The historic Biltmore Hotel is home to the exclusive Biltmore Spa, the Biltmore Golf Course and the award-winning Palme d'Or restaurant. This very grand lady has remained Miami’s only four-star, four-diamond hotel for six consecutive years.
Entering Palm D’0r reminded us of the “grand old days“ of fine dining that is often a distant memory. You can almost hear the orchestra and mottled voices of the guests at the Bilmore’s grand opening gala in 1926. An upscale piano bar and lounge is just off the main entrance to this very classic French dining venue.
Walls of awards, marble floors, fine linen tablecloths, and chandeliers adorn the dining areas. The service is some of the best we have experienced, complete with a very attentive server that was at the table's beck and call with the wave of a hand.
It was a pleasure to experience this lovely hotel and dine with Florida historian and author, Dr. Nancy Dale who took a break from signings for her most recent book, Wild Florida The Way It Was: As Told By The Pioneer Cow Hunters and Huntresses Who Lived Itto discuss with us the art of wine/food pairings as we sampled Chef Philippe Ruiz’s cuisine.
Chef Ruiz greeted us tableside as we sipped Champagne and sampled a lovely amuse-bouche. He explained that patrons at Palm d’Or can custom design their dining experience around the 20-plus offered tasting dishes and an award-winning wine list.
The duck foie gras with black truffle was as classic as its gets — prepared to perfection. The sauternes reduction was a very nice touch of sweetness that balanced the dish. The next dish, a braised Mediterranean John Dory was a work of art — John Dory and caviar all in one dish. The leeks and potato boulangere provided an exceptional base. The scallops and chorizo with artichoke barigoule was a nice take on a French dish with a Miami twist. Chef Ruiz creates high quality dishes that in many cases are sustainable. His roasted grass-fed beef tenderloin and rich black truffle sauce is a perfectly cooked earthy dish.
Of course we had to sample Palme d’Or’s bûche de Noël with Black Forest chocolate, Vanilla, and American cherries. It literally "put the cherry” on top of our gastronomic evening.
From its Old World elegance and terrific service to the chef's culinary artistry, an evening at Palme D’Or is as close as you can get to perfection. It's a must-visit on any trip to Miami.
Thelma Becker, 90 Longtime Resident of the Biltmore Hotel
Thelma Becker, a businesswoman who checked into the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles in 1940 and checked out 53 years later, has died. She was 90.
Becker died March 8 at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Los Angeles of natural causes, said her friend, Holly Barnhill, a former publicist at the hotel, now called the Millennium Biltmore. Becker, who had been in failing health in recent years, lived in a nursing home.
As an assistant sales manager for Barbizon lingerie in the early 1940s, Becker pioneered the career woman’s lifestyle, traveling regularly and meeting with buyers in the downtown Los Angeles retail and garment districts. The hotel at 5th Street and Grand Avenue was convenient for her work.
“I’m a city girl I like to be downtown, because you have access to everything,” she said in an interview with The Times in 1990.
Through the 1950s she was one of a number of full-time residents at the hotel who stayed in small rooms with a Murphy bed and a tiny closet. Over the years she got to know all the employees, some of whom thought of her as family.
“She had a lot of personality she was fun-loving and very talkative,” said Barnhill, who visited Becker after she moved to the nursing home. “Thelma’s no-nonsense manner was refreshing.”
Becker’s living arrangement attracted attention to both her and the hotel. Newspaper articles about her led guests to look her up. Some of them had their picture taken with her and kept in touch by letter. She was a prolific correspondent.
Occasionally, she led tours through the historic building, pointing out the Crystal Ball Room where the Academy Award Oscar statuette was designed on a hotel napkin during a Hollywood gathering in 1927, and naming the famous guests, including the Beatles and President John F. Kennedy.
The organizers of the Olympic Games stayed at the Biltmore in 1984 when the Summer Games were held in Los Angeles. “There were six security people on every floor,” Becker said in a 1988 interview. “I never felt so safe.”
New employees at the Biltmore were introduced to Becker as part of their orientation. She lived in a tiny room near the elevator on the fifth floor. It was cluttered with photographs and several rolling racks for clothes that didn’t fit into her closet.
“Several different managers wanted to move Thelma to a bigger room,” said Biltmore chauffeur Joe Gedeon in an interview with The Times on Monday. “She didn’t want it she liked the one she had.”
