By John-John Williams IV, The Baltimore Sun
4:33 PM EDT, July 24, 2011
In June, when Sade was preparing to kick off her first tour in more than a decade, the husky-voiced crooner tweeted about her love of Baltimore and entertained reporters while relaxing in her 2,100-square-foot suite at the Hotel Monaco. When in town, actor Gene Hackman has been known to chat up other guests at the bar in the Radisson Hotel at Cross Keys.
Movie stars and musicians have a long history of coming to Baltimore for gigs. But in recent years, the city has attracted more high-profile shows and films, from Rihanna and U2 to HBO's "Game Change." And while the A-listers are here, local hotels are willing to go great lengths to accommodate them. The long-term benefits of hosting a celebrity far outweigh the occasional pesky request, hotel officials said.
"We love it when celebrities stay with us," said Lindsey Grocholski, sales manager for Radisson Hotel Cross Keys. "It's fun for us. It's cool to be able to say that we hosted these celebrities."
Proximity to venues — such as 1st Mariner Arena or M&T Bank Stadium — a hotel's reputation and discretion play a role in the hotels chosen by the visiting rich and famous. City hotels have hosted the likes of John Travolta, Joaquin Phoenix, Tim Allen, Jodie Foster and Clint Eastwood, according to Jack Gerbes, director of the Maryland Film Office.
"One of the benefits of having a film shoot in Maryland is that many times, actors, celebrities and out-of-town cast and crew get to enjoy Maryland hotels and their hospitality," Gerbes said.
In just two years, Hotel Monaco has established itself as a prime spot for celebrities to stay while in Baltimore. With its pet-friendly policy, boutique feel and willingness to meet requests for such things as European honey or exotic teas, it's no surprise that rapper Common, or singers Sade, Robin Thicke and Melanie Fiona have all stayed at the hotel in the past year.
"We have a lot of A-list entertainers," said Todd Unger, director of sales and marketing for Hotel Monaco. "We give them VIP status, and we respect their rights and privacy."
At Hotel Monaco, celebs generally stay in the Mediterranean Suites and the Majestic Suite. The Majestic Suite, which was occupied by Sade, can be reserved as a one- or two-bedroom suite. The entire Majestic Suite, which runs $1,500 a night, can accommodate up to 20 guests for a reception and sleeps four as a one-bedroom suite or eight as a two-bedroom suite. The smaller Mediterranean Suites have housed such celebs as Common, Danny Glover and Dennis Haysbert. The suites sleep four and feature a private bedroom with a king-size bed, as well as a Fuji spa tub and separate shower.
At the Radisson Hotel at Cross Keys, celebrities generally stay in the Presidential Suite, a three-room cluster that takes up a little more than 1,500 square feet. The space costs between $500 and $600 a night, depending on time of year.
When celebrities aren't using the space, bridal parties usually occupy the space.
At the Radisson, hotel staff decorate the celebrity rooms with fresh flowers, leave towels shaped like animals in the bathroom and add special complimentary touches, such as a bottle of wine or chocolates on the nightstand.
"We're always doing little things that make their stay more pleasant," said Jessica L. Morrison, director of operations for the Radisson.
The hotel attracts Preakness royalty each summer, veteran celebrities such as Liza Minnelli, and local television personalities who stay at the hotel during inclement weather. Soul singers Etta James and Chaka Khan stayed at the hotel when they performed at past Artscape festivals.
Patti Labelle once stayed at the hotel, struck up a friendship with the front office manager and took her out for an afternoon of shopping and dinner. She also invited the employee to watch her perform in concert. Singer Jewel almost stayed at the hotel last spring, but a stalker kept her confined to her tour bus while her road crew stayed in the hotel.
Hotel Monaco benefits from its proximity to downtown venues. The hotel has a preferred relationship with 1st Mariner Arena, meaning that it's recommended to visiting performers by the venue, according to Unger. The hotel also attracts a number of acts performing at the nearby Hippodrome.
Unger has seen all types of requests from celebrity guests. One celebrity wanted a certain brand of honey made overseas; another wanted bottled water chilled at a specific temperature; a third wanted candy in a certain color.
"We'll do anything within reason," said Unger. "Nothing has been too crazy or over the top. If we can get it, we will."
At the Radisson in Cross Keys, celebrities have demanded everything from the most up-to-date Zagat guide to daily fruit baskets — for one particular celebrity, sans bananas. Sports journalist Bob Costas once requested that 10-pound dumbbells be waiting for him in his room.
But the item celebrities are pickiest about is their water, according to Tom Cook, general manager at the Radisson.
"Celebrities are very particular about their bottled water," said Cook. "They want Fiji, Perrier and Voss."
All in all, celebrity visits are quite tame, unlike in the past when the rich and famous — especially rock stars — were notorious for their crazy hotel antics. Those days are long gone, according to Cook.
"They are literally resting," he said. "They want sleep before their performance."
Not all celebs are perfect guests, though.
On Thanksgiving 2005, rockers 311 and former Creed singer Scott Stapp got into a fight in the bar of the InterContinental Harbor Court Hotel, according to MTV, which reported the altercation. No charges were filed.
To shield against gawkers and autograph hunters, Baltimore hotels have a number of safeguards in place to protect the privacy of their celebrity guests.
At Hotel Monaco, the elevator system works with room keys that only access the floor where the guest is staying. In certain instances, the hotel has blocked off the front entrance of the building to prevent eager fans from snapping photos or asking for autographs.
At the Radisson in Cross Keys, the Presidential Suite can only be entered only through an unmarked door on an undisclosed floor. The hotel's website doesn't even list the trio of rooms that make up the suite as a room option. The suite has to be booked directly through the hotel.
Venues such as 1st Mariner Arena have provided plenty of celebrities for area hotels. It's a win-win for the city, according to Frank Remesch, general manager for the arena.
"We love to hear that artists are choosing to stay in Baltimore hotels rather than hop on a tour bus," Remesch said. "How cool is it to hear that an artist, say, stopped by the Capital Grille for dinner, or you spotted someone in a neighborhood shopping? It just proves that Baltimore really is a hip place."
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