I read Arthur Hailey’s bestselling novel Hotel when I was teenager. Recently I went back and read it again, because all I remembered from that initial reading long ago was that Hailey did a great job of explaining to his readers how a big hotel works. My memory was accurate in all but one respect: I would now say, “how a hotel worked.”
For those who have no idea who Hailey was (bestsellers may make you rich, but they will not make you immortal), he wrote a string of popular novels in the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s that each focused on a large institution or public facility (a hotel, an airport). He researched the hell out of these things and then put together a novel in which he married a usually cheesy plot with all the facts and trivia he’d learned about his subject.
Hailey was a serviceable fiction writer (by today’s bestselling novelist standards, he was a damned stylist), and he knew how to construct a story-line out of several subplots that all came to a boil in the last 50 pages. It was pure formula, but a good formula, and what set it apart was the research: you didn’t read Hailey novels for their literary value but as an easy, entertaining way to get a backstage pass into worlds to which you would never have had access otherwise.
Hailey set Hotel in New Orleans, and his fictional St. Gregory Hotel is supposedly based on the Roosevelt Hotel. So more than once I found myself thinking about Hotel after I checked into the four-month old Domio Baronne Hotel in New Orleans recently. And mostly what I thought was, wow, how times have changed and keep changing for the nation’s innkeepers.
Housed in a former factory, Domio Baronne is a six-story, 50-room hotel in the Crescent City’s warehouse district, the part of the Central Business District between the French Quarter and the Garden District that’s currently being rehabbed back to vibrancy with condos and boutique businesses.
Domio, a nascent company that styles itself “a technology platform focused on travel,” began by offering vacation apartment rentals. Co-founder Jay Roberts, a former investment banker, told me that he AirBnB-ed a spare bedroom in his Brooklyn apartment three years ago, and then just kept going; Domio now offers apartment rentals in seven cities. Domio Baronne is the company’s first full-scale apartment/hotel, and if the eight versions on the drawing boards in other cities turn out as nice, this is likely what hotels of the future will be.
If you took the AirBnB concept and built a hotel out of it, this is what it would look like: studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments, with maid service. If you don’t care about having a bar or a restaurant in your hotel (and who cares about that in New Orleans, where you can throw a rock in any direction and hit a restaurant or a bar?), this is for you. If you’re traveling with a family or a small group, this is for you. And it’s not pricey.
The Presidential Suite in the hotel in Hailey’s novel was probably not as big as my “room,” which ran to almost 1,000 square feet and included a large living room with two huge windows facing the street, an ample, fully stocked kitchen, one bedroom with two single beds, one bedroom with a double bed, two baths, and access to a roomy deck with its own set of comfortable furniture.
The furnishings throughout were chic but comfortable, the art on the wall was something you’d actually want to look at (that goes for the area rugs on the hardwood floors, too). And inside one closet was a full-size washer and dryer, with detergent supplied! A full-service grocery store that stays open until midnight is two blocks down the street.
The neighborhood is quiet (but not creepy quiet) and within easy walking distance of downtown and the French Quarter (my walk to Cafe du Monde for beignets and cafe au lait was just far enough for me to convince myself that I’d walked off the damage by the time I got back to the hotel). The Ogden Art Museum, the World War II Museum, and the streetcar line are right around the corner.
Domio Baronne has a few standard hotel amenities (workout room, conference rooms, and a game room—a rooftop pool is coming soon), but the most important thing it shares with more traditional inns is quality service. This is, in fact, the most traditional part of the hotel.
In Hailey’s novel, a considerable amount of space is given to the subject of good service (the chef gets the point, the head bellboy does not). But clearly most of the people Hailey talked to during his research were deep-dyed believers in good service as the chief amenity of any reputable hotel. Quite a few other things in the novel are quaintly anachronistic (hotel keys, a house detective), but service then and service now aren’t much different, and the staff at Domio Baronne seem to have embraced this idea wholeheartedly: there’s a digital, Siri-like thing in your room to answer questions, but why use that when the staff is so knowledgeable and friendly?
The Roosevelt Hotel that Hailey studied to write his novel is still in business (having gone through several owners and even a few name changes before reverting to “Roosevelt” a few years ago). Its long time success argues that great traditional hotels will always have a place in New Orleans, whose life blood is tourism and the convention business. People traveling for fun like luxury, and luxury in hotels for most people translates into spas and room service. So hoteliers keep offering these loss-leader options because otherwise the guests might as well decamp to the Holiday Inn Express (after all, when you get down to it, a hotel room is really just a bed in a box).
But if your idea of luxury extends beyond those traditional offerings, if space means a lot to you or even separate bathrooms, then Domio Baronne is serious competition to the traditional hotels. On my next trip, I may even buy some beignet mix and bring it back to my apartment kitchen and see what kind of catastrophe I can cook up on my own.
The Domio Baronne Hotel is the seventh selection for The Daily Beast's twice-monthly series on gorgeous new or restored hotels, The New Room with a View.