughout. The setting of the hotel is similar to those motels that you see along the side of the road on a drive up California’s Pacific Coast Highway with that small town feel. This sense of small town feel is exactly what the staff at the Belmont Hotel reflect as well. This is truly a boutique hotel with only 64 rooms, and each room is uniquely decorated. If you are looking for a relaxing staycation just outside the boundaries of downtown Dallas, this is a bargain. They have a pretty unique pool setting (discussed below), cool bar, and great food. A friend of mine thought the rates would be in the $200 range after visiting, but they are not -- they actually start at about $109 per night. Interesting enough, a hotel manager whose property did not make this short list said, "I do not charge $200+ for a room; how can I be expected to provide the same service?" Take a look at the Belmont is what I would do.
Cool things about the Belmont Hotel: As I shared with the Belmont's general manager, I was so disappointed with myself because I have been driving to Rockwall to watch the sunset over downtown Dallas for years. Now, I found BarBelmont, which is so much closer and cooler. The bar's patio deck sits high off the street level and provides a great panoramic view of downtown Dallas. Even better, there is live music played on Friday evenings.
Flickr user maduko
Every Sunday during the summer months, I discovered they have a pool party. On a regular basis, the Belmont Hotel schedules a Dive-In movie for free with a cash bar ... watching a movie on the lawn and sipping drinks ... pretty relaxing!
The food for the Belmont Hotel is provided by Smoke (sits right next door to the Belmont). I was blown away by the food at Smoke ... had not done my homework on Belmont’s food before visiting. It was literally the best breakfast I have ever had. What that means is I had something that I would not/could not make at home and it had some really unique flavors. As soon as I got home, I did a search on Smoke and came to learn that the co-owner is Tim Byres, who previously worked at The Mansion and Stephan Pyles. You foodies know what that means! Definite credibility and quality. However, you will not see the Heavy Handed Blueberry and Ricotta Pancakes with Vanilla Apricots and Cream for only $9 at Chef Byres' previous places of employment. Portion sizes are large and can be shared or brought up to the room/pool for some all day grazing. I overheard one guest say to the waiter that: “I would love to come back and finish the plate off ... it was greaaaat!" The restaurant has a very cozy atmosphere (like the Belmont) with a fireplace at the back wall. To me, this place feels like the Five Point Café in Seattle where it was rumored we could see Pearl Jam show up, but with higher much quality food and cleaner. It was casual comfort at Smoke.
Insight for your Staycation: You will need to drive to the hotel; parking is provided. This is a great launching pad to enjoy many of the sites in the area. If it is a trip to the Dallas Zoo, arts district, or American Airlines Center for a game/event, the Belmont is a great place to begin and end your day. It is the most casual of all the hotels mentioned in this listing and the only one that is literally outside the Dallas confines. You can depend on the food from Smoke for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I did find that food takes quite a while to get up to the bar from Smoke, but if you are not in any rush then no worries. Ensure that you look up the hotel’s event calendar for art, music, and dive-in movie schedule. There is an interesting story about the Belmont’s heyday during the '40s that is posted in their conference room. It was kind of fun to read something from such a different time in Dallas. I love this place!
Our Visit: I walked up the east side of building under the long awning ... it definitely set the mood as music played overhead. Entering the Stoneleigh is like walking into 1920s luxury (built in 1923). After walking through the lobby, which had been renovated beautifully, I headed over to Bolla, the hotel’s restaurant. The design is beautiful and simple. Each sitting area of Bolla is separated by beautiful sheer curtains that hang down from the high ceilings is gorgeous. Sitting down at my table, I felt like I was just outside New York City’s Central Park ... my chair sat just low enough that I could not see any traffic go by but could view the trees outside the windows. My meal was excellent and service in the restaurant was just normal as was experienced throughout my walk around the hotel.
