“Boutique hotel” is a term that’s been tossed around a lot lately. Technically, it refers to a small, luxury hotel featuring customized amenities and premium services.
The term has been used frequently to describe the Water Club, the new signature hotel created by Atlantic City’s Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. While there’s nothing small about the Water Club-officially unveiled the last week of June-the 800-room, upscale non-casino hotel, connected to Borgata by a retail bridge, certainly meets all the other definitions of a boutique property. Customers have been amazed to find exquisite details like special woods, marble and stone flown in from around the world, custom-designed linens, and one-of-a-kind features throughout the property.
The Water Club is a stand-alone luxury hotel designed as a “step up” from anything in the market. The Water Club name comes from the fact there are five swimming pools and the unique “Immersion,” a two-story, 36,000-square-foot “spa in the sky” that begins on the hotel’s 32nd floor.
All that water, though, is just the beginning. The Water Club is “an exclusive extension of the sophisticated, international style that already defines Borgata,” says Drew Schlesinger, the new hotel’s vice president and general manager. “This is not a hotel for gamers, but for people who want a great weekend or a great night at a resort.”
“This is not a tower,” adds Michael Facenda, the Borgata’s director of marketing services. “It is the second hotel at Borgata. If the Borgata was not here, this could operate as a stand-alone hotel; it is not in this immediate market today.”
“What we ended up doing,” says Schlesinger, “was to position the Water Club as a signature hotel by Borgata. This is Borgata’s sibling, in a way, with a take-me-higher proposition.”
According to Larry Mullin, the Borgata’s president and chief operating officer, the property’s $600 million master expansion plan-which this $400 million hotel completes-included the provision for an upscale luxury destination resort from the start. The plan for the Water Club, he says, was crafted by a team led by Bob Boughner, CEO of Borgata at its opening.
Mullin, who also was on that team from the start, says the wisdom of the plan is becoming more clear as Atlantic City stings from competition posed by slot casinos in Pennsylvania. “With competition for specifically gambling, and more specifically, slot machines, what’s becoming clear is that it excites people to come to a true resort destination like this,” Mullin says.
The hotel certainly is different than anything else in Atlantic City, from the detail employed in creating it to the attentive service of the employees, for which Mullin credits Schlesinger, a longtime hotelier who is credited with opening luxury hotels from New York to San Francisco.
Among Schlesinger’s credits are the Paramount and 70 Park Avenue hotels in New York and the famous Mondrian Los Angeles in West Hollywood. He was with Kimpton Hotels, the boutique hotel specialist, when Boughner tried to recruit him to open the Borgata five years ago. He turned that offer down, but when Mullin contacted him to head the Water Club opening, he says he couldn’t resist. “Larry called me, and I got so jazzed when I saw the plans for this, I said, ‘I’m in,'” he says. “Even though I’d said I’d never open another hotel, I couldn’t pass it up. This is my sixth hotel, and there’s just absolutely nothing like this. This is the pinnacle.”
What Schlesinger is describing is the remarkable attention to detail evident in every inch of the Water Club. Forty different types of stone and 60 different types of wood were used throughout the property.
Each floor has a character of its own, with often-exotic woods, stone and other materials reflecting each, from imported Italian Noachian wood in the business meeting rooms (“insanely expensive,” says Schlesinger) to a front desk made of petrified wood; from Brazilian marble in one of the bars to stone work with actual embedded fossils in the spa’s treatment rooms. The custom work even extends to the underground valet operation, where you’ll drive in and out of the resort on imported cobblestone.
“No one is expecting what we’re offering,” says Schlesinger. “You just can’t imagine the finishes they’ve used here, or the special design.”
The Water Club includes 800 premium rooms and suites, five pools in unique environments, three residences inspired by chic city lofts, 18,000 square feet of meeting space, six new high-end retail shops, and of course, the unique spa.
Just off the lobby is the “Sun Room,” a sun-washed espresso bar in the morning that transforms into a hot nightspot in the evenings. Providing the bar menu is the Water Club’s resident celebrity chef, Geoffrey Zakarian of Manhattan’s Town and Country restaurants and Bravo TV’s Top Chef show. Zakarian has created all the outdoor pool menus, indoor bar menus, the spa menu, and even in-room dining menus.
Also adjacent to the lobby are two indoor swimming pools, complete with marble bars under 50-foot ceilings. Over one of the pools is a dark wood trellis containing a device that simulates a misty rain. Outside are two separate heated pools, complete with private cabanas.
