Hotel concierges in four of your favorite U.S. cities pull back the curtain on one of the toughest jobs in the industry, and reveal their top recommendations on area eateries, attractions and activities.
Whether it’s wrangling live tarantulas or tracking down an Elvis impersonator for a 12-year-old’s birthday, it’s the job of the hotel concierge to make sure a guest’s every dream comes true. They’ve heard and seen it all, know where to go and what to see, and have the connections to make sure you get the best seats and hottest tickets in town. We recently chatted with the concierges at resorts in Los Angeles, Miami, NYC and Santa Fe and got the inside scoop on not only their best recommendations as to where to send guests, but also what it’s like to be in the hot seat at a concierge desk.
What’s your secret to being a good concierge?
It’s a balance of being able to humbly serve yet still picture yourself in the shoes of your clientele so you can ensure that guest expectations always meet guest satisfaction.
What’s one of the strangest things you’ve ever been asked to do?
Arrange an Elvis impersonator for a 12-year-old boy’s birthday. I also once had to ship a taxidermied deer head to the French island of Corsica.
What’s the biggest tip you’ve ever gotten?
While we appreciate monetary gratuities, what sticks out the most in my mind are the more thoughtful gifts, such as a beautiful pair of cufflinks from a guest from Hong Kong, or a tie from a Saudi family. It reminds me how exhilarating it is to travel and to share our cultures with one another.
Which restaurants do you most often recommend?
Wolfgang Puck at the Hotel Bel-Air, for quintessential California cuisine. Madeo, a family-owned restaurant that, despite the old-school ambience, delights with anything-but-ordinary Italian. And The Bazaar by José Andrés. It’s hard to tell if their tapas come from Spain or another planet. The examples of molecular gastronomy will burst in your mouth, and the design by Philippe Starck will astound the rest of your senses.
If you had to pick only three places for a guest’s L.A. must-see list, what would they be?
1. Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice: Just steps away from the tourist hordes at the nearby Venice Boardwalk are Abbot Kinney’s refreshing sea breezes and funky post-industrial architecture.
2. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art: Spanning 2,000 years, its collection is unique for both its range and the stunning architecture that houses it.
3. Universal Studios: “Take a VIP tour and get behind the scenes, where some of the most iconic TV shows and movies are produced before your very eyes.”
If a guest was to ask you to recommend someplace that’s not listed in all of the L.A. guidebooks, what would you tell them?
My favorite spots in L.A. are the various nighttime street fairs we have celebrating our art, food truck culture and all the fresh produce of California. There is the Downtown Artwalk one Thursday a month, First Fridays in Venice and, my absolute favorite, the Yamashiro Farmers’ Market. Every Thursday night in summer, you can sample the best local produce, food truck fare and live music at this pop-up market on the grounds of this Japanese restaurant in the Hollywood Hills. And there is no better view of the city lights below.
What would you recommend as the quintessential L.A. experience?
Packing a picnic from Joan’s On Third, picking up a delicious bottle of chardonnay from nearby Santa Barbara, and dining on the lawn of the Hollywood Bowl before enjoying a performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic out under the stars.
Have you been a concierge at other hotels and, if so, how did it compare to your position at Acqualina?
I started at a big convention hotel with more than a thousand rooms. Acqualina is a small, intimate boutique hotel with just 97 rooms, which gives me more of an opportunity to really get to know the guests. We have a lot of loyal, repeat guests here, so I’m literally seeing their kids grow up.
What’s the strangest request you’ve ever had?
We get so many requests, nothing seems bizarre anymore. And the fact that it’s something different every single day is part of what I love about my job.
Have you ever had to turn down a guest’s request?
As long as it’s legal, moral and ethical, we always say yes.
Which restaurants in the area do you recommend the most?
What’s the most frequent question you get asked by guests?
The honest answer is, “Where’s the restroom?” Otherwise, it’s parents asking about something special they can do with the kids. I tell them about the VIP tour at Jungle Island zoological park. On this private, behind-the-scenes tour, they get to go inside the cage with a giant sea turtle, lemurs jump on their heads, etc. When the families come back, they always hug me and tell me how it great it was.
What are your three Miami must-sees?
Lincoln Road and Ocean Drive are both nice, long streets that are two of the most happening places in town. Lincoln Road is a pedestrian-only street with lots of shopping and restaurants. Ocean Drive is the street where you’ll see all those cool, old art-deco buildings. And thirdly, beautiful Key Biscayne, an island southeast of Miami. It has the Miami Seaquarium, and the beautiful William Powell Bridge, which offers a stunning view of downtown Miami. And the breeze there is great.
What activity do you recommend as being quintessentially Miami?