Cool things about Stoneleigh Hotel & Spa: Even though I am not a lush, I could possibly lean that way at the Stoneleigh’s Reverse Happy Hour. It runs from 11 p.m. – 1:30 a.m. It is a pretty unique bar with mini-chandeliers hanging over the curved bar top. The sitting and design are all updated with plush coverings that provide a real warmth and feel ... fit to socialize. It was fun to see all the signed photos of the stars up in the Bolla Bar -- everyone from Bob Hope to Elvis Presley to Andy Warhol stayed at the Stoneleigh Hotel & Spa. The sales manager shared that Oliver Stone and Tom Cruise had an extended stay during their filming of Born on the Fourth of July at the Stoneleigh. It is that kind of place ... luxurious! The Stoneleigh Hotel and Spa has a full-service spa located in its property. We walked down to the 5,200 square foot spa, and it is very contemporary. I was told that all the best organic products are utilized at the Stoneleigh Spa. There are duet rooms for couple’s massages and seven rooms for private treatments.
Insight for your Staycation: You will need to drive to the hotel; valet is provided. There is not much just outside the hotel, meaning groceries, restaurants, and such. The hotel rests in a beautiful neighborhood, so if you are looking to really feel away from the city or your own home for a staycation, this place may be it. A park is just down the street and it appears you could walk onto the neighborhood tennis courts just west of the hotel if you so desired. A pool is the only amenity that is not at the Stoneleigh. But I have to tell you, I could lounge all day very easily between the beautiful lobby area, bar, patio, and my room. The rooms are well-appointed and reflect perfection in design. If you can swing it, I would ask for a tour of the penthouse. They penthouse area is just magnificent: As we walked through dining and shared areas, you see something that as been preserved perfectly from a different time of Dallas' history. Absolutely beautiful!
Our Visit: I am not one to pay for parking if I do not need to, so I finally found some free parking on the south side of the hotel (valet is 20 bones). It appears that you will need to valet your car at The Palomar if you desire to stay the night. However, the hotel is located next to DART’s Mockingbird station stop (just across the street). The exterior of the Palomar does not do justice for the beautiful design inside -- very open space with a significant amount of sitting areas to have intimate or large social interaction in the entrance area. A significant amount of light and energy is felt throughout the hotel. There is an open patio in the center of the hotel. My Kobe Beef Hamburger and wine were perfecto! Real cool menu at the Palomar restaurant (name: Central 214). As I ate lunch, a couple of feet away from me sat a newlywed couple. They were enjoying what appeared to be a tasting in preparation for their celebration day. Every dish looked absolutely delicious. I could hang out between the restaurant and bar areas all day … there is no distinct separation between the two and the bar/lounge has the most comfortable sofa to just kick back upon to do some sipping and people watching.
Cool things about Hotel Palomar: Spa services are provided by Exhale, a renowned spa that provides luxury treatments in your room or at their adjoined 10,000 square foot building that is connected to the hotel. Exhale Spa also has fusion and yoga classes. One of my family members who is really into yoga could not say enough good things about the instructors at Exhale. They also provide acupuncture and other healing forms at Exhale … this is not your average spa by any means!
Insight for your Staycation: You can take the DART to Mockingbird Station and just walk across the street to the Palomar, or pay $20 for valet. I love this DART station because it somewhat feels like I am actually walking up into another city with all the restaurants, pub, and the Angelika theater near the exit of the escalator. Since this location is located so close to Mockingbird Station, it is a great launching pad to head downtown to meet some friends and/or head over to enjoy an event at the American Airlines Center, then head back away from the chaos via DART to Mockingbird Station and over to Central 214 to sit in the lounge and enjoy some cocktails. Keep in mind that the hotel offers complimentary wine in the evening to guests. I could definitely see myself enjoying another meal at Central 214 and then catching an indie film across the street at the Angelika ... afterward a stop at Trinity Hall to enjoy a cold beer and stroll back over to relax along the Palomar’s infinity pool before it closes at 10 p.m.
Our Visit: We started our tour by driving down to the Aloft, located near the Dallas Convention Center, and entering through the sliding glass doors at the front. The immediate feeling that I had when I walked across the threshold of the entrance was confusion on where to go next to find the front desk. At first, I was kind of thrown off by the large cement pillars and the island that represents the front desk. The design is definitely different and it appears that as much of the old warehouse terminal design was utilized in the renovation. Once I figured out the layout of the hotel, I did a quick looksy around and found the place to be pretty cool. Everything is on the first floor: pool, fitness room, eats, and a bar.
