|The Hyatt Regency’s elegant lobby, with its winding staircase leading to the ballroom area, sets the tone for what clients can expect at this chic urban oasis.|
New Orleans has been steadily regaining tourism jobs, adding new restaurants and building back its overall room inventory since Hurricane Katrina blew through the town in 2005. In a highly symbolic, and yet substantive step, the 1,193-room Hyatt Regency New Orleans, adjacent to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, reopened in October after a $275 million revitalization. Pre-Katrina, the city had 35,800 rooms, and with the Hyatt reopened, that figure is now 37,159.
Travel Agent stayed at the new 32-story hotel just after its October opening. One sizable change is that the front entrance has been relocated from Poydras Street to a new open-air porte-cochere at 601 Loyola Avenue. Construction is also under way out front for a new Loyola Avenue Streetcar Line. When completed in mid-2012, the new line will stretch 1.5 miles and connect the Amtrak Union Passenger Terminal to Canal Street.
General Manager Michael Smith, a hero in New Orleans for his can-do attitude and assistance to first responders during Katrina’s aftermath, meticulously toiled to reopen the property. Looking at media photos taken post-Katrina, it’s a bit hard to believe the hotel could be rebuilt: one entire exterior wall section was gone with beds visible and room curtains blowing in the wind.
Today, the Hyatt Regency New Orleans, with contemporary interior design by Looney & Associates, resembles a chic urban oasis. “The reopening of Hyatt Regency New Orleans is symbolic as it represents the end of a journey and the beginning of a new chapter for Hyatt and the city of New Orleans,” said Smith. The hotel’s interior atrium stretches from the third floor to the 27th floor, but while that structure remains intact, brick design elements were replaced with glass, and the mostly brown pre-Katrina decor was refreshed with a trendier, lighter color scheme.
To reach their rooms, guests take two separate upward escalators and then walk along a wide corridor into the hotel’s third-floor atrium, a “living room” area of sorts. Here guests (and occasionally celebrities) come together for conversation, drinks and dining. On one side of the corridor are seating sectionals, separated by large yellow-light wall dividers. On the other side is the 210-seat Vitascope Hall, named for the world’s first for-profit movie theater, built in the city in 1896.
The media bar is home to 25 flatscreen TVs, some in comfortable seating nooks. Guests might order the Place d’Armes, a drink concocted from Rittenhouse rye, pomegranate (house-made grenadine), lemon, lime, orange and mint. Savory bites include chicken sliders, crawfish and pork sausage in a blanket, grilled oysters, Caesar salad, Vitascope Hall potato chip-crusted burgers, and sushi and sashimi.
|All rooms at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans boast new soft goods and a warm, inviting color scheme.|
Executive Chef Eric Damidot leads the Hyatt’s culinary team that oversees Vitascope and other on-site eateries, including the 360-seat 8 Block Kitchen and Bar. Named for the eight blocks that comprise Upper Bourbon Street in the French quarter, this full-service restaurant specializes in dishes that reflect New Orleans’ and international influences. For breakfast, clients may order fried oyster eggs Benedict or classic New Orleans beignets. Savory lunch choices include grilled Cajun black drum fish or a muffaletta sandwich. Open 18 hours a day, the adjacent atrium area bar fields high-top tables and chairs.
Just around the corner from both Vitascope and 8 Block Kitchen and Bar are the main guest elevators. Guests wave a key card at a high-tech scanner and it directs them to the proper elevator, which automatically zips them to their floor.
All suites and rooms at Hyatt Regency New Orleans boast new soft goods. The color scheme is a mix of warm gold, ivory, berry and sapphire touches. Room perks include Hyatt Grand Beds with pillowtop mattresses, updated window treatments, plush carpeting, 42-inch flat-screen TVs, mini- or larger refrigerator, new furniture, and modern bathroom fixtures and lighting. Ninety-five suites, five meeting planner suites and four presidential suites have high-tech features.
We stayed in #1824, an Executive Suite with a living room, bedroom, entry hallway and bathroom; the latter had natural stone floor, a sink, toilet and shower with a rainforest showerhead. This suite’s bedroom sported a king bed as well as a cabinet with mini-refrigerator and personal safe. Both bedroom and living room had large flat-screen TVs. The living area’s sectional couch was comfortable, and we used the ergonomic chair, desk and easy-to-reach strip of electrical outlets.
