The New Carlton Hotel Brings Back Old New York
By Steve Lewis February 9, 2011
When I first started writing this column, one of my primary goals was to give my readers an insider look at some of the industry's leaders, and how they approach the business. Some of these people are relatively unknown, as they allow the successful properties and brands they've created and promoted do all the talking. Most appear occasionally as a bold-faced name in a newspaper or magazine. Peter Chase is a player. He's the founder of BPC, which develops and manages creative hospitality concepts. His concepts have included: Skybar in Miami Beach, Wunderbar at the W Montreal, MGM Grand Casinos (MGM, Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Borgata) in Las Vegas, Detroit, and Atlantic City, as well as Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, and the W San Diego.
When Ian Schrager needed to replace the irreplaceable Rande Gerber back in 2000, he sought out Peter to manage and develop bars at each of his hotels. He has overseen fourteen bars in nine hotels, spanning New York, London, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. He has also overseen the creation of several new ones.
I spent three hours chatting with him at the Carlton on Madison and 29th the other evening. I could have stayed for eight hours. Peter knows what he's talking about, and finds himself poised to do even greater things. He is very aware that the ancient, though wonderfully redecorated hotel finds itself between the uber-hot Ganesvoort Park Hotel and the seriously hip Ace Hotel. He's gearing up to embrace the crowds that will be passing by his door: He understands their needs, and will entertain them. He is one of the unsung heroes of the industry, and today I am singing his song.
Ian Schrager brought you in to replace the irreplaceable Rande Gerber. How did you approach that impossible dream? Ian and Rande had a relationship going back quite some time. I respect what Rande has done, and continues to do, but I think Ian was excited to create outside of that relationship. What we accomplished at the Clift with the Redwood Room, the re-interpretation of the Morgans Bar, and the complete transformation of the Whiskey into the Paramount Bar makes that evident.
Rande and I come from very different backgrounds. Rande was a former model that got into the bar industry, and I am someone that worked within the hospitality industry, and went to Cornell's School of Hotel Administration. Beyond all of the extraordinary creative aspects of working with Ian, I approached the "impossible dream" from a business perspective. I set out to implement better systems, controls, reporting, and several initiatives to maximize profit from every drink served.
I worked for Ian and Steve Rubell, and learned a great deal. What did you take away from that experience, and how do you apply it nowadays? I know that many of the things that I discounted or infuriated me about their style/personally applied when I had such opportunities. I never got to meet Steve, but I feel like there were several talented people Ian employed to help him create his vision. I learned so much from Ian that it almost seems that I learned nothing. So much of what Ian does can't help but resonate and change the way you look at bars, restaurants, and hotels, or for that matter, everything. Ian has a way of instilling in you his perspective on service, music, design and style. He often accomplishes this through intense demands, but as the saying goes, "you can't make diamonds without a lot of pressure." Eventually, you change (for the better, I might add) and forget what you thought was acceptable before. His vision is his own. Many have tried to replicate it, some with success, but there always remains just one original. I use this valuable resource every day in operating my businesses, and owe a great deal to Ian for teaching me to view things differently.
Sometimes the fates bring the right person to the right place and time. The Carlton finds itself on a strip between the new Ganesvoort Park and the highly successful Ace Hotel. What are you doing to exploit this moment? Having lived in the neighborhood for 20 years, I have watched its evolution. Back in 1904, just before the NYC subway opened, the Carlton (then the Seville) Hotel opened and helped turn the neighborhood into one of the city's most elegant locales.
The original bar from the Seville is still intact, and has hosted luminaries such as Frank Sinatra and "Diamond Jim" Brady. A block away lies the remnants of Tin Pan Alley, where much of the world's greatest music was written and produced. The Breslin Hotel, now the Ace, opened the same year as the Seville, and was part of what was known as the "Avenue of Hotels." Today, with the renovation of both hotels, and the addition of the Gansevoort, I think that we are seeing a re-awakening of the 29th Street hotel corridor. I have always treated my competitors like neighbors. There is plenty of business for everyone, and if we support one another we all stand a better chance of succeeding. Let the Gansevoort and the Ace do what they do best, I wanted to pay homage to the history of the area, and offer a connection to its storied past through music.
Having spent countless hours in what was originally the Café at Country in the Carlton, I always knew that its center bar needed to be removed and filled with energy, be it through people, or in this case, live music. The Salon as it is now known is the entry point for all things Millesime. It acts as a portal to another time. Upstairs, we have our seafood brasserie, and across a glass bridge, Bar Millie, which will soon open. It will feature burlesque images from the turn of the century, and views looking down onto the stage. Bar Millie will be a place where you can make a reservation for a table, and come and sip cocktails with friends. A lot of places charge a cover, or pack the room to help offset the expenses of the musicians. We work with musicians, and allow them an elegant space in which to showcase their talents.
A phenomenon in the current era is the synergy and possibly the necessity of solid NYC nightlife in hotels. Tell me your take on that. How much is food and beverage driving your hotel, and will that now increase dramatically? I operate bars in W Hotels, and consult for casinos: there are few things as important to a hotel or casino as its food and beverage offering. I do not know if Ian and Steve invented it, but they certainly exploited it to the fullest. When a new hotel opens people are not going to immediately rent a room. They will pop into the bar, or grab a bite in the restaurant, and then promote the property given their experience.
