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PUTTING ON (AND LIVING AT) THE RITZ
By Michael Matthews
April 11, 2013 -- Margaret Thatcher died in bed on Monday at the swanky Ritz Hotel in Piccadilly, London. That's my girl.
What better place to spend one's final days but in a luxurious hotel?
According to press reports, the 87-year-old Baroness had moved into The Ritz around Christmastime because the care was better and the living easier. Of course it was. A luxury hotel offers servants galore. You never have to make your bed or clean the toilet. There's no need to cook, dust or vacuum. The hotel does everything for you. What do you need? Just lift the phone and ask.
I know a little about what I'm talking about, both personally and professionally.
Following the death of my grandfather, my grandmother moved into the Alwyn Court Hotel on Gloucester Road in London. She had a large room with some of her favorite furniture and was instantly the Grand Dame of the place. I loved visiting her and she lived there for more than 20 years. The Alwyn Court survives to this day, albeit in a different form as the Rydges boutique hotel.
It may well be that it was the Alwyn Court that got me into the hotel business in the first place. Why? When I visited my grandmother as a boy of 9 or so, I got my own room. It was my first taste of freedom and you know what heady stuff that can be.
As for Mrs. Thatcher, she was by no means the only long-term resident of The Ritz, founded in 1906 by Cesar Ritz and currently owned by a pair of British businessmen. Nubar Gulbenkian, the eccentric Armenian business magnate and oilman, lived for decades at The Ritz. He was apparently a lousy tipper and drove around London chauffeuring his own London taxi. He also cut quite a figure around town thanks to his flowing beard, monocle and the fresh orchid in his lapel buttonhole.
He dined every evening at The Ritz and once famously said that "the ideal number for a dinner party is two. Myself and the headwaiter." There are even iconic images of him preparing dinner parties at The Ritz.
Richard Harris, the actor, was carted out of the Savoy on a stretcher mumbling, "It was the food." He'd been a guest there for 30 years.
On this side of the pond, Howard Hughes was a semi-permanent guest at numerous hotels over the years. He was so enamored of the Desert Inn in Las Vegas in the 1960s that he bought the place, moved the headquarters of his business empire onto the eighth floor and kept the ninth-floor penthouse as his home. The arrangement was spoofed as part of the plot of Diamonds Are Forever, the last "official" James Bond movie starring Sean Connery.
The Hong Kong Hilton had been hosting a guest for around 18 years when the hotel's owners decided to demolish the place in 1995. He was a lawyer and huge gambler on the horses at the city's two racetracks. The Hilton staff would savor his tips and it was his way of handing out gratuities. The staff would never let on to anyone else what the guest was betting on.
A couple of weeks before the wrecking ball arrived, I took a call from James Smith, the Hilton' s wonderful general manager. Would I be willing to take Mr. X as a permanent guest at the old Ritz-Carlton, which I was then running?
A good permanent guest is a joy for any hotelier. They are usually much less troublesome than transients, they become attached to the staff and only get a nominal discount off the room rate. Rather like a nice piece of furniture, they are just there. They also tend to spend more on food and beverage than the average guest.
So, naturally, I was willing. "Certainly," I said. "When you are sending him over?"
"Today," said Jimmy.
This involved a hasty meeting with my managers, the selection of an appropriate one-bedroom suite and notification to my horseracing-crazy staff about our new permanent guest.
You'd think the staff had won the lottery. When Mr. X arrived, the lineup of employees bowing and scraping was longer than we afforded Margaret Thatcher on her visit to the hotel.
He turned out to be a wonderful guest, a hotelier's dream. But he gave us lousy tips on horses.
Lest you think this live-at-a-hotel stuff is solely the province of the famous, the powerful, the eccentric and the rich, give the concept a moment's hard thought.
You can move into a really nice La Quinta Inn in the sunbelt for less than $60 a night. Because you will be a long-stay guest, you might well get a suite. Your "nightly" rate will free you from heating or air-conditioning bills. There'll be no electric or gas bills. There'll be no more fees for Internet access or television service. No real-estate taxes to pay, either. The La Quinta probably has a pool, too. Your breakfast is free.
And your monthly rent will be less than $2,000 a month. The concept is so appealing that CNN recently did a report about a 10-year guest at a Marriott Towne Place hotel in Virginia.
I once had dinner with Margaret Thatcher as part of a small party of six. I learned very quickly to keep my mouth shut and nod in agreement at everything she said.
But, if nothing else, she was right about living out her final days at The Ritz. It's a comfortable way to go.
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ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.
THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.
This column is Copyright © 2013 by Michael Matthews. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.