The line separating resorts and business hotels was once as dark and definitive as Ritz-Carlton's paneling. Resorts put their dollars into spas, manicured grounds and luxurious furnishings, and business properties weren't homes-away-from-home so much as branches of the home office. Fax machines, direct-dial long distance and, later, working modems and business centers with computer access gave a place bragging rights, along with conference space with video screens and a concierge who knew the local restaurants and gave precise directions.
These days, everyone carries a branch office in their laptop, if not their breast pocket. Executives are far more likely to write a memo poolside than in a business center, and MapQuest, Chowhound, iPhones and GPS devices have largely eliminated the need to ask anyone about anything. If your business hotel now resembles a vacation hideaway, it's because pampering is the new business amenity, a way for even mid-range properties to distinguish themselves in a category that seems to offer travelers better options each year. Hotels that once trumpeted a few Nautilus machines in a workout room now have full-service spas. Hi-def flat-screens are as de rigueur as HBO used to be.
Still, some hotels give the traveling executive even more. It might be instant translation services, or round-the-clock dinner menus for jet-lagged guests or in-room massages and sport-specific trainers. But the best combine an impeccable location and state-of-the-art facilities with a commitment to service that shifts just about anything into the realm of the possible. A helicopter to the airport? Football tickets for a key client? A live iguana for a business pitch? The best business hotels will make it happen.
We went looking across the country for hotels like these and found 15 that offer an exceptional experience for business travelers--and one that topped them all. We looked past the trendiest hotels, or even the most renowned, for hotels that are smart and sophisticated choices. Some have a decades-long track record, others are only a few years old, but none of them is coasting on faded glory. Cost has been taken into consideration, but this isn't a value list. All of our picks offer top quality; some manage to do it for a bargain price. And because today's corporate marketplace isn't nearly as concentrated in New York and California as it was a generation ago, our choices span everywhere on the continent that business spans--across all four time zones, from coast to coast.
The Best Business Hotel
New York, 80 Columbus Circle, New York; (212) 805-8800. Expensive.
There may not be anywhere in New York, indoors or outdoors, that feels quite as serene as the 6-year-old Mandarin Oriental, which floats above Central Park in the TimeWarner Center. The 248 rooms and suites start on the 35th floor, rendering traffic noise and other hubbub nonexistent, and the layout and subtle Asian decor are designed to maximize tranquillity.
Yet what truly sets the Mandarin apart is its business service. The up-to-the-moment gadgetry--including computer-accessible flat-screen TVs that permit PowerPoint presentations en suite and room phones that provide stock quotes, weather and airline schedules--is backed by an innate understanding of a busy executive's needs. Consider the 24-hour Thomas Pink service offering shirts or blouses, ties and cuff links for the late-arriving CEO with lost bags and an early meeting. Or Polycom speakerphones that provide stereo-system sound on conference calls. Rent two rooms and one can be transformed within minutes into an office: beds and night tables out; desks, fax machine and other equipment in. Personal touches such as current-release books on the night table (custom-selected if a guest's interests are known) and a complimentary running coach to guide the torpid, timid or easily disoriented around Central Park speak to the Mandarin's eagerness to create experiences, not merely play host. And with four floors of shopping and two of the world's great restaurants, Per Se and Masa, an elevator ride away, there's really no reason to leave the building. But if you must, complimentary Town Cars will take you anywhere within 20 blocks, from Lincoln Center to Rockefeller Center.
The Best of the Rest
370 Commonwealth Ave., Boston; (617) 267-1607. Mid-range.
This 1925 landmark has the feel of a posh townhouse, a superior staff and a nearly perfect location: one block from Newbury Street, two blocks from the Charles River and walking distance to Fenway Park and MIT. Rooms are spacious (79 of the 95 are suites) and full of flat-panel, wireless and cordless amenities. But the bathrooms can be small and some rooms have a dowdy, Yankee Magazine look. A private dining room and the adjacent Harvard Club serve meeting needs, while Ken Oringer's Uni and Clio restaurants just might provide the best in-hotel dining in America.
Four Seasons Las Vegas
3960 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas, Nev.; (702) 632-5000. Mid-range.
