Variations on a theme

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

The term "boutique hotel" has such a charming ringthat even if one doesn't quite know what it entails, it sounds like analluring place to stay.

In essence, a boutique hotel is a small, luxuryestablishment that is often designed around a specific theme or conceptand provides personalized services and facilities. That being said,many large hotel chains have gotten on the bandwagon and are brandingthemselves as boutique hotels as well. In that case, it is not aquestion of size but of design and intention. If a hotel is developedaround a particular concept, then it may be described as a boutiquehotel.

In other words, one could say that all concept hotels areboutique hotels, but not all boutique (small, luxury) hotels areconcept hotels.

In Tel Aviv, for instance, there are several good examples ofconsummate concept - or boutique - hotels. The Melody, Cinema, Centerand Art+ hotels, run by the Atlas Hotel Group, offer invitingvariations on their themes.

Owned by Leslie Adler and Danny Lipman, Atlas is amanagement group that rents existing hotels for a long term, 20 to 30years, and invests its own money to upgrade the premises, services andfacilities.

Known for the past 40 years as a group that managed three- andfour-star European-style business hotels, Atlas decided three years agoto undergo a new branding process and focus on boutique hotels, saysJenny Jamui, director of Agam Communications and spokesperson for theAtlas Group. Their rationale, she says, is that once you give a guest aspecial 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 ahotel," says Jamui. "That determines the design and the architecture ofthe place."

To that end, there is an active creative team that works on theconcept of each hotel, dreaming up ways to integrate elements of thetheme into a practical and enjoyable experience for the clientele.

"As part of the branding of the chain, each hotel has its ownscent and its own type of music," says Jamui. All the Atlas hotels havea happy hour in the business lounge from 5-8 p.m., where therefreshments and beverages are free, and each guest room has acoffee/tea bar. The Atlas hotels also offer free wireless Internetservice. "It is the only hotel chain that has it for free - even thefive-star hotels don't offer that," says Jamui.

"Once you get into the Atlas family, you don't get out," shelaughs, explaining that all the general managers of the Atlas hotelshave worked their way up through the ranks, some beginning as receptionclerks 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 Atlastook over, they added three floors and renovated the premises. Thenthey turned it into a 55-room boutique hotel revolving around theconcept of "Work and play in Tel Aviv." Their premise was to providethe businessman with all his needs, both personal and professional.

To set the scene, Atlas got the Tel Aviv public involved in thedesign of the hotel. They announced a photo contest asking Tel Aviviansto send black-and-white photographs of their idea of work and play inTel Aviv. After receiving some 700 pictures, a selection committeechose 40, which now grace the lobby and the guest rooms of the MelodyHotel. (The winners received a cash prize and a weekend stay at thehotel.)

To facilitate the work mode, every room has an office-styledesk complete with office supplies, such as staplers and paper clips, aDVD player, as well as a safe that is large enough to accommodate alaptop. The lobby lounge has two computers, five daily newspapers inEnglish and Hebrew, and a plasma TV with non-stop news. And the hoteloffers fax, printing and secretarial services.

As for the leisure aspect, the Melody offers its guests aplethora of fun and games. The lobby lounge has a wide assortment ofboard games, a library of books and DVDs, and a very popular happy hourwhere guests can invite their own guests. To help guests enjoythemselves both indoors and out, the hotel offers a complimentaryselection of kits to suit individual tastes and interests. The MorningJog kit includes a map, hat, towel and a bottle of water. Fun in theSun is equipped with a folding chair, hat, water, towel and a pail andshovel 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 hasa wide choice of DVDs and a bag of popcorn. And the Bicycle Kitincludes a bicycle, water and a map with the city's bicycle routes.

To reinforce the activity theme, the motif of each floor of thehotel is dedicated to a different exercise, such as jogging orswimming. The seventh floor, designed to look like a ship, has arooftop terrace and sundeck that has a panoramic view of the sea andIndependence Park.

The Cinema Hotel

When it comes to taking a theme and running with it, the AtlasGroup has had a field day with Cinema Hotel. Housed in the formerEsther Cinema built in 1938 - one of the first movie theaters in TelAviv - the Cinema Hotel is located at 1 Rehov Zamenhoff in DizengoffCircle.