They found other ways to show their appreciation. Bellhops went to the drugstore to pick up Becker’s prescriptions and the maitre d’ made sure she didn’t have to wait for a seat in the restaurant. If she went out at night, the hotel provided limousine service.
More than once over the years Becker, who was small but spry, got mugged on downtown streets.
“Nothing stopped Thelma,” Gedeon said. “She was a strong, independent woman.”
Panhandlers who got to know her called her “Miss Biltmore.”
When she retired in 1975, the hotel management fixed her nightly room rate at $33, with a $5 charge per meal in the Biltmore dining room. Rooms like hers now rent for $179 a night.
On her 80th birthday, one of the more luxurious suites was named “The Thelma Becker Suite” in her honor, but she never slept there.
“The hotel was Thelma’s life,” said Gedeon, who occasionally went to a movie with Thelma when he was off work. She often dined at the hotel with Barnhill when the publicist worked there. The staff invited her to its annual Christmas party.
A native of Indianapolis, Becker graduated from Ohio State University with a business degree before getting a job in fashion.
“I never had time to get married,” she once said. “I’m not the homemaker type.”
Tips for Visiting the Biltmore Estate—Is it Worth the Cost?
I’ll be honest—I was skeptical about visiting the Biltmore because of the cost. Depending on the time of year you visit, Biltmore Experience tickets can cost anywhere from $94 to $114 per person.
Although the Biltmore is expensive to visit, I can assure you that it is definitely worth the cost. We spent the entire day at the Biltmore House & Gardens and Antler Hill Village and felt that we definitely got our money’s worth. We couldn’t imagine a better way to spend a day in Asheville!
Breakfast at Frank & Albert’s
The next morning we enjoyed breakfast at Frank and Albert’s. They offer a decadent buffet with a variety of traditional breakfast foods including biscuits and gravy, cold meats and cheeses, an omelet station, fruit and assorted bread and pastries. My husband ate from the buffet and loved the variety of food options.
I decided to try a few of the dishes in their a la carte menu and I couldn’t be happier with my choices. I tried the banana and Nutella pancakes and the huevos rancheros.
4 Surprising Things You Didn&apost Know About Biltmore
Just three miles from downtown Asheville, you’ll find yourself at the stunning entrance gate of Biltmore, an 8,000-acre estate that is home to America&aposs Largest Home. This-room French Renaissance castle boastsꀵ bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces.
While the sheer magnitude of this architectural gem may be surprising enough, there are even more surprises about Biltmore waiting to be explored.
From hidden doors to secret passageways to little known architectural details, here are four surprising things you may not know about Biltmore!
Hidden Doors and Secret Passageways
As you take your self-guided tour through Biltmore House, pay close attention. Hidden in plain sight are doors that wereꃞsigned to blend seamlessly into the dຜor and lead to secret passageways. These passageways were designed to help George Vanderbilt’s guests and Biltmore staff navigate efficiently and privately from common areas to other rooms in the house.
When you step into the Breakfast Room, pay close attention to the doorknob just below one of the two Renoir paintings in the room (pictured here). This door helped Biltmore staff to provide meal service.
In George Vanderbilt’s Library allow your eyes to follow the spiral staircases to the second floor of the room. The doors on either side of the overmantel helped guests to privately return to their second floor living quarters.
And in the floor of the Winter Garden, marble slabs conceal a trap door with a ladder. Today, this door is rarely opened except to allow for ventilation in the summer.
Acorns and Oak Leaves
Keep your eyes open and in nearly every room of the house you’ll be able to spot the image of acorns and oak leaves in the design. The acorn and oak leaves are motifs in the family crest and are said to represent strength and growth. Along with the acorns, you’ll often see George Vanderbilt’s initials.
An example of this imagery is on the copper flashing on the roof of Biltmore House – an area accessible with a behind-the-scenes Rooftop Tour.