Sometimes we appreciate a business hotel because of the constraints under which it operates. In the case of the Four Seasons Las Vegas, it's The Strip, which handcuffs hotels to casinos because they subsidize everything from floor shows to meals. Alone among the big-name properties, the Four Seasons doesn't have one. Instead of blackjack and slot machines, guests get a quiet, uncluttered lobby, fresh flowers at every turn and functional amenities such as a check-in kiosk for major airlines, access to translation and transcription services and a business center manned around the clock. If you do want to celebrate that new contract with a splurge, the bustling Mandalay Bay and its casino occupy the same building.
18 Ninth Ave., New York; (212) 206-6700. Expensive.
Who says a great business hotel has to be classically attired? The model agencies and advertising shops in the vicinity of this glossy tower in New York's Meatpacking district tend to be run by T-shirt-clad executives, and the Gansevoort has the perfect vibe for its in-the-know vendors and clients who choose their hotel more by its coolness factor than the livery of its doorman. A lively social scene includes nightly crowds at Tanuki Tavern, the Japanese restaurant off the lobby, a spa that becomes a chic bar after sundown and the rooftop pool (rare for Manhattan), where the hip and stylish can work and network. Rooms are spare, elegant and highly functional.
100 Woodland Pond, Cary, N.C.; (919) 887-2135. Best value.
SAS founder Jim Goodnight lobbied Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons to bring a world-class business hotel to the Research Triangle. When they demurred, he built his own beside a pond on the SAS campus. It feels like a Gustav Klimt painting come to life--all polished wood and gold and Art Nouveau accents. Rooms and suites are especially spacious, a benefit of Goodnight's already owning the land. Public spaces are calm, and all the business amenities are there, including 10,000 square feet of meeting space with conferencing capabilities and high-tech sound.
555 S. Main St., Salt Lake City; (801) 258-6000. Value.
The Grand America is like a Ritz-Carlton built to massive scale but with genuine 17th century Flemish tapestries--and rates less than $200. A 24-story city block of white granite, the hotel has plush carpets, hand-crafted furniture and museum-quality artwork that give it a hushed, Old World feel. A deep concierge staff has contacts and resources to fulfill special requests; even the bellhops are ready to jump into a car and run an errand. Don't miss the 22,813-square-foot ballroom, part of 100,000 square feet of fully wired (and wireless) meeting space: It features 12-foot bronze and crystal Moscatelli chandeliers billed as the largest ever made.
2201 Stemmons Freeway, Dallas; (214) 748-1200. Value.
The Anatole is both huge (1,606 rooms. 79 meeting rooms. more than 346,000 square feet of meeting space) and vast (it's set on 45 acres and includes a 7-acre sculpture park, 11 restaurants and bars and an 80,000-square-foot spa with two pools and a basketball court). Somehow, though, it still feels personal. Concierges at the new glass-and-leather Executive Lounge on the 25th floor--part of a $100 million renovation--facilitate in booking boardrooms and scoring Cowboys tickets, and rooms are warm and comfortable. A new-media bar with 27 plasma screens and an interactive dance floor opened in February.
Hyatt Place Chesapeake/Greenbrier
709 Eden Way N., Chesapeake, Va.; (757) 312-0020. Value.
With the latest generation of Hyatt Place properties, the privately held company has perfected the value brand. Now the hotels are mostly new construction (the originals were revamped AmeriSuites). They remain understated without feeling stark and combine functionality and genuine style--at 1970s prices. This Hyatt Place, on a secluded side street just south of the Norfolk airport, may be the best yet. The standout staff is not merely well-trained but also empowered, and public spaces still look as if the hotel opened last week. The "e-room" business center includes a complimentary computer with printer, and a 24-hour guest kitchen serves made-to-order meals and snacks. Best of all, room rates average around $110 a night.
3315 Peachtree Road NE, Atlanta; (404) 946-9000.Mid-range.
Surprisingly opulent for a domestic InterContinental, the hotel has doorbells for each room, free shoe shines, huge bathrooms and a 24-hour Club Room stocked with snacks, all for rates starting at $179. An extensive business center offers secretarial services, limousines and PDA rentals, and the elegant lap pool looks like a snapshot pulled from Warren Beatty's Bugsy. Unlike most Atlanta-area properties, this one is within walking distance of somewhere you actually might want to go.