All seven floors of this 82-room Bauhaus building ooze moviemagic from every pore. As the owner of the building in the grandson ofthe original proprietors, Moses and Esther Nathaniel, just abouteverything has been preserved from the legendary movie theater - fromthe 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 blackand gray tables and chairs, a large chandelier, a spiral staircaseleading up to the next floors - and the immense projector that screenedfilms from Europe and Hollywood which enthralled Tel Aviv audiences fordecades. In that vein, there is also a large book in which people canwrite about their memories of the Esther Cinema.

On every floor, like a museum, there are glassshowcases filled with snippets of the past: movie reels, soundtracks,celluloid strips, tickets, stamping devices, film posters with Hebrewsubtitles, 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 hasa director's chair, a spotlight, film posters, and the headboard of thebed is designed like a movie screen. Every room also has a smallterrace on which one can relax and have a cup of coffee or tea from thecoffee 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 blackcelluloid strip.

For business guests there is a small business center furnishedwith leather chairs and sofas, a TV and a table with a computer, whererefreshments are served every afternoon. And, of course, for the filmbuffs there is a film room where they can watch movies to their heart'scontent.

And high above it all, the rooftop terraceoverlooking Dizengoff Square is replete with trees, flowers, woodentables and chairs, lounge chairs and a ping-pong table.

As you look down, you can see two statues of a boy and a girlon their balconies talking to each other on their homemade tin canwalkie-talkies. What is that about?

The Center Hotel

That is about the concept of the Center Hotel, located directlyacross from the Cinema Hotel, at 2 Rehov Zamenhoff. A three-starboutique hotel geared toward the younger set, the 56-room Centerfocuses on Tel Aviv, the White City. It that regard, it was designed tocelebrate the art, architecture, culture and spirit of the 100-year-oldcity.

To render that theme, the Atlas Group asked five young artiststo 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 thebed reflecting that theme created by a local artist, as well as smallphotographs of the early years of the city. In the lobby there is amural map of Tel Aviv.

More data on the history of Tel Aviv is available in severalother forms. In the lobby there is a library with books about Tel Aviv- its past and its architecture. In the screening room, there isongoing footage of Steven Spielberg's collection of Tel Aviv archives.And from time to time there are lectures at the hotel pertaining to theformer days of Tel Aviv.

As the Center Hotel does not have a dining room; guests of thehotel go across the street to have their morning meal in the spaciousdining hall of the Cinema Hotel.

The Art Hotel

Located at 35 Ben-Yehuda in the commercial and cultural heart ofthe city yet a five-minute walk from the beach, the four-star Art+ is alittle 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 inIsrael, the hotel contains several pieces from his private collection.The rest of the creative content of the six-story hotel wascommissioned to five local artists: Maya Attoun; Tali Ben-Bassat;Ayelet Carmi; Olaf Kuhneman; and Doron Rabina. Each artist was given afloor on which to create his or her artwork; and in each guest room onthat floor a motif from that artwork is included. What's more, theAtlas Group hired an art specialist to maximize the implementation ofthe art concept in the hotel.

The lobby is designed to look like an art gallery. In additionto original artwork on the walls and a video art presentation, thelarge space is occupied by colorful retro sofas, chairs and ottomans,track lighting and reading lamps. The space is divided into two areasby a bookcase filled with books on art and architecture.

On the second floor, there is a library with a long worktableand another large selection of art books, magazines and newspapers. Thelibrary also serves as the breakfast room and as the lounge duringlate-afternoon happy hours.

The guest rooms are modern and colorful, with interactivetouches that function beyond decoration to become part of the guest'sexperience. For example, the bedroom mirror has the words "SweetDreams" etched across the bottom. The bathroom mirror says "LookingGood." On the desk there is a set of colored pencils and a drawing padwith the printed message "Express Yourself." And a little white sign onthe wall that says "HANGER" actually is a hanger, with each of the sixletters jutting out as a hook.

For art aficionados and novices alike, each room has a bulletinboard laden with brochures for local galleries and exhibitions. Inaddition, the Art+ offers guided tours of four or five nearby galleriesin English, Hebrew or French. And a few times a week a sketch artistbrings his sketchpad and special skills to the hotel to create atangible memento for the guest.

The lovely rooftop terrace on the fifth floor, abloom withflowers and citrus trees and furnished with retro beanbags, as well aslounge tables and chairs, affords the guest yet another way in which toinspire 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)