Other Executive Suite amenities included a Keurig coffee maker, hair dryer, wireless high-speed Internet and iPod docking station. The razzle-dazzle TV system allowed us to surf the web, watch TV, order a yoga program and check our bill. One odd discovery, though, was that this suite had almost no storage in the bedroom itself; we stored our clothing in the more distant closet near the front door. Wardrobes were present in some other accommodations we toured.
Standard rooms at the Hyatt Regency have dual queen beds or a king bed. While all Hyatt rooms follow a strict protocol for cleanliness, the hotel’s Respire by Hyatt-Hypo-Allergenic Rooms undergo an additional six-step process to reduce airborne particles and minimize potential irritants. Guests who upgrade their stay to Regency Club accommodations may access the exclusive, 32nd-floor Regency Club for great city views, complimentary continental breakfast, evening hors d’oeuvres and concierge services.
Nearby is a 24-hour fitness center that’s open to all guests and overlooks the Superdome. A fitness concierge will assist guests with the state-of-the-art fitness machines, give maps of local running and walking trails, and provide GPS watches to outdoor exercisers. On a different level, the hotel’s large outdoor pool is ringed by loungers, tables with umbrellas, and private cabanas; the pool has an accessibility lift.
More Room for Events
A stand-out hotel feature is 200,000 square feet of flexible event space, double what the Hyatt Regency had pre-Katrina. Agents planning a large wedding reception, corporate retreat or even a major conference may choose from two 25,000-square-foot ballrooms, each with a 3,000-guest capacity, as well as 80,000 square feet of exhibition space, 64 meeting and banquet rooms, 19 executive level meeting rooms, and seven boardrooms.
|Dining options include 8 Block Kitchen & Bar, named for the eight city blocks that comprise Upper Bourbon Street in the French Quarter.|
Named for the city’s historic Empire Theater, the newly constructed Empire Ballroom is outfitted with red-and-white carpeting, six stunning chandeliers composed of hand-blown Italian glass teardrops, floor-to-ceiling windows on one side and even a balcony overlooking Loyola Avenue. A sweeping open staircase from the ground floor—perfect for taking group wedding or event photos—leads to the ballroom’s pre-function space on the second floor.
The similarly sized Celestin Ballroom, the hotel’s only ballroom pre-Katrina, is now revitalized with crisp blue-and-white carpeting, and state-of-the-art lighting and sound technology. Nearby is the 50,000-square-foot Elite Hall, an exhibition area named for a historic jazz venue.
The shopping area and tunnel that connected the Hyatt Regency to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome area is gone—replaced with executive meeting space. Guests now walk outside to reach the Superdome.
Meanwhile, on the second floor, guests can buy their favorite latte or surf the web at a 60-seat Starbucks with free Wi-Fi. Nearby are a FedEx Office and Lagniappe Exchange, a 24-hour fresh market and convenience store. Since the Hyatt Regency also operates the Whole Hog Café in an adjacent building, barbecue can be ordered at both Lagniappe Express and 8 Block. Guests may also have pizza delivered to their room from Pizza Consegna.
Highly anticipated is Borgne—a new restaurant by James Beard award winner Chef John Besh—that will open this winter. Expect casual, coastal Louisiana seafood with a touch of Spanish influence. Incidentally, Borgne is named for a lake where Besh and Brian Landry, the new restaurant’s chef de cuisine, enjoyed fishing as children.
Throughout our three-night stay, Hyatt Regency staffers were friendly, proactively assisted guests and apologized if something wasn’t just right. The hotel was open only for a few days when we visited, so some of the staff were still in the learning mode.
Overall, this is an impressive hotel with easy access to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Its updated facilities with chic public areas should appeal to business and leisure travelers alike. And from a tourism perspective, the hotel’s reopening puts more rooms back in inventory and shows how much the city is distancing itself from Katrina…and in a big way. Visit the hotel website (www.neworleans.hyatt.com) for more information.