There are some great sitting areas to just kick back and either watch the big screen television, grab a morning coffee, or sit with 12-15 friends in the back of the bar area with some privacy. The Aloft is very open, as would be expected by the name with minimal barriers to the eye. Furniture is very comfortable even though it is retro; I liked the idea of visiting the Aloft for a different setting to sip coffee. You can actually sip coffee and play pool if you wanted to.
The food is very inexpensive and you essentially serve yourself. We tried their food twice on two different visits and it is basically continental and the cook will make some foods that are one step up to the breakfast foods at McDonald’s. Nothing special and the prices are kept low, which I appreciated.
Cool things about Aloft: If you are looking for a staycation with the kids, this may be your place. I saw that games are sold in the lobby and the lounge area is a great place to sit around with the family to play the games. The pool area is easy to watch the children, and because the food is simple at the Aloft, the bill will not rise too high before checkout. Also, Union Station is only a couple of blocks away and heads directly to the Dallas Zoo, which could be a fun excursion with the family. Directly across the street is Pioneer Plaza, which is a nice place to walk your dog if you decided to bring your best friend along on your staycation. There is also complimentary wireless throughout the hotel. You are not going to get nickel and dimed while staying at the Aloft.
Insight for your Staycation: If you are a walker, you can take the DART to Union Station and walk up to the Aloft, but it could be a killer if the temperatures are nearing 97+. It is not a bad jaunt from Union Station at all -- maybe 10 minutes once you step off. Driving to the Aloft is not a bad idea, either. Again, the hotel keeps costs down -- it is only $8 per day and you get in/out privileges. If you are not accustomed to city life, I would recommend taking a taxi/car in the evenings. I do not feel concerned for my safety at all, but some suburban visitors might feel a little more comfortable riding in a taxi in the evenings.
6) Hotel Joule
Our Visit: I walked up to The Joule unannounced the first time and could not find it -- the only noticeable sign that there was a hotel nearby were the valet attendants. There is nothing usual about The Joule. There is unique art throughout the hotel from the lobby to the penthouse. Long, shimmering art hangs down from the walls to simulate rain and create an interesting barrier between the elevators and the lobby area. You definitely feel like you are in a downtown hotel while sitting in the lobby. The hustle and bustle is just outside as you sit in the modern community lobby area. A large artistic structure that resembles a large mechanical cog is just one of the fascinating architectural touches that somehow just fits into this perfectly designed hotel.
I came back for a third visit late in the afternoon to have lunch at Charlie Palmer. It is connected to the hotel and allows you to charge all the meals to your room. The meal was tasty, but it is not a place to lounge for breakfast or share loud stories from the first night of your staycation over lunch. If you are looking for excellence in food and a little formal etiquette, Charlie Palmer will fit your bill. Additionally, there are an unlimited number of restaurants a quick step from the hotel if you want to dine outside the area.
Cool things about The Joule: The hotel is very well known for its Poule. Yes, it is spelled that way by the hotel, and rightfully so. It is a very unique swimming pool that extends eight feet beyond the hotel's boundaries. The end of the infinity pool has a see-through wall that hangs over Main Street's sidewalk. When I viewed the extended Poule from down below, I saw some guests literally smiling at everyone as to say: "We are on vacation and you're not."
The visit to the PM Nightlife Lounge that is located in the hotel was something special. You can enter right into it from the hotel lobby. The art collection that you see as you walk down into the bar area is very unique and difficult to describe! Even if you do not see yourself taking time to enjoy a sippy sip at the PM Nightlife Lounge, I would suggest you take a little walk around to see the design -- it is like someone from Cirque du Soleil gave their two cents to the design.
Insight for your Staycation: Valet parking is $27/day, so that is something to consider ... most likely you will not be utilizing a car if you are staying at The Joule. Anything you could want is located within the hotel or walking distance (e.g. your morning Starbucks). DART’s Akard Station is very close to The Joule and can be utilized easily for any shows you want to see at the American Airlines Center. This seems like the perfect place for a staycation for the person who wants to enjoy the Dallas nightlife into the wee hours and then recuperate near the Poule as you get ready for another night of fun!
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