Variations on a theme

The Atlas Hotel Group is steering away from the beachside behemoths that characterize Tel Aviv hotels.

Center Hotel 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy of the Atlas Group)
Center Hotel 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy of the Atlas Group)
The term "boutique hotel" has such a charming ring that even if one doesn't quite know what it entails, it sounds like an alluring place to stay. In essence, a boutique hotel is a small, luxury establishment that is often designed around a specific theme or concept and provides personalized services and facilities. That being said, many large hotel chains have gotten on the bandwagon and are branding themselves as boutique hotels as well. In that case, it is not a question of size but of design and intention. If a hotel is developed around a particular concept, then it may be described as a boutique hotel. In other words, one could say that all concept hotels are boutique hotels, but not all boutique (small, luxury) hotels are concept hotels. In Tel Aviv, for instance, there are several good examples of consummate concept - or boutique - hotels. The Melody, Cinema, Center and Art+ hotels, run by the Atlas Hotel Group, offer inviting variations on their themes. Owned by Leslie Adler and Danny Lipman, Atlas is a management group that rents existing hotels for a long term, 20 to 30 years, and invests its own money to upgrade the premises, services and facilities. Known for the past 40 years as a group that managed three- and four-star European-style business hotels, Atlas decided three years ago to undergo a new branding process and focus on boutique hotels, says Jenny Jamui, director of Agam Communications and spokesperson for the Atlas Group. Their rationale, she says, is that once you give a guest a special experience - not just a hotel stay but a unique experience - they will be willing to pay more for it. "We start with an idea a year before opening a hotel," says Jamui. "That determines the design and the architecture of the place." To that end, there is an active creative team that works on the concept of each hotel, dreaming up ways to integrate elements of the theme into a practical and enjoyable experience for the clientele. "As part of the branding of the chain, each hotel has its own scent and its own type of music," says Jamui. All the Atlas hotels have a happy hour in the business lounge from 5-8 p.m., where the refreshments and beverages are free, and each guest room has a coffee/tea bar. The Atlas hotels also offer free wireless Internet service. "It is the only hotel chain that has it for free - even the five-star hotels don't offer that," says Jamui. "Once you get into the Atlas family, you don't get out," she laughs, explaining that all the general managers of the Atlas hotels have worked their way up through the ranks, some beginning as reception clerks or banquet managers. And speaking of work, that is part of the theme of the Melody Hotel. The Melody Hotel Built 12 years ago, the Melody was a four-star business hotel, located across the street from the beach at 220 Hayarkon. When Atlas took over, they added three floors and renovated the premises. Then they turned it into a 55-room boutique hotel revolving around the concept of "Work and play in Tel Aviv." Their premise was to provide the businessman with all his needs, both personal and professional. To set the scene, Atlas got the Tel Aviv public involved in the design of the hotel. They announced a photo contest asking Tel Avivians to send black-and-white photographs of their idea of work and play in Tel Aviv. After receiving some 700 pictures, a selection committee chose 40, which now grace the lobby and the guest rooms of the Melody Hotel. (The winners received a cash prize and a weekend stay at the hotel.) To facilitate the work mode, every room has an office-style desk complete with office supplies, such as staplers and paper clips, a DVD player, as well as a safe that is large enough to accommodate a laptop. The lobby lounge has two computers, five daily newspapers in English and Hebrew, and a plasma TV with non-stop news. And the hotel offers fax, printing and secretarial services. As for the leisure aspect, the Melody offers its guests a plethora of fun and games. The lobby lounge has a wide assortment of board games, a library of books and DVDs, and a very popular happy hour where guests can invite their own guests. To help guests enjoy themselves both indoors and out, the hotel offers a complimentary selection of kits to suit individual tastes and interests. The Morning Jog kit includes a map, hat, towel and a bottle of water. Fun in the Sun is equipped with a folding chair, hat, water, towel and a pail and shovel for the kids. The Flex and Relax kit has a yoga DVD and a mat. The Fit Kit has weights and an exercise video. The Play Me a Movie has a wide choice of DVDs and a bag of popcorn. And the Bicycle Kit includes a bicycle, water and a map with the city's bicycle routes. To reinforce the activity theme, the motif of each floor of the hotel is dedicated to a different exercise, such as jogging or swimming. The seventh floor, designed to look like a ship, has a rooftop terrace and sundeck that has a panoramic view of the sea and Independence Park. The Cinema Hotel When it comes to taking a theme and running with it, the Atlas Group has had a field day with Cinema Hotel. Housed in the former Esther Cinema built in 1938 - one of the first movie theaters in Tel Aviv - the Cinema Hotel is located at 1 Rehov Zamenhoff in Dizengoff Circle. All seven floors of this 82-room Bauhaus building ooze movie magic from every pore. As the owner of the building in the grandson of the original proprietors, Moses and Esther Nathaniel, just about everything has been preserved from the legendary movie theater - from the architecture and décor to the film paraphernalia. The real magic, then, was transforming the antiquated theater into a modern, elegant boutique hotel. The lobby