This puts heads in beds, and safe guards the real investment: real estate. The press will only write about a hotel when it opens, but they'll cover any celebrity sightings as long as someone communicates with them, be it the venue itself, a cell phone picture from a customer, or a random tweet. If it is from the venue itself, this can be a double-edged sword. As a policy, we do not actively pursue press regarding our customers unless they are at a function where it is understood that their picture may be taken. Celebrities know this as well, and use certain venues to garner press when it suits their needs. Additionally, restaurants and bars are the perfect locations for movie premieres and charity events. These bring press, cameras and celebrities, which only adds to the properties cache. In the six or so months since we have been open, we have already hosted TV film shoots for Curb Your Enthusiasm, House Wives of New Jersey, an after party for the band Rammstein, listening parties for NE YO and Estelle and the several charity events including one for Artists for Peace and Justice, hosted by Paul Haggis.
The word "boutique" in regards to hotels seems to be very last century. Is there a new word? Will most hotels have to go chic to remain relevant and occupied? I agree that the term sounds very outdated, but as a concept it's still relevant. The problem started when hotel companies and designers started calling something "boutique" but only regurgitated previous design work. Boutique should represent true individuality within its local context. This only happens when passionate people are involved in every detail of development.
Unlike the Gansevoort in the Meatpacking, the Gansevoort Park was designed and pre-engineered with hospitality, food, and beverage in mind. Carlton is a much older property. What steps are you taking to retro-fit protection for your hotel guests against the sounds and such that successful watering holes inevitably bring? At the new Gansevoort Park they have added separate elevators to access the upper bars from the hotel, and seem to have situated the bars away from guest rooms. This means no more intoxicated guests on elevators with families staying at the hotel, and no more non-guests on hotel floors causing safety issues.
When they built the Carlton they constructed it in such a way that sound from the bars does not disturb the hotel guests. Bars and clubs can be a tremendous asset to a hotel, but it is vital that veteran operators and professional audio engineers are involved in the design and construction phases, or you can end up with costly renovations, or lost room revenues for decades.
Tell me about Salon Millesime. The idea with the Salon was to create a sophisticated platform for progressive artistry and extraordinary musicianship. My partners and I have handpicked our talent from all 'walks of life' including students of the Juilliard School of Music, DJs, and well-regarded, established artists. The Salon is our doorway into the hotel. Everyone works off of their laptops or phones, and they are doing this in coffee shops more and more. People who have been laid-off, or are self-employed, are looking for a place to be able to have a meeting or get work done over a cup of coffee. During the day we offer a relaxing environment to do this and at night, sip wine and listen to our interpretation of Voix de Ville, the voice of the city. The Salon menu features casual French and Mediterranean inspired cuisine by my partner Chef Laurent Manrique. We installed a state-of-the-art Bose sound system for an unparalleled musical experience. Nightly performers include artists from far corners of the globe to nearby neighbors. N'Dea Davenport, Swizz Beatz, Nickodemus, Estelle, Grammy winning rapper Pras, Grammy winning singer Ne-Yo, and Brooklyn songstress and Si*Se have already graced the stage. When not performing live, there is a select roster of DJs like Carol C from the band Si*Se, and DJ Sir Shorty, a veteran of the city. I invite guests to gather and sip artisan cocktails like the French 75, or perhaps the Night & Day—my version of the Manhattan—a portion of whose proceeds supports VH1's Save the Music.
We wanted to evoke an intimate music venue with hints of the history of the area's past. The team came from Redhook Brooklyn and was lead by Doug Fanning's DYAD Studio. Doug chose to transform the space with stylish mix of leather banquets, tiger print chairs, and glossy ebony cocktail tables with bronze inlays reminiscent of the early Café Society interiors. He also custom designed the oversize light shades reminiscent of old Vaudeville stage curtains. Designer William Calvert, a longtime friend, created a luxe cocktail dress for the servers.
How does Millesime and the other food and beverage spots in the hotel interact with each other? We chose to create one iconic name, Millesime, with multiple concepts feeding into it. Since no two guests are alike, we created an offering that appeals to each guest's unique needs and desires, as well as those of our local community. Beyond the Salon we have the Lobby Bar, a dimly lit saloon where you can "belly up" to a magnificent mahogany bar dating back one hundred plus years to the original hotel. Order a scotch, eat a burger, catch a game on the flat screen TV, or just people watch as hotel guests arrive from near and far. Just around the corner from Millesime, across a 30-foot glass bridge, will be Bar Millie, a reservation cocktail bar. Reminiscent of an old French sitting room, it is an ideal perch for relaxing, chatting and drinking with good friends. Leather-bound chairs, metal screened burlesque images, a handcrafted marble bar, and traces of the past hang in the air like ghosts of prohibition. It's a nostalgic portal to an era when automobiles had curves, women were dames, men wore hats, and a deal was sealed with a handshake. The room, with its vaulted ceiling and wood panels, is a place that encourages you to linger over drinks and trade glances as music wafts throughout. Seven hard shakes with a cocktail shaker and you're transported back to the splendor of Broadway, Tin Pan Alley, and luxurious hotel lounges. It's a trip back to the world of F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby,, and watching William Powell coach the bartender on the proper way to shake a martini in The Thin Man.