Hunger pangs, the chefs (and recipes) of VeritageMiami, Pt. 1
In addition to its mission to support the charitable efforts of United Way of Miami-Dade, our wine and food festival is about, well, wine and food! Since the first Great South Florida Wine Auction in 1996, the event has been driven by the art of pairing wine and food and we have been blessed over the years to have had more than 100 chefs participate in the event. As many as 25 restaurants would join the wine tasting that for many years opened each year’s festival and with the inclusion of the Craft Beer Tasting (more on that next week!) another 15 to 25 restaurants would be on hand. Sommeliers from top South Florida restaurants have always been important participants, especially for the nearly ten years our event included the Best in Glass Wine Challenge. There have been memorable meals with guest chefs at the auction dinner, but, always, the “big ticket” signature event for most of our guests has been the Interactive Dinner.
If you’ve never been, you have really missed something special. A guest chef (or, many years, guest chefs) have a cooking station on a raised stage and our guests, 500 to 750 strong depending on the year, have cooking stations at each of their tables. That means one cooking station for every eight or nine guests … more than 75 in total and one year, nearly 100! At each of these tables, the guests would elect (or often, bribe and cajole) their friends to be the chef for one of the three or four courses. Often a table would have an alpha cook who was happy to man the burner for the entire meal, and other tables ended up having everyone cook at least part of one of the courses. Mind you, the entire process is fueled by copious amounts of wine, some supplied by VeritageMiami of course, but many guests use the Interactive Dinner as an opportunity to bring wines from home to share with their friends. I have had the privilege to taste some amazing wines simply by strolling through the ballroom at this event!
Looking back over 13 years of menus (this post is limited to the first years of VeritageMiami, with another chef retrospective to come in a few weeks to cover the most recent years), some meals stand out and some chef experiences remain firmly etched in my memory. I’ll never forget the interactive brunch in 2002 (this was before we converted the event to a dinner). Rocco di Spirito, later to become a household name but then mainly known as a New York wunderkind chef, offered his lobster salad from Union Pacific restaurant and then Wayne Nish of March (also in New York) had us all making slow-cooked salmon with wild mushrooms. Then, veering away from the East Coast, the meal wrapped up with Dean Fearing, the chef at The Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas.
Chef Dean Fearing at the 2002 Interactive Culinary Fest at the Biltmore Hotel
Chef Fearing sent us his recipe in advance so we could prep the list of ingredients, including a full bottle of tequila for each cooking station. I thought it was great having tequila as an ingredient with a Texas chef, and it was hilarious when he took the stage after the first two courses and had all the guests down a shot of tequila before they started cooking his plate. It completely set the stage for a joyfully informal occasion as he went on to tutor everyone in preparing “Crispy and Spicy Lamb Chops, Roasted Garlic Horseradish Sauce and Country Scalloped Potatoes.”
Chef Jonathan Waxman cooked two meals at the 2003 Biltmore Great South Florida Wine Festival
In 2003 I was very excited one of my heroes, Jonathan Waxman from New York’s Washington Park, was featured at the Saturday auction dinner (a classic rack of lamb) and then at Sunday’s interactive lunch insisted on making a foie gras taco with cherry and avocado salsa and a jicama salad. What looked great on paper was a mess to make as amateur chefs were trying to pan sear foie gras without burning it. And, when we all finally got the taco assembled, Jonathan instructed everyone to pick it up with their hands, and it promptly ran down everyone’s arms. Oh, but it tasted great!
Having multiple celebrity chefs at the interactive brunch (and, from 2004 on, the Interactive Dinner) was fun but with each chef trying to outdo his or her colleagues it got to be a sometimes-unwieldy meal. With 2005, we began featuring a single celebrity chef who could craft a cohesive menu by preparing all the courses. Usually, this meant three courses prepared by the audience under the chef’s guidance and then dessert prepared by the terrific team at our regular venue, the InterContinental Miami.
Chef Govind Armstrong, our first solo chef to headline our newly branded Miami Wine and Food Festival in 2005
Govind Armstrong was our first solo celebrity chef, and he did a dazzling job (want his menu and recipes? You will find them here!) He was easy to work with and totally got the concept of creating a menu people can prepare with limited equipment: a single burner, a couple of pans, a few utensils and a lot of wine. We went from Dungeness crab fritters to pan-seared dorade to pan-seared beef medallions dressed up with mushrooms and foie gras. Govind was wonderfully personable and I thought he hit it out of the park with the menu.
