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 Do Not Disturb

michael GREAT HOTELS
HAVE GREAT BARMEN


By Michael Matthews

February 26, 2004 -- To those of you kind clickers who responded to my first Do Not Disturb column I am most grateful, especially to those of you who were already following my advice of getting to know the General Manager of the hotels that you visit regularly.

Yes, it does work.

This week, I'd like to look at what makes me want to return to a hotel time after time. No doubt there are many opinions, but I have one that generally seems to hold true around the world: Great hotel experiences run parallel with great hotel bars--and great hotel bars are made from great barmen.

Let me cite a notable example of a great barman, in a great watering spot, in a great hotel.

There once was a barman called Norman at the old Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Central Park South. (That building is now the InterContinental Hotel.) Now Norman could remember everyone by name and by drink and he was as friendly as he was cantankerous. Norman had more friends and customers than Madame Claude's in Paris.

Norman, in fact, was nothing less than an institution.

Nearly 10 years ago, when my daughter was about 8 years old, I took her for a ride round Central Park in a carriage drawn by an old horse named Tom. She was enchanted. Then I took her into the Ritz-Carlton to meet Norman.

Norman immediately produced the requisite Shirley Temple with double cherries. He also mixed my regular: Beefeater and tonic. For the next half hour, Norman's attention was on my daughter and he introduced her to all of the other patrons of the bar. "Mr. Jones," Norman would say, "I'd like you to meet a very polite young lady..."

Days later my daughter was still talking about Norman and the first bar she'd ever been in. Tom, the old carriage horse, had been long forgotten.

For years after, I'd drop in and see Norman whenever I was in New York. He always asked after my daughter, even guessing her approximate age. "She must be 10 now," he'd say. "She must be a least 11," he said another time, and added: "Still a Beefeater and tonic, is it?"

Several years later, The Ritz-Carlton stopped managing the Central Park property and, by then, I guess I'd forgotten Norman.

Last week, however, and quite by happenstance, I walked by the new Ritz-Carlton, which is located a few doors down from its former location on Central Park South. I went in on a whim.

There was an assistant manager inside the door, a pretty blond. I asked her where the bar was and she started escorting me to it. (The escort is a Ritz-Carlton thing.) On the way, I happened to ask if she'd ever heard of a bartender called Norman who used to work in the old Ritz Carlton.

"Another one looking for Norman," she said with a smile as we entered the bar. And there was Norman.

As soon as he saw me, he wiped down an area of the bar, placed a napkin in front of me and said, "Beefeater and tonic with lemon?" Then: "How are you, sir, and how's that daughter of yours? She must be nearly 18, getting ready for the senior prom."

Tell me who wouldn't go back to a bar like that? And who wouldn't transfer that good will to the hotel housing that bar? You can have your marble bathrooms, butlers and Frette linens but what will ensure my return to any hotel is a great bar and a greater barman.

Next time you're in New York, drop by the Ritz-Carlton on Central Park South. It's on the corner of Sixth Avenue, on the site of the old St. Moritz hotel. Head for the bar and ask for Norman. Say Michael sent you.

This column originally appeared at joesentme.com.

Copyright 1993-2004 by Michael Matthews. All rights reserved.