Miami is a melting pot of cultures, and visitors should take advantage of all the different kinds of cuisine in places like South Beach and the various ethnic neighborhoods like Little Havana. There’s literally everything from Japanese to Russian.
What’s your favorite secret place?
The Cape Florida Lighthouse on Key Biscayne. It’s a small place not many people know about, so it’s quiet and peaceful, and there’s a decent beach there.
How long have you been with the Five Graces?
Five years. And I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years. When I first started, none of the buildings even had central air conditioning. The oldest building on the property is 400 years old—try putting air conditioning in a 400-year-old building! Before, the rooms were pretty average, but today they are the most special thing you can imagine.
What’s the secret to being a good concierge?
Thinking about what guests want before they even get here. I typically call them a minimum of three weeks in advance of their stay and get to know them over the phone. So when they get here, we’re already friends.
What was the most difficult request you’ve ever had from a guest?
One time a guest wanted a “real psychic,” which is kind of a touchy subject. I mean, does it exist? I just made sure it wasn’t anyone who would throw a live chicken at them.
What’s something you wish guests knew about the role of a concierge?
That if you reach out and contact them ahead of time, you’re going to get better personal service. Because if you wait until you arrive, it might be too late to get the reservations or tickets you want.
What’s the biggest compliment you’ve gotten as a concierge?
One guest said they wished I wasn’t married so I could marry their son.
What requests do you get most often?
Santa Fe is an alternative healing mecca, so I’d have to say spa reservations.
What are your three must-sees in the Santa Fe area?
1. A day trip to Bandelier National Monument, where they can climb around the ancient cave dwellings. It’s about a 40-minute drive from the hotel. You should include a visit to Los Alamos, where the atom bomb was created, and go to the Bradbury Science Museum to learn about its history.
2. A walking tour around downtown Santa Fe with a historian. It’s a great way on your first day to get a feel for what you’re looking at. There are lots and lots of old adobe buildings, which could get boring, but when you know what happened here, it’s much more interesting.
3. Canyon Road, Santa Fe has the second largest art market in the United States, and there are literally hundreds of galleries in just three blocks along Canyon Road.
What is the quintessential Santa Fe thing to do?
Visit the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa. It’s the oldest natural hot springs in the United States. There are four different types of mineral water there [touted for their healing qualities].
Do you have any dos and don’ts for area visitors?
Don’t expect stores to be open at certain times. The hours here are very European.
Being that the Plaza is such a legendary hotel, is there any added pressure to meet your guests’ every need?
In a way, yes, the expectations are really high. “But you’re the Plaza!” is an exclamation we hear often.
Does being a concierge in New York City present any specific obstacles or advantages?
The clear advantage is being in a city that has so much dynamic content to offer. It’s ironically also the obstacle, as it becomes tougher and tougher to stay attuned to its rapidly changing rhythms and realities.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done as concierge?
Helped a guest order a batch of live tarantulas to be roasted at one of his dinners back home.
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever gotten as concierge?
The tears of a young cancer-stricken girl for whom I’d prepared a giant get-well card signed by everyone in the hotel.
What activity or attraction do you most often recommend?
Central Park. It offers such a cornucopia of activities to visitors—from a historic carousel (the original carousel opened there in 1871, approximately 50 yards from the site of the current one), to an open-air theater (the Delacorte, home to the incredible, and free, Shakespeare in the Park series), to a castle (the Belvedere). You’ll also find baseball, handball and basketball playing fields, tennis courts, a chess and checkers house, an ice-skating rink, a lake where you can rent rowboats, and a restaurant (Loeb’s Boathouse). If you’re adventurous, you’ll discover the more mysterious locations, like the Blockhouse (the oldest building in the park), the 2,000-year-old obelisk (Cleopatra’s Needle), or Lasker Pool, where you can cool off throughout the summer for free as well.
What would you recommend as the quintessential Big Apple experience?
A Broadway show and dinner. If asked specifically which show to see and what restaurant to go to, I would say dinner at the Palm, one of New York’s great steakhouses, followed by “Chicago”, a timeless, classic Broadway show. The hardest combination of either that I’ve been able to break is a 6 p.m. table at Le Bernardin followed by premium tickets to “The Book of Mormon.” That, to this day, remains the ultimate double whammy.
If a guest was to ask you for your secret favorite spot in New York City, what would it be?
The middle section of the Bow Bridge in Central Park, for its gothic, neoclassical and Renaissance styles all combined in one small park element that has been extensively used for photography and special events. It is reminiscent of a musical bow because of its unusual curvature. Another secret spot would be a bench in the middle of the winding Shakespeare Garden in Central Park, a beautifully manicured garden of fragrant herbs and flowers overlooking the Swedish Cottage. You can sit undisturbed for hours and simply soak in the beauty and the silence.