Mike drop! Chef Michael Chiarello with Michael Bittel, wife Linda and son (and United Way volunteer) Matt at the 2006 Interactive Dinner
In 2006 Michael Chiarello joined us thanks to the strong connection one of our founders, wine retailer Mike Bittel, had with him. By 2006, Chiarello was a famous chef with a trio of restaurants in Napa as well as several television shows. Bittel had known Chiarello in the 1980s when he was a student at Florida International University’s acclaimed hospitality school then had become chef at Coconut Grove’s Grand Bay Hotel before opening Toby’s Bar and Grill. Named Chef of the Year in 1985 by Food & Wine Magazine, Chiarello got an irresistible offer to move to Napa in 1986 but stayed in touch with friends in Miami. Fortunately for us, Mike Bittel’s persuasion got him to come back with a terrific menu featuring his Cal-Italia cooking style. We got some odd looks from guests at the Interactive Dinner when they learned we would be making gazpacho garnished with popcorn (it was amazing). The whole menu was dazzling especially because Michael gave each recipe such a genial introduction (I’ve included his comments as well as the recipes here). And lest I forget, that olive oil cake is amazing!
Chef Marcus Samuelsson cooking with guests at the 2007 Food, Friends & Fun Interactive Dinner
In 2007, the incredibly inspiring Marcus Samuelsson was the chef and, as I mentioned in last week’s post, he was funny, humble and filled with great stories. I spent quite a bit of time with him, including driving him to meet with students at Johnson & Wales University – the same student body that, year after year sends fabulous young chefs in training to serve as “sous chefs” on the floor with our guests. They were mesmerized by Marcus’s stories and the image of a person of color transforming America’s culinary landscape (as he continues to do). The adoring looks on those students’ faces as Marcus was preparing the dinner a few nights later remains one of the priceless perks of my job with VeritageMiami.
Marcus’s menu was everything we wanted – brilliantly eclectic, incredibly flavorful, easy to prepare and filled with heart and storytelling. To this day, it is one of my favorite festival meals: shrimp piri piri with chilled avocado soup Kofta meatballs with okra tomato sauce (the sauce as good as the meatballs) lamb chops crusted with Berbere spice and shown off with mango couscous and mustard greens tangerine consommé with honey ice cream. Awesome in every way, and I can share the recipes with you here!
Chef Stephen Lewandowski with a volunteer sous chef on stage at the 2008 Interactive Dinner
The chef for 2008 was a great friend of mine, Stephen Lewandowski, the then-executive chef of New York’s Tribeca Grill (yes, owned by Robert DiNero about whom Stephen could tell fun stories). Stephen and I had traveled together several times so I knew we’d get a supremely flavorful menu, cuisine he liked to call “earthy” and which I would describe as “heavenly.” His curried chickpea and tomato soup was surprisingly light but soul satisfying and I’ve continued to make it for friends to this day. His seared scallops (it was he who got me hooked on the then new concept of “diver scallops”) were pan-seared with corn, asparagus, morels (which due to a typo in the menu were called morsels) and a truffle-Madeira vinaigrette. This was one of the most complex-flavored one-pan meals I’ve had at the festival dinners, which reminds me I need to make this dish again! His black trumpet mushroom-crusted lamb loin with spring vegetables and risotto was another of those dishes where it comes together so quickly in the pan you can’t believe it is so deeply flavored on the plate. It was … it is memorable, and all the recipes are right here.
The last of the menus I’ll include this week is another that has lingered in my memory. I had met Michael Schwartz in the 1990s when I was restaurant critic for the Sun-Sentinel newspaper and he opened a dazzling seafood restaurant on South Beach called Nemo. He was a featured chef at the very first Great South Florida Wine Auction in 1996 after which I managed dinners wherever he was cooking. I was right in line at the front door when he finally opened his own restaurant in 2007, the now legendary Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink in the, at the time, nearly barren Design District.
Chefs Hedy Goldsmith and Michael Schwartz give Festival Director Lyn Farmer his just desserts
The restaurant not only featured Michael but also South Florida’s Doyenne of Desserts, pastry chef extraordinaire Hedy Goldsmith. I asked them both to headline the dinner and they pulled out all the stops with wild salmon crudo “cooked” with hot citrus oil and shaved garlic and hearts of palm, followed by exotic mushroom risotto. We had always stayed away from letting chefs do risotto because it’s time consuming, impossible to make with one pot (you need to cook the rice but keep the stock warm in another pan) and technically demanding. “No worries,” said Michael, “I’ve got this,” and he did – the dish was a knockout and (at most tables) turned out amazingly well. He finished with pan-roasted strip steak with a wonderfully fresh salad of fennel, radish, fregola (wheat kernels), arugula, orange and tapenade.
