It’s Hip Not To Be Square

Meeting Planning

The lights are dim and tinted, the music’s pulsing steadily, the crowd is tragically fashionable—and, damn, do you look good! You recline a bit, sip your smooth whatever-tini and survey the scene: People are mingling casually, getting to know each other, making an impression. Talking themselves up, promoting their ideas. Deriving vital energy from each other, and from the distinctive ambience.

This is a hotel, correct? It feels more like a swanky nightclub or an ultra-secret, members-only joint, but, yes, it is a hotel. And you found it, chose it for this particular gathering.

Why? Hip hotels can be just the prescription for the meeting blahs; their edgy environs have the distinct ability to generate creativity and push attendees to think outside their comfort zone.

Maybe hip hotels are in your comfort zone, but if you’re new to the scene, here’s what you need to know to make it.

Hip Defined—Or Not
But what defines “hip,” exactly? It’s a good question—one that kids start frantically asking themselves as soon as they hit junior high. But, really, there’s no definitive answer. Sure, Merriam Webster supplies a listing: as an adjective, it means “having or showing awareness of or involvement in the newest developments or styles.” But that’s a painfully inadequate explanation, and like any overdone attempt to appear cool, it’s foolishly lacking.

How do you know whether a hotel’s hip? To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, you’ll know it when you see it. True hipsters know that being hip means toeing a fine line: overdo it, and you’ll be laughed at; under do it, and people will roll their eyes at your minimalism. So what’s a planner to do when aiming for hip, that ever-elusive classification? Turn to other experts, that’s what.

Experts like Steve Kemble, for one. The award-winning event planner and president of Dallas, Texas-based Steve Kemble Event Design (stevekemble.com) knows what, for him, constitutes a hotel au courant. “Elements such as location, architectural design and interior environment with an edge,” he says.

In the eyes of Marc Friedland, founder and creative director of L.A.-based Creative Intell-igence, Inc. (creative-intelligence.com), “‘Hip’ is almost a hackneyed phase right now, and the more hip a hotel supposedly is, the more it is not. For me, ‘hip’ is about ‘cool’—another indefinable term, but one which suggests breaking the mold, attracting the opinion-formers and the style-setters.”

A hip hotel, Friedland says, “attracts the right crowd—the crowd that’s in the know before anyone else, the mavens of modern lifestyle.”

M. Hope Lawrence, an “event architect” for Austin, Texas-based Launch (go4launch.com) puts it more succinctly: “It’s the feeling you get when you walk in.”

Indeed. But why elicit that feeling at your event? What’s the draw? “The environment helps attendees let go of previous notions and be open to new ideas,” she explains. “People rise to their environment—and a great environment sets the stage for great thinking.”

Friedland agrees. “Environment and experience are key to a successful event. If a hip hotel meets our clients’ brand objectives and enhances its personality, the event will have more impact.”

With regard to the effect a sizzling place can have on attendees, he says that such an away-from-home atmosphere allows guests to live out a mind-opening alternate reality. “People love hotels because they can be the people they aspire to be, and they can hold court in an ideal setting.”
Additionally, according to Gary Levitt, vice president of marketing for L.A.-based Sequoia Productions (sequoiaprod.com), which produces the Emmy and Oscar Governors Balls, “A trendy and hip hotel sets the stage for innovative thought and ideas. The energy of that style of hotel transcends to the meeting, its content and the message it aims to impart.”

Hip Hotel Features
So, OK, we’ve determined that we can’t really answer what defines “hip.” But we can ask the question: What features should a hip hotel have?

Smooth ambience, of course, is requisite. If you plan in L.A., you’ll find a plethora of hotels with sexy settings—just look at Viceroy, the two Standard properties and Avalon. Though each of these hotels is distinctly different, they share one important common thread: each is uniquely itself. No one will ever mistake one for another. The same is true for other standout hotels around the West, including San Francisco’s Adagio and Clift hotels, the Renaissance Las Vegas, Seattle’s Hotel 1000 and Aspen’s Sky Hotel, among others. Giving hotels distinctive, memorable ambience is a fast-growing trend, and among hip hotels, it’s more about concept than, say, décor. Another defining factor in deeming a hotel “hip”: celebrity presence. Our culture’s trendsetters, those who define and embrace what’s next, are among the ones populating these dens of cool. And who’s going to truthfully deny that the possibility of sighting a star isn’t exciting?

Of course, there are certain hotels where the chance of celebrity spotting is highly elevated. Chateau Marmont in Hollywood is the grande dame of the star hideouts, but there are other, more undercover celeb hubs that simmer with hipster energy. For instance: The modern, independent Crescent Hotel in Beverly Hills regularly serves Teri Hatcher, Courteney Cox, Tara Reid and Fran Drescher. Napa’s Carneros Inn has played host to Jessica Simpson, Heath Ledger and Sheryl Crow. In Hawaii, the indoor-outdoor spaces at Kahala have attracted Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Will Smith and the Lost cast. 

Lots of celebs stay all over Vegas, but the hotel most affiliated with young, happenin’ stars is The Palms; since its starring role as the setting for MTV’s The Real World, it’s drawn everyone from Britney Spears to anyone who plays on Celebrity Poker Showdown. Without a doubt, one of the main reasons starlets and heartthrobs hang at The Palms is its incredible nightlife scene, where its nightspots, Rain and Ghostbar, are open until 5 a.m. and packed to the walls with young people sporting impossibly current fashions.

Which brings us to another element that makes a hotel “hip”: What goes on at night in public spaces. If it’s all elevator music and blokes in business suits, it’s a safe bet it’s not hip. If, however, there’s a line around the block, a velvet rope with a burly bouncer and a raging or a lounging scene that involves techno music, mood lighting and a deejay—well then, you’ve found your hip hotel.

In L.A. you can find this nighttime sleekness at the W Hotel or at Viceroy. San Francisco’s Hotel Vitale has become one of the city’s trendiest hotels, especially for in-the-know hipsters—good-looking, mostly 20- to 30-year-olds—who keep the bar and restaurant packed on Thursday and Friday nights.

A further question to ask when trying to determine if a hotel qualifies as “hip”: Does it have a see-and-be-seen restaurant? In Hollywood, Hotel Roosevelt’s Dakota is a dim, cave-like space with phenomenal food, cocktails that shimmer and waitstaff who could double as models. In downtown L.A., Omni’s Noe restaurant is making a name for itself by being remarkably progressive with its cuisine. In Las Vegas, Sensei at Bellagio is lively (though the hotel as a whole is more classical than hip, it has other slick spaces, like the Light Night Club).

Often, what makes a place hip is the fact that it has some sort of unifying theme: In San Francisco, for example, the Triton centers around rock and roll, and the Argonaut ties together nautical furnishings, architecture and cuisine. Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel makes its point of existence around rock legends.

Finally, don’t rule out a hotel just because it’s old. There’s definitely such a thing as classically hip—hotels that were the “bee’s knees” when they debuted, say, in the 1930s, but have stood the test of time and can still draw celebrity clientele and other paragons of haute couture. The classic example, of course, is Holly-wood’s beloved but notorious Chateau Marmont, built in 1929 and still the undisputed house of celebrity lore and debauched tragedy (John Belushi died of an overdose here, Jim Morrison fell from a window here, and James Dean hopped in through a window to audition for Rebel Without a Cause, for starters).