One of the outdoor pools features jets that actually make it a huge Jacuzzi. “At night, lights glow from it, and this turns into a huge night spot, like a South Beach kind of scene,” Schlesinger says. “All of it features club service. You’re not getting your towel; everything is served to you. Someone brings you your food or beverage.”
But the pièce de résistance of the Water Club, says Schlesinger, is the remarkable Immersion spa spanning two upper-level stories of the hotel. There is almost a hushed reverence evident when you leave the elevators and walk among the individual treatment rooms. The private treatment rooms feature tables designed specifically for each treatment on the spa menu, with heating elements built into jade and marble tables. The rooms overlook the ocean or bay with panoramic views.
The 16 treatment rooms-“Experience Rooms,” officially-surround a common area with an Olympic-sized lap pool, also overlooking the ocean and bay and accented by teakwood tables and another lounge. The spa menu itself includes a whole range of mud treatments, exfoliation, and special pampering processes like the “oxygen infusion machine,” which pushes oxygen into the skin for a Botox-like effect.
“This is a five-diamond spa; we’re looking to get the real spa aficionados,” says Schlesinger. “All of our treatments are based on that. We don’t have a treatment that lasts less than 80 minutes.”
And the idea to put all this on the 32nd floor? “I have to give credit for this whole place to Bob Boughner,” says Mullin. “It was Bob’s vision, and his design with (principal interior designer) Larry Lea, to take that upper-floor real estate and accommodate it for the spa. The reason for that was that this (hotel) was not about just putting bodies in the building; it’s all about the quality of the product. At $400 million, we probably could have created a lot more hotel rooms. But when you look at the finishes we used and when you look a the types of amenities this place offers, it is clear we were going after quality, not quantity.”
The Boutique Experience
As far as the hotel itself, the Water Club is devoted to recreating the boutique experience within a large hotel, notes Mullin.
“We already had a great reputation for our casino,” he says. “We didn’t need to go out and get Drew, or Geoffrey Zakarian, had we wanted to create another casino hotel. Having someone like Drew, who has run some of the most successful boutique hotels in the country, and having someone like Geoffrey, are the things we believe distinguish this from a casino hotel.
“This will define itself as a category.”
The hotel includes 750 standard rooms, all featuring ocean or bay views and state-of-the-art amenities including 40-inch flat-screen high-definition TVs, aromatherapy bath amenities, and special touches like an electronic “do-not-disturb” mode that you can set with a button from your bed.
There also is a whole range of luxury suites, including 20 one-bedroom units and 15 two-bedroom units. Four corner suites are each equipped with a media-rich mini-theater. The largest are the “Residence Suites”-each around 5,000 square feet in two stories, with 22-foot ceilings in the living room and dining room, a fireplace, a butler pantry, and a bathroom as large as the bedrooms in the standard rooms. One of them has a pool table, another a grand piano.
“Yes, there are 800 rooms, but once you’re in your room, you will get that sense of a boutique-style hotel,” says Schlesinger, “because of the choices we made.” He notes that top management painstakingly chose every detail, from linens to mattresses, even to the hangers in the closet.
“We looked at 12 or 13 different hangers!” he says. “Bob Boughner slept on 30 different mattresses, until they made the right one, to his specifications. You can’t go to the store and buy one of these. Thirty or 40 pillows were slept on-by Larry, by me-to the point where we hand-picked even the type of feather. Instead of a plain goose feather, you go with a white goose down, because it has a softer feel and doesn’t have an odor when it gets wet.
“There is a whole myriad of things that separate us. It’s hard to call this boutique, but once they’re in that room, the level and individuality of the service will knock people out.”
Mullin says the Water Club will accommodate both current Borgata customers and people who are “Atlantic City rejecters”-new customers who never have considered the city as a vacation option in the past.
“For our (current) customers-and we have the highest level of play in town-we need to constantly be offering a choice, and more importantly, a product we think represents what they found Borgata to be a home for in the first place,” Mullin says. “When they originally came to Borgata, they were looking for that fresh, fun, focused experience, and we think the Water Club does that again.
“For the ‘rejecters’ who have yet to make Borgata their home, in the past, there just wasn’t enough of a compelling reason to come. We believe this finally solidifies that on a mark to the most discretionary customer.”
But what really will set the Water Club apart, says Schlesinger, is the service. “We hired 800 employees for 800 keys, so you basically have a one-to-one ratio,” he says. “Outside of Asia or the Middle East, you rarely see that level of staff-to-guest ratio.”
