by Ron Bernthal
Kimpton Hotels has come a long way since Bill Kimpton opened the country’s first boutique hotel, the Clarion Bedford, in San Francisco, in 1981, introducing at the same time the complimentary nightly wine hour and displaying work by local artists, starting a trend that would eventually revolutionize the hotel industry, setting the standard for the hundreds of “boutique” properties to follow.
The 51 boutique hotels (as of 12/2010) in the Kimpton collection continue to attract a good share of American and international business travelers, despite all the competition in this fast growing hotel category. Of course, it didn’t hurt to be the first hotel chain to offer free, high-speed Internet access in all guest rooms (2003), create the innovative InTouch guest loyalty program (2004), or be named to Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list (2009).
One of the chain’s newest locations, the Hotel Palomar opened in October, 2009, transforming the 1929 Architects Building, a 24-story art-deco Philadelphia landmark, into a 230-room, full-service hotel, around the corner from the city’s historic Rittenhouse Square.
When I arrived at the hotel after a five-minute taxi ride from the 30th Street Amtrak rail station, the lobby was buzzing with check-ins, other guests were sitting around a sculpted, modern fireplace holding glasses of wine (the tail-end of the complimentary wine hour), and the beautifully designed bar in the hotel’s Square 1682 restaurant was busy with young men and women coming in for after-work drinks and tapas. Despite all the activity in the lobby, check-in was fast and I was on my way to my 9th-floor room quickly, although the colorful lobby crowd, and the artsy “living room” atmosphere of the entire first floor, made for a great people watching experience.
Rooms at the Palomar are well-designed, have nice artistic touches, and the furnishings and amenities, like Frette linens and L’Occitane bath lotions and soaps, are more indicative of a five-star hotel. There are geometric patterns in the beige carpeting and wall coverings, modern light fixtures, and the room numbers outside the door are framed with leather straps and buckles. The soft earth tones are accented by splashes of color, often green and purple, in the design and artworks.
With the 37″ HDTV, and free Wi-Fi, it was easy to get settled and comfortable. The work desk was large, with excellent lighting and an attached power strip with widely spaced sockets, perfect for all the chargers and plugs we all carry. Kimpton is adding these new, roomier desks to all their properties.
I needed to shave before my first dinner appointment, but had left my toiletries at home. I deliberated whether to run out to a nearby drugstore, or ask the front desk if I could purchase some items, before finally calling the desk and explaining the situation. Within minutes someone was at my door with everything I needed, all complimentary. I found out later that the hotel has a “Forgot It? We’ve Got It” service, originally designed for women members of its InTouch loyalty program, which provides forgotten essentials for little or no cost.
During later explorations of the hotel, I discovered the meeting and event space on the top two floors, including the 25th floor penthouse ballroom. There are sweeping views of the city skyline from the windows of the ballroom, named after noted architect David Burnham. Because of the building’s heritage, all the meeting rooms are named after architects who contributed to Philadelphia’s stunning architecture, including Julian Abele, Paul Philippe Cret (who designed the building), and Frank Lloyd Wright. The second floor boardroom is named for I.M. Pei.
My favorite part of the hotel, aside from the room of course, was Square 1682 (the year of Philadelphia’s founding by William Penn), the hotel’s ground floor restaurant /bar, also used as the guest breakfast room. The hotel’s promotional literature says that Square 1682 is “chef-driven” and the menus created by Guillermo Tellez, with entrees like Black Cod in Porchetta, and Pan Roasted & Confit Amish Chicken, are seasonally based, include Mexican and Asian influences, and often organic and locally produced. The bar, as I noticed at check-in, has a popular happy hour, led by Master Mixologist Jacques Bezuidenhout, who is gaining a city-wide reputation for his inventive cocktails. The restaurant’s Master Sommelier, Emily Wines, has the most perfect name for her position, and is just one of 15 women in America with that title.
The restaurant and its attractive bar area is connected to an equally well-designed second floor addition accessed by a beautiful staircase, a geometrically sculpted block of walnut resembling a double-helix. Most guests have breakfast upstairs, where the slow cooked organic oatmeal, fresh fruit, and home-baked muffins and pastry seem to be favorites.
The Hotel Palomar Philadelphia is Kimpton’s first LEED-certified hotel, and uses many renewable and sustainable resources in the design of the property, including recycled glass, cork ceilings, and custom furnishings made from replenishable wood. The Philadelphia hotel joins seven other Kimpton properties that share the name Palomar. All have similar features (colorful designer interiors, chef-driven restaurants, hosted wine hour), but their locally created themed artwork (architecture at the Philadelphia property), and innovative locally sourced menus, are all unique to the individual hotels.
Nineteen of the rooms at Palomar Philadelphia are designed for in-room spa services, and 17 suites are equipped with Fuji spa tubs. The property’s center-city location, and its excellent on-site restaurant and bar, make it a good choice for mid-week business travelers, while leisure visitors will appreciate the attractive weekend package rates.
Hotel Palomar Philadelphia
117 S. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
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