Thomas W. LaTour says the great thing about running hotels in Washington is the business travelers who come for meetings with big shots in Congress or the executive branch.

"When people get an appointment here, it's not discretionary. You have to be here," said LaTour, chairman and chief executive of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, which operates six boutique hotels in the District with 819 rooms. "From Monday through Thursday, the town is virtually sold out, and people say, 'I don't care what it costs.' "

On a recent visit, LaTour spoke in a guest room at the Hotel Helix on Rhode Island Ave. NW, where the retro pop art decor almost erases suggestions of its mundane past as an apartment building and a Howard Johnson hotel. The Helix and three of the other local hotels run by Kimpton are owned by LaSalle Hotel Properties of Bethesda.

San Francisco-based Kimpton was one of the pioneers of boutique hotels that appeal to travelers through hip and quirky design. Such properties must attract PIBs, or people in black, LaTour said: "the cool people you want in your cool hotel."

Kimpton initially renovated rundown hotels, LaTour said, and he keeps his eye out for possibilities as he travels. "But there aren't too many fleabags left in America," and condo developers can outbid him for those that remain. So the company's emphasis has switched to converting buildings designed for other purposes, such as the Hotel Monaco at Seventh and F streets NW, which Kimpton opened in 2002 after a $34 million renovation of the historic Tariff Commission building.

In a strong year for the hotel business, LaTour said, Kimpton's District hotels are averaging about 82 percent occupancy and rates are averaging $145 at the Helix and $205 at the Monaco.

Now, Kimpton is attempting to go more upscale as it builds hotels from the ground up, the new Hotel Palomar chain. A 335-room Palomar will open in Washington next year, with rooms starting at $275 a night, LaTour said, and one is planned for Rosslyn in 2007.

LaTour said guests at the Palomar will "look like investment bankers, lawyers and wealthy people that don't have to keep a calendar."

PWCs, perhaps, for people without calendars.

-- Larry Liebert

Hotel Helix reflects Kimpton's approach.