And after all this, Hedy came to the stage. Since I was the emcee, she insisted I join her at the chef’s demo table (I will never fight getting a hands-on dessert lesson) because she was worried about being in front of 700 people. You would never have known she was nervous once she started assembling her key lime cake with coconut anglaise that included a nod to the evening’s cocktail sponsor Bacardi, a fruit salsa with coconut rum. It was divine and we all wanted more as we staggered out of the ballroom that night. You can work your way through all four of Michael’s and Hedy’s recipes here, while I run to the kitchen to make a snack.
I’ll be back next week to chronicle the festival’s progression from 2010 onward. In the meantime, cheers, and please pass the salsa …
Arizona Biltmore Perfect for a Friends Getaway
Tom, Mark and I have been best friends since I was 19, and we’ve seen each other through quite a lot over the years. One of the other things we have in common is our long-term marriages. Triton and I have been together for 22 years, Tom and his husband for 23+ years and Mark and John have been together for a staggering 34 years. In the world of gay men, this kind of relationship longevity is not all that common!
Even with such amazing husbands, we still need occasional time together without our spouses. If for nothing else, just to reminisce and retell the scandalous stories of our youth. The Arizona Biltmore was the perfect setting. It provided warm sunny weather, gorgeous grounds and an convenient nearby airport we could all fly into easily.
The signature concrete blocks of the Arizona Biltmore create a stunning architectural statement.
A getaway at historic Arizona Biltmore Resort is special because it is quite literally the playground of Presidents and celebrities for the past 90 years. Any place that is good enough for Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and President Kennedy is good enough for us!
The original hotel is an architectural masterpiece, designed by Albert Chase McArthur under the direction of his famous teacher Frank Lloyd Wright. There are so many signature Frank Lloyd Wright architectural embellishments throughout the resort. This pieces of history are punctuated with a unique combination of Southwestern Art Deco style. Of particular note are the mathematically-proportioned rectangle blocks that were used on both the building exteriors and interiors. These have become known as the “Biltmore Blocks”, created with a diverse geometric design and made from local desert sand.
Walking into the lobby at the Arizona Biltmore Resort, guests are greeted by historic brickwork and art deco art.
Fortunately the resort owners have preserved this legacy. Through several enhancements and additions the Arizona Biltmore has maintained its stunning design aesthetic.
The expansive grounds here make a getaway at historic Arizona Biltmore Resort sooooo relaxing. There is something so peaceful about the desert! When you add bright green lawns and towering palm trees it all mixes together into a perfect elixir.
The front entrance and building facade make a strong first impression at the Arizona Biltmore Resort.
Personally, I love warm weather – and Phoenix can certainly be warm. Most of the year it’s quite balmy though, and when the weather is not awesome in other parts of the country it seems Phoenix is alway sunny and pleasant. This climate brings out colorful flowers, birds, butterflies and more.
A signature element on the grounds at the Arizona Biltmore are the Frank Lloyd Wright “Sprites” that dot the pathways and green belts. These geometric sculptures are meant to depict garden sprites taking the shape of lovely ladies. The statues conjure a distinct artistic vision of what the famous architect might have envisioned for public and private landscapes.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s stunning Sprite sculptures sit throughout the Arizona Biltmore grounds.
I tried to get one home in my suitcase, but darn if it didn’t fit. Lucky for me the resort sells miniature reproductions in the gift shop, and I don’t have to go over my limit on luggage weight!
Legendary Catalina Pool
Another icon of the Arizona Biltmore is the Catalina Pool, called this because the pool tiles were made by special process on Catalina Island. Chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr owned the hotel during its initial years, and had the tiles made to match those in his island home. The result is a colorful display of real tile in vibrant yellows and blues – really gorgeous and authentic to the period.
Catalina Pool with tile detail – really impressive by modern standards.