He says the Water Club has even created new types of jobs to fill the gaps that might exist between service providers. For instance, there are “lobby ambassadors” who have the job of attending to guests when they are between the valet area and the front desk.
“These men and women will greet you as you’re coming up the escalator,” Schlesinger says.
“They’ll sit you on a bench and bring you some wine. Hopefully, a lot of people won’t even have to stand at the guest registration, but in any event, everyone’s escorted everywhere. It’s not a ‘point-and-show’ kind of hotel. It’s true luxe.”
Asked whether enough people are going to be able to afford “luxe” in these tough economic times, Mullin says he is not worried. “The economy has always gone up and down,” he says, “and we didn’t build this for the short term. The return we will get in the coming weeks or months is not the issue; the issue is really where we go for the next few years. We believe we will be the mark for the future, because it’s going to be very hard to replicate anything like this in its entirety.”
For the record, the Water Club had 7,000 corporate rooms booked with 5,000 pending and 2,200 transient guest reservations booked-before the doors were even opened.
“The market will still be defined by Borgata, and by the Water Club,” Mullin says. “We are the benchmark.”
The Water Club is only one of several new offerings in Atlantic City this summer.
The new hotel joins expansions and renovations at existing hotels and new non-casino attractions in a lineup of new offerings in the seaside resort. Here’s a sample:
Harrah’s Waterfront Tower
The 960-room Waterfront Tower at Harrah’s Atlantic City, which opened in March, capped off the casino’s $550 million expansion, which began a year earlier with the opening of the new Waterfront Buffet and the massive Pool at Harrah’s.
The guest rooms have been opening in phases since March. They include state-of-the-art standard rooms and suites that include “bachelor and bachelorette party suites” with bars and home movie systems; 1,600-square-foot end suites (three times the size of a normal room); and two Elizabeth Arden-themed penthouse suites with built-in massage rooms, steam rooms and showers-those ones are 2,600 square feet apiece.
The 525-foot tower is part of a new complex at Harrah’s that includes a retail promenade leading to the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa and the indoor pool, which sits under a 90-foot dome and is opened as a nightclub in the evening. It also includes cabanas for relaxing, or for private parties.
Chairman’s Tower at Taj
By the end of the summer, the transformation of Trump Taj Mahal into the modern era will be complete with the opening of the 900-room Chairman’s Tower, the first room addition to be completed since the property opened in 1990.
The new tower features 782 guest rooms, including 74 suites (four of them luxury suites long the lines of the existing Penthouse Suites at the Taj).
The rooms are designed with both business and leisure travelers in mind-they are larger than original Taj rooms, with higher ceilings and modern bathrooms including double sinks recessed into Brazilian granite countertops. Eight luxury suites top the tower, including two super-suites measuring 2,100 square feet apiece.
The tower caps off a complete renovation of the Taj, which has included a makeover of all public spaces and existing guest rooms, as well as the addition of the “Spice Road”
retail promenade and the Il Mulino New York restaurant.
“The strongest feature of the new tower will be the rooms themselves,” says Mark Juliano, CEO of Trump Entertainment Resorts. “They’re very spacious, they have fabulous views, great, new modern bathrooms, and all-new technology, like high-speed internet access, flat-screen TVs and iPod docks.”
At press time, a July opening was predicted for the other boutique hotel offering coming to town this summer, the Chelsea Hotel.
A creation of Curtis Bashaw, former executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, the Chelsea is being created from the two buildings that formerly housed the Holiday Inn and Teplitsky’s, a kosher hotel that eventually was transformed into a Howard Johnson’s.
The Chelsea’s design is a retro-chic 1950s look, with terrazzo floors and stainless steel ceilings. “It’s a classic, timeless feel I’m sure is reminiscent of Hollywood’s glamour period,” says Bashaw. “It’s something Atlantic City has not seen before-or at least not for a long time.” The 331 rooms will be divided into two classes, “Chelsea Luxe” and “Chelsea Lite.” All include flat-screen LCD TVs and other modern amenities.
Celebrity chef Stephen Starr created the property’s two restaurants, Chelsea Prime for steaks and Teplitsky’s, a 24-hour diner giving a nod to the original occupant of the building. Starr also has developed all in-room dining menus.
The new hotel will be capped by a rooftop pool with an outdoor bar and hip nightspot called the “Fifth Floor.”