of the Cinema Hotel has an Art Deco look, with black and gray tables and chairs, a large chandelier, a spiral staircase leading up to the next floors - and the immense projector that screened films from Europe and Hollywood which enthralled Tel Aviv audiences for decades. In that vein, there is also a large book in which people can write about their memories of the Esther Cinema. On every floor, like a museum, there are glass showcases filled with snippets of the past: movie reels, soundtracks, celluloid strips, tickets, stamping devices, film posters with Hebrew subtitles, documents, sketches, cameras and glass Coca-Cola bottles. Larger items on display include more projectors, stuffed chairs and a row of wooden theater seats. The hotel rooms seamlessly incorporate the theme. Each room has a director's chair, a spotlight, film posters, and the headboard of the bed is designed like a movie screen. Every room also has a small terrace on which one can relax and have a cup of coffee or tea from the coffee corner. From three in the afternoon unlimited popcorn is available, and every evening there are movies projected on the hotel walls. Meals are served in the large dining room, where all the dishes, napkins and placemats are branded with the hotel logo - a black celluloid strip. For business guests there is a small business center furnished with leather chairs and sofas, a TV and a table with a computer, where refreshments are served every afternoon. And, of course, for the film buffs there is a film room where they can watch movies to their heart's content. And high above it all, the rooftop terrace overlooking Dizengoff Square is replete with trees, flowers, wooden tables and chairs, lounge chairs and a ping-pong table. As you look down, you can see two statues of a boy and a girl on their balconies talking to each other on their homemade tin can walkie-talkies. What is that about? The Center Hotel That is about the concept of the Center Hotel, located directly across from the Cinema Hotel, at 2 Rehov Zamenhoff. A three-star boutique hotel geared toward the younger set, the 56-room Center focuses on Tel Aviv, the White City. It that regard, it was designed to celebrate the art, architecture, culture and spirit of the 100-year-old city. To render that theme, the Atlas Group asked five young artists to visualize and then create an image of Tel Aviv. In addition, photographers were sent to take pictures of the Rothschild area, renowned for its historic Bauhaus buildings. The result is that each corridor of the hotel is made to look like a street in Tel Aviv. And in each guest room, there is a mural on the wall behind the bed reflecting that theme created by a local artist, as well as small photographs of the early years of the city. In the lobby there is a mural map of Tel Aviv. More data on the history of Tel Aviv is available in several other forms. In the lobby there is a library with books about Tel Aviv - its past and its architecture. In the screening room, there is ongoing footage of Steven Spielberg's collection of Tel Aviv archives. And from time to time there are lectures at the hotel pertaining to the former days of Tel Aviv. As the Center Hotel does not have a dining room; guests of the hotel go across the street to have their morning meal in the spacious dining hall of the Cinema Hotel. The Art Hotel Located at 35 Ben-Yehuda in the commercial and cultural heart of the city yet a five-minute walk from the beach, the four-star Art+ is a little oasis of modern elegance and understated luxury. As its name implies, the theme of the 62-room Art+ is "the creative spirit of Tel Aviv." Owned by Doron Sabag, one of the largest art collectors in Israel, the hotel contains several pieces from his private collection. The rest of the creative content of the six-story hotel was commissioned to five local artists: Maya Attoun; Tali Ben-Bassat; Ayelet Carmi; Olaf Kuhneman; and Doron Rabina. Each artist was given a floor on which to create his or her artwork; and in each guest room on that floor a motif from that artwork is included. What's more, the Atlas Group hired an art specialist to maximize the implementation of the art concept in the hotel. The lobby is designed to look like an art gallery. In addition to original artwork on the walls and a video art presentation, the large space is occupied by colorful retro sofas, chairs and ottomans, track lighting and reading lamps. The space is divided into two areas by a bookcase filled with books on art and architecture. On the second floor, there is a library with a long worktable and another large selection of art books, magazines and newspapers. The library also serves as the breakfast room and as the lounge during late-afternoon happy hours. The guest rooms are modern and colorful, with interactive touches that function beyond decoration to become part of the guest's experience. For example, the bedroom mirror has the words "Sweet Dreams" etched across the bottom. The bathroom mirror says "Looking Good." On the desk there is a set of colored pencils and a drawing pad with the printed message "Express Yourself." And a little white sign on the wall that says "HANGER" actually is a hanger, with each of the six letters jutting out as a hook. For art aficionados and novices alike, each room has a bulletin board laden with brochures for local galleries and exhibitions. In addition, the Art+ offers guided tours of four or five nearby galleries in English, Hebrew or French. And a few times a week a sketch artist brings his sketchpad and special skills to the hotel to create a tangible memento for the guest. The lovely rooftop terrace on the fifth floor, abloom with flowers and citrus trees and furnished with retro beanbags, as well as lounge tables and chairs, affords the guest yet another way in which to inspire his soul and nourish his spirit. Based on these few examples, there is evidently much more to the pretty little boutique hotel than meets the eye. (The writer was a guest of the Art+ Hotel)