By Michael Humphrey
Kansas City’s Jazz Age was a rollicking time, for better and worse, and news about the fun spread across the country. Bigwigs in sports, entertainment and industry were traveling to Kansas City to do business (legal and otherwise), listen to the city’s brand of jazz and bask in what many considered the early 20th century’s Sin City.
And those folks had to stay somewhere, didn’t they? So it’s no surprise that there are a number of hotels downtown that capture the Art Deco magic of those roaring years. And fortunately, the most illustrious hotels of that era are thriving again, thanks to KC’s downtown renaissance.
The Aladdin, a boutique hotel owned by International Hotel Group and run as a Holiday Inn, seems the most intent on giving you a sense of the heyday’s elegance and adventure, even if it’s missing the mob bosses and flapper fashions.
“When a guest checks in, they are generally amazed,” says Lenny Corso, Director of Sales. “It’s just a very special boutique experience. We wanted to capture the sense of this hotel when it was in its first prime.”
And you better believe that it has worked. It is currently ranked the No. 2 hotel in Kansas City on Tripadvisor.com, and reviews of the new facility have been glowing.
“You know you’re in for a treat the moment you walk in the front door and experience the dramatic Art Deco design, which is repeated throughout the hotel and in the immaculate, stylish and incredibly comfortable and well-furnished rooms,” wrote a recent visitor.
It’s true the Aladdin has the magic formula when it comes to style and service, but there’s plenty more than smoke and mirrors. For meeting planners of small to medium groups looking for a little “wow” factor, the Aladdin is ready to uncork the magic.
History Meets Cutting Edge
The year 1926 found Kansas City at the beginning of its swing into infamy. Bandleader Bennie Moten released the song “Kansas City Shuffle” that year, political boss Tom Pendergast helped an up-and-comer named Harry Truman get elected to Presiding Judge of Jackson County and a hotel named the Aladdin became the talk of the town.
Quickly the Aladdin became famous for its nightspot, the Zebra Room, where many of the movers and shakers of the city cooled their heels. It also gained a reputation for premium service and elegance.
Fast-forward 81 years and it’s hard to resist writer Alphonse Karr’s remark: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
After a $15 million-plus renovation, Wright Investment Properties of Memphis, is guiding the 16-story Aladdin into a hotel made for the modern world. The 193 guest rooms shimmer with sleek design, stylish art, 32” flat-screen televisions with DVD players, WiFi throughout, a business center and a fitness center. For downtime, there’s the Martini Loft, a well-appointed mezzanine that overlooks the diminutive but dazzling lobby. Current plans will include a spa on the first level.
There’s not a thing about the Aladdin, which reopened in April of last year, that feels old.
“We brought in state-of-the-art amenities in every corner,” Corso says. “It’s the flat screen televisions, the clock radio with CD player, but it’s also Wolfgang Puck coffee, Body Works bathroom amenities, the linens we chose, it’s everywhere. That offers a very modern feel to a very nostalgic building.”
Nostalgia strikes with the Zebra Room, with its edgy striped tables and dark color palette, looking like Tom Pendergast could walk in with Truman at any minute. Marble pillars, and intricately tiled floors offer a sense of stepping back in time even while the future awaits. The Aladdin is marketing the whole experience as “vintage hip.” And it doesn’t end with the good looks.
“To be greeted the first night with champagne at check-in,” commented a guest from British Columbia on Tripadvisor.com, “what more can we say[?] The decor matched the personality of the staff – upbeat and funky.”
Who knows how many deals were cut in the hotel over the years during Zebra Room negotiations, ballroom bargains and martini meetings? Perhaps the negotiations are a little more open-air these days, but Corso says everyone should know the Aladdin is open for business. And that’s good news for small groups.
“I focus in on the groups that need 50 to 75 rooms, general sessions of 100 to 200,” Corso says. “That means a small group is going to get a level of attention here they just can’t get in a convention hotel.”
And you wouldn’t expect the meeting space to be drab and lifeless, would you?
Great views of downtown (if you want them), hip décor and state-of-the-art amenities make for memorable events and meeting spaces.
Not a lot of space, mind you. With the convention center nearby and several hotels with tens of thousands of square feet available, the Aladdin has opted to serve the small to medium meeting market.
The Roof Garden Ballroom offers 2,760 square feet of space (40 ft. wide x 69 ft. long, 13-foot ceiling), perfect for dinners, mixers and medium-sized speaking engagements. The room seats 250 theater-style, 120 classroom-style, 200 banquet-style and 250 for a reception.
The Roof Garden Terrace offers 700 square feet (14 ft. wide by 50 ft. long, 9.6-foot ceiling). Intimate enough for 25 people or larger classroom and mixer events, the room holds 75 theater-style, 40 classroom, 64 banquet and 75 reception.
And the Martini Loft offers 485 square feet, just one floor above the Zebra Room, making it ideal for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres before a group dinner.
Location, Location, Location
It’s one thing to have a hotel that offers pizzazz. For meeting planners, the allure might be tempting, but most know that all flash and no fire usually has attendees fizzling at the end.
But the Aladdin has some pretty nice advantages going for it on the outside as well. It is one of two hotels with direct covered access to the recently renovated convention center. Its agreement with the municipal garage, directly across Wyandotte St., solves any parking problems that a boutique hotel might face.
The hotel is also right on the edge of the new Power and Light Entertainment District, an $850 million venture opening this spring. That means access to chain and local restaurants, shops, comedy and music clubs, and the new Sprint Arena will take less than a 10-minute walk from the hotel lobby.
So far some of the tenants announced are Consentino’s Downtown Gourmet Market, Lucky Strike Lanes, The Bristol Seafood Grill, ChinaBAR, wine bistro Vinino, Famous Dave’s Barbecue, national clothier Jos. A. Bank, Chipotle, ultragroove lounge Mosaic, Gordon Biersch Brewery and Restaurant and a boutique movie theater run by AMC.
It also provides excellent access to fine arts venues. The new Kansas City Repertory Theater Copaken Stage, the Music Hall, Folly Theater, Lyric Opera, Midland Theater and the brand new Kauffman Performing Arts Center, to open in 2009, are all in easy walking distance.
“We’re going for more than just a place to stay on any given night,” Corso says. “We aim for the full experience of being in an urban area, in a boutique hotel, a feeling like you’ve done something special.”
And judging from reactions so far, the genie is doing its job in downtown Kansas City. MM&E
(Michael Humphrey is the Contributing Editor from Kansas City, Mo.)
The Aladdin Hotel
1215 Wyandotte Street
Kansas City, MO 64105
Lenny Corso, Director of Sales
Phone: (816) 421-8887
Fax: (816) 817-1883
E-mail: [email protected]