The Catalina pool has enchanted many a guest over its long history, including quite a few celebrities. It was said to have been Marilyn Monroe’s favorite pool. Songwriter Irving Berlin created his famous tune “White Christmas” sitting poolside at the Arizona Biltmore. Clark Gable smoked cigars nearby. Although the pool’s original diving board is long gone, the tiles remain to welcome guests to a little bit of history and glamour.
This was the perfect backdrop for our getaway at historic Arizona Biltmore Resort. We pulled together some lounge chairs, and ordered drinks and snacks from the nice pool attendant. Then we laid back to grab some sun and much-needed catch up conversation.
The historic tiles at the Catalina Pool glow in bright colors to greet guests.
There are several restaurants on the Arizona Biltmore property. Our first evening, we stopped for drinks on the patio at The Wright Bar where our server quickly learned our names and favorite cocktails. She was our new best friend, and made our welcome all the more pleasant. From there, we walked across the lobby for dinner at Wright’s and had the privilege of a private seating inside the wine room. The food was delicious and the service impeccable, but the opportunity to spend uninterrupted time together was just priceless.
Cheers to dinner in the private wine room at Wright’s.
The next morning, breakfast was served on the outdoor terrace at Frank & Albert’s. Bleary eyed and a little fuzzy from the previous night’s dinner, we gulped coffee with eyes shaded from the glaring sun. It didn’t take long for the coffee and food to bring us back to life. Soon we felt refreshed enough to venture out for a hike around the neighborhood.
Frank & Albert’s Restaurant is a wonderful indoor/outdoor experience.
Another not-to-be-missed meal opportunity is the Sunday Brunch served at Wright’s. A literal smorgasbord of culinary treats is laid out for guests’ perusal. Cracked crab, jumbo shrimp and smoked salmon your thing? Have at it – there are bowls and platters galore. Meats, cheeses, breads and pickled vegetables? Check. Eggs any way you like, along with pastries, jams, honey from a real working hive and flavored butters? Got it.
Not many Sunday Brunch menus I know that come with their own live honey bees!
Carved meats, complete with horseradish and other sauces? Yep. And platters upon platters of desserts of all shapes, sizes and flavors? That too.
Meats, cheeses and condiments are part of the Sunday Brunch spread at Wright’s.
In addition to eating, sleeping and laying around, a getaway at historic Arizona Biltmore resort has many opportunities for activities on property. Golf and tennis are part of the Phoenix lifestyle, and the offerings at the Biltmore are spectacular. In fact, there are two PGA 18-hole golf courses adjacent to the Biltmore grounds. Both the stately Adobe Course and the newer Links Course are easily accessed. Both golf courses are highly rated and challenging for both beginners and pros.
Directly adjacent to the Arizona Biltmore Resort guest rooms sits this PGA 18-hole golf course.
Earlier on Saturday morning, we hiked around the grounds and explored the property and its surrounding areas. Easy paths extend from the resort entrance in several directions. We opted for a route along the waterway which brings waters from the Colorado River into downtown Phoenix. From there, we went off road a bit to explore the native terrain and spied some local flora and fauna including hawks and several roadrunners.
A hike along the trails near the Arizona Biltmore prepped us for some quality time by the pool.
While the property is going through a renovation and enhancement program, the spa at the Arizona Biltmore has been temporarily relocated while new expanded facilities are constructed. We spent some quality time at the spa during our getaway at Arizona Biltmore resort. I can honestly say that the services were top drawer. Massages, facials and mani/pedis were enjoyed by our little group. This helped prepare us perfectly for a night out on the town that evening.
Massage treatment rooms at the Arizona Biltmore are spacious and relaxing.
Guest rooms at the Arizona Biltmore are arranged in a series of buildings, some original and others added over the years in a complimentary style. Our guest rooms were located in the original historic building above the main lobby and public areas, and contained many of the features first built into the hotel. Hallways contain the signature Biltmore Blocks with their geometric patterns, wooden air vents in the period style and other features of historic nature.
Rooms in the Arizona Biltmore are modern and historic at the same time.
Inside, the rooms have been completely refreshed and modernized but with a nod to the property’s character. And the bed! Oh that bed. Whatever magic they are weaving into their mattress and bedding, I want it and I want it now! Seriously among the most comfortable nights’ sleeps I have ever enjoyed. My friends and I were pleased to find our rooms spacious, with sitting areas large enough for all of us to hang out.