201 S. 11th St., Minneapolis; (612) 746-4600.Mid-range.
The business hotels in Starwood's Luxury Collection are meant to have individual personalities yet offer the predictable comfort (and frequent-stay benefits) of a top chain. Set in a former headquarters of a Christian Science sect, Minneapolis' Ivy is the most accomplished. It has an urbane elegance--including a classic tea service held off the lobby each afternoon. But there's no sacrifice of functionality. Junior suites, especially, are ideal workspaces, and the spa is the city's best (fitness center, sauna, steam room and whirlpool are free for guests). Access to 7 miles of connected skyway puts most of downtown within reach, a decided advantage during the six or so cold months of the year.
The Peninsula Beverly Hills
9882 S. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, Calif.; (310) 551-2888. Expensive.
Los Angeles has hotels to fit every conceivable niche of the entertainment business, from the Chateau Marmont to the SLS, but the Peninsula remains the industry's hub. The reason is a commitment to business services that borders on the obsessive: faxes with private numbers in every room, an airport concierge to choreograph arrivals and departures (all guests who use the hotel's airport concierge service have use of airline first-class lounges, even if they aren't traveling first class), specialized private trainers (including kick-boxing instructors) and a baggage-shipping service that lets jet-setters have their business clothes pressed and waiting on arrival. The complimentary Rolls-Royce for shopping excursions doesn't hurt, either.
1001 SW Broadway; Portland, Ore.; (503) 241-4100. Best mid-range.
The best hotel in a mid-sized American city traditionally occupies an important place in the city's business life. Executives meet there for breakfast, local companies hold meetings, parties and dinners, and the lobby serves as a civic gathering place. While standbys such as Milwaukee's Pfister and Dallas' Adolphus have seen their influence erode, Portland's Heathman has become more vital than ever--and thoroughly high-tech. The center of Portland's arts scene, the hotel hosts jazz lunches and serves as an ever-evolving gallery space for local artists. Eight private boardrooms offer Wi-Fi (as well as fully wired connections for uneasy CFOs), and guest-room connections are complimentary, along with loose-leaf tea and French-press coffee.
The Peninsula Chicago
108 E. Superior St., Chicago; (312) 337-2888. Expensive.
Peninsula only has three North American properties, and two made this list. Chicago's is a grand, European-style palace of a hotel, with Murano chandeliers and closets as big as entire rooms at other hotels in town. But its soul is that of an intimate inn. Guests are addressed by name--which can seem like logistical sleight-of-hand but still never fails to make them feel good--and their preferences for everything from placement of bath toiletries to room layout are noted and catered to. Meeting space includes an outdoor terrace and private rooms in two of the hotel's four restaurants. Some guests claim to return for the spa and fitness program alone: It includes resort-style treatments and more than 30 yoga and Pilates classes weekly. Rooms are luxurious--the bathroom has a hands-free phone.
3100 South St. NW, Washington, D.C.; (202) 912-4100. Expensive.
Most D.C. hotels are as dull as a politician's blue suit, but this Ritz-Carlton swaggers in a singular setting--a retrofitted brick incinerator--that allows guests to make a statement about individuality without sacrificing comfort or service. Boutique-sized (just 86 rooms) and within walking distance to Georgetown's commercial area and nightlife, the hotel also offers Town Car service to get you to the Metro and beyond. Rooms are large, many with views of the Potomac, and business benefits include international newspapers and an on-site DHL desk, as well as Ritz-Carlton's usual superb concierge staff.
600, Bellevue Way NE, Bellevue, Wash.; (425) 638-1000. Mid-range.
In the heart of Seattle's fast-growing Eastside, this coolly appointed 337-room Westin is ideal for visitors to Microsoft, T-Mobile, Expedia and other nearby companies, as well as to the upscale Lincoln Square mixed-use development it anchors. The lobby has the feel of the corporate headquarters of some booming dotcom--the artwork is more striking than attractive--and the strawberry-infused water flows freely. Rooms are bright and cozy, with super-sized windows and the chain's plush Heavenly Bed. Guest-office suites come outfitted with communications centers.
Pricing: Value: Average nightly room rate less than $150. Mid-range: Average rate $150 to $300 per night.
Expensive : More than $300 per night.
Bruce Schoenfeld, a contributing editor for Travel + Leisure, has been traveling for business for nearly 30 years.