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The Grande Dames

America's greatest destination resorts balance the charms of the past with modern amenities
Bruce Schoenfeld
From the Print Edition:
Camilo Villegas, July/August 2006

(continued from page 3)

Yet the pool also reflects philosophical changes. At the risk of alienating longtime guests, Bartolin decreed that contemporary music—from country-pop to the occasional slash of a rock guitar—be piped in. If you look closely, you'll even see two water slides built into a specially constructed "mountain" to mimic the foothills, another part of the push to turn a celebrity haunt into a family hotel. "You have to be a bit daring," Bartolin says.

In almost every aspect of the Broadmoor, formality has lessened. While the recently redesigned Penrose Room still offers a live band and Rainbow Room-style dancing with dinner, as well as tableside preparations of standards such as Caesar salads, the formal French cuisine of even a few years ago has softened considerably to appeal to a more popular sensibility. "Today's client is more educated, but less sophisticated," says Craig Reed, the food-and-beverage manager. Sommeliers are trained not to just suggest big, expensive Bordeaux, but a range of wines across all price points. "If you want white Zinfandel," Reed says, "you're going to get the same experience." And in a nod to base broadening, a strikingly modern, Adam Tihanyódesigned restaurant called Summit has opened in a newly constructed space across the street from the hotel. It features the kind of food that the Broadmoor's new clientele is accustomed to eating on a nice night out—duck breasts, seared scallops, tuna tartare, a selection of sorbets—as cooked by Bertrand Bouquin. It debuted as perhaps the finest restaurant in the area and has started to lure local diners who may not have set foot on the Broadmoor property in years.

The south building, the dowdiest of the Broadmoor's facilities, reopened in May after a substantial—and pricey—redesign. The facade was replaced and extended outward, creating larger guest rooms, more luxurious bathrooms and balconies. The $24 million or so spent on those 144 rooms pushed the envelope for economic feasability, but the rooms were transformed from the hotel's shabbiest to its best. And a new bank of singular retail stores was set to open June 1: eight boutiques positioned around a courtyard with greenery and wrought-iron benches. These aren't the cookie-cutter Polo shops of other properties, but the likes of Balliet's, which sells high-fashion women's clothes such as Prada and Dolce & Gabbana. Another store will feature clocks, watches and other accessories.

It's all done in an effort to make the Broadmoor distinct from the mega-resorts popping up everywhere—from the shoreline of Laguna Beach, California, to the Las Vegas desert. "We'll always be different because you just couldn't buy up 2,500 acres in the foothills and create a Broadmoor today," Bartolin says. "As long as you keep it up, you really do have a unique property. But you have to nourish it, be creative. The fun part is, you're never done. It's a race without a finish line."

Grand Hotel Mackinac Island, MI
Let other historic hotels keep pace with the Hyatts and Hiltons, Dan Musser says. Let them add spas, plasma televisions and fusion cuisine and allow sports shirts in the lounge. His stately Grand Hotel, blazing white in the Lake Huron sunshine, resolutely soldiers on, staying true to its illustrious past.

"We're not for everyone," admits Musser, 42, a third-generation proprietor of his 119-year-old throwback property, which is located on Mackinac Island between Michigan's lower and upper landmasses. "But those that enjoy it here really do. And as the world shifts away from all of that, the more unique we become."

It works here because of the setting. Mackinac, accessible only by boat and private plane, looks and feels like a Midwestern town on a July afternoon in 1900. Cars are prohibited, so horses fill the streets with the clip-clop of a bygone era. Bunting is everywhere, and fudge is the leading comestible. It seems like a Disney set, until you realize that Mackinac's inhabitants and guests are living it, summer after summer.

As a consequence, what might seem cartoonishly old-fashioned in another place suits the Grand. There's no real pressure to modernize because a thoroughly modern resort would seem out of place. By definition, the pace is slow. Sitting on what is billed as the world's longest porch is a major form of recreation. "The high-tech people come in and get stressed," says Bob Tagatz, whose duties at the property include serving as its official historian. "They say, 'Where's that taxi? This is like waiting for a horse-and-carriage.' That's because it is a horse-and-carriage."

This isn't the place for the à la carte mentality. Even the sundries shop doesn't open until normal business hours. The pool closes precisely at 6 p.m., though the Grand's position—an hour's drive from the Canadian border, and on the western edge of the Eastern time zone—means that early evening can be the hottest part of the day. For anyone setting foot in the lobby after that, semiformal dress is mandatory.

The Grand's clientele skews regional, with the vast majority from states that border the Great Lakes. These aren't world travelers, but families from Kankakee and Massillon and Muskegon, stepping back in time for the summer—or else conventioneers attending their Rural Electrical Cooperative or Railroad Maintenance & Industrial Health & Welfare Fund annual meetings. "We have people who come here and say, 'This has to be the most luxurious hotel in the world,'" Tagatz says. "I tell them, 'You don't get out much.'"

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