Even the guest room hallways possess impressive architectural features of the period.
Getting to the historic Arizona Biltmore resort is super easy. It was great for our group because we were all flying from different cities to meet in Phoenix. With Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport a central hub for several airlines, we could all get there easily with flights on Delta, American and Southwest Airlines. Even better, the resort is a short 20 minute drive from the airport. Coming from San Diego, my own experience was extraordinarily simple. On Southwest Airlines, y flight was less than an hour in the air and cost under $100 each way.
Gold ceilings and wood floors compliment the Arizona Biltmore lobby and registration area.
Room prices at the Arizona Biltmore vary depending on room type and season. Current room prices start in the $180s per night, and go up from there. If you go, ask for an historic room for added personality. For families and larger groups, there are room types and villas that can accommodate more people at various price levels. Overall we found our stay remarkably affordable given all the offerings at this resort. Plus if you are a Hilton Honors program member, Waldorf-Astoria properties are included in the program for earning and redeeming points.
/>travel blogger/harried dad/vacation dreamer/worrier
Jon Bailey creates the majority of content for 2DadsWithBaggage, and he is also a regular contributor to The Points Guy, Traveling Mom/Traveling Dad, and San Diego Magazine, among others.
Last week, Graduate Providence officially opened its doors on Dorrance Street. The historic hotel, formerly the Providence Biltmore, has been a downtown landmark since 1922 and a lot has gone down within its walls.
Here are eight fun stories and facts from the building’s nearly hundred-year history.
1. In the late 1920s, the hotel’s first manager planted a vegetable garden and installed pens for chickens and ducks on the roof of the Biltmore to offer diners fresh, local fare. The ducks proved hard to wrangle. In 1927, they flew south toward Narragansett Bay and were never seen again.
2. Warren & Wetmore, the same architectural firm that created NYC’s famed Grand Central Station, designed Graduate Providence. The hotel’s original ornate ceilings and crystal chandeliers are still in place today.
A portrait of Brown-alum André Leon Talley, created by artist Ashley Longshore, hangs in the Graduate Providence lobby. Photo by Trent Bell.
3. When it opened on June 6, 1922, the Biltmore offered guests six different restaurants all located within the hotel. It also housed a drugstore, printing studio, photo lab, and a carpentry and upholstery shop.
4. The dance floor of the Garden Ballroom was once turned into a giant aquarium, complete with live fish, for a swim show starring Hollywood’s “million dollar mermaid” Esther Williams.
5. The 18-story hotel was the largest building in Providence until 1928.
6. “I went north to Providence. Met the mayor … He was sitting in the hotel lobby.” Willy Loman, protagonist of Arthur Miller’s classic play Death of a Salesman, brags to his boys about rubbing elbows with VIPs in the lobby of the Biltmore.
7. John F. Kennedy and his Navy buddies would drive up to the Biltmore on weekends to party at the hotel’s Bacchante Room, home of the famous Bacchante Girls. They were stationed at the training center in nearby Melville, Rhode Island.
8. The hotel’s two iconic exterior features — the glass elevator and the “BILTMORE” neon sign — were added in 1979.
Don’t worry, the sign and elevator aren’t going anywhere. The guest rooms, lobby and event spaces all got a Graduate refresh, but the well-loved historic elements remain untouched. Here’s to another 100 years of good times in downtown Providence, Rhode Island.
Planning a visit to RI’s Creative Capital? Check out our guide to wandering around Providence.
Historic Biltmore Sold to Hong Kong Hotel Operator
The Japanese owners of the stately Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles have sold the landmark property and an adjoining office tower to a Hong Kong-based hotelier for an estimated $60 million--a fraction of what they sold for in 1989.
The buyer is Regal Hotels International Holdings Ltd., whose chairman, Y.S. Lo, was in Los Angeles on Monday for a travel and tourism trade show. “I think it’s an opportune time to enter the Los Angeles market,” Lo said in a telephone interview. “I’m very confident in the prospects of the Los Angeles economy.”
The sale reflects the steep decline in downtown Los Angeles real estate values since the late 1980s and the continued interest among Asian buyers outside Japan in bargain-priced properties in Southern California. Buyers from Taiwan and Indonesia, for example, have recently