Artsy Hotel Raises the Barre

Septime Webre of the Washington Ballet puts Hotel Palomar staffers through the paces yesterday.
Septime Webre of the Washington Ballet puts Hotel Palomar staffers through the paces yesterday. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Adriane Quinlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Yesterday's staff training at the flashy new Hotel Palomar included none of the standard lectures, manuals or cheesy retro videotapes.

Instead, the management sent in ballet dancers. And comedians.

And so the sleek marble lobby bobbed with the compact frame and overflowing personality of Washington Ballet Artistic Director Septime Webre, who commandeered a troupe of lavender-shirted bellhops in a lesson of classical ballet.

"Fluid movements, one two three, one two three," Webre chanted, extending his arm toward the lobby's textured wallpaper. "Tuck in your [backside]. No booties out in Maryland, please. It's 202, not 301."

Greenbelt resident and Palomar bellboy-in-training Alvin Green tucked in. "This is extensive training," he said. "It's a . . . uh . . . different experience." Sighing at Green's port de bras, Septime said only, "Very, very good" before swanning away to adjust the shoulders of a future concierge.

That the Palomar has given its hotel a theme ("Art -- in motion," revealed General Manager Brett Orlando with a dramatic pause) may not come as a surprise. Though the theme of some chain hotels seems to be "Hand over credit card, get key," boutique hotels in past years have attempted to one-up each other in lobby spectacle. Think of the Standard in Los Angeles with its live female model ("performance artist") behind glass near the check-in. Or the Hotel QT near New York's Times Square with its glass wall looking through to swimmers lounging in a "plunge pool."

"There's a notion in hospitality that 'a great waiter disappears,' but I disagree with that," Webre said with a flourish. "I think of a lobby as a stage set."

Echoed Orlando, adjusting his taupe plaid tie against his taupe striped shirt: "Every hotel tells a story."

The Palomar hopes to tell its story to gallery-hopping guests who would get excited about chocolates hand-painted by an "artist chocolatier" and nightly "art of wine" tastings at which local artists mingle with the crowd. The Dupont Circle hotel will have its grand opening in September, but is currently accepting guests on a limited basis. It is Kimpton Hotels' seventh location in the District; others include Hotel Monaco and the Hotel Madera, just two blocks away.

At the Hotel Palomar, book the "ballet suite" with its barre and wall of mirrors and you'll become a patron of the arts: An (undisclosed) portion of the room fee will be donated to the Washington Ballet, according to Orlando.

But back to training.

Along with all the fancy physical footwork, employees must dance around guests' demanding personalities, too. Enter comedians from the Washington Improv Theater, who were called in to train the staff in how to deal with difficult customers.

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