Welcoming a New Guest To the Trendy Hotel Club

Monday, November 19, 2007

Seven years ago, Marriott International tried to buy Kimpton Hotels, a chain of ultra-hip boutique properties. The deal fell through. Now that the Bethesda hotel company has finally jumped into the business with boutique impresario Ian Schrager, certainly Kimpton executives must want to offer their thoughts, right?

"I think it's pretty interesting, actually," said Mike Depatie, Kimpton's chief executive. "When Mother Marriott gets behind it they make a lot of people know that there is an alternative to staying at full-service Marriotts. That helps us because we're the biggest players in the space."

Depatie spoke last week not long after cutting the ribbon at Kimpton's newest D.C. area property, the Hotel Palomar Arlington at Waterview. The hotel, with a sleek glass facade, was designed by the architectural firm founded by I.M. Pei. The beds have Frette linens. Some of the rooms have telescopes for spying on activity across the Potomac River in Georgetown.

When Kimpton, which is based in San Francisco, opened its first hotel in Washington seven years ago, the company was nervous about investing in such a buttoned-down town. Times have changed. Cool people live in the region and travel to it from other places, and Kimpton has grown up alongside the culture and now has 10 D.C. area hotels. Now there are reports that Starwood Hotels and Resorts, a key Marriott competitor, is working to bring one of its chic and successful W boutique hotels to the District, perhaps to the storied Hotel Washington.

"Marriott looks at Starwood and sees they are looked at as the really innovative guys," Depatie said. "They say, 'Hey, we've been in this business longer than anyone. Why aren't we the innovative guys?' "

Bill Marriott indicated a creativity cavity in his company a few months ago when he announced the partnership with Schrager, saying that Marriott didn't have the know-how to get into the boutique business on its own. Becoming partners with Schrager, the volatile creator of the nightclub Studio 54 who later served time in prison for evading taxes, marked a significant comfort-zone departure for Bill Marriott, a devout Mormon.

"It's a big clash of cultures," Depatie said. "How's it gonna end? At the end of the day, it's anybody's guess."

-- Michael S. Rosenwald

© 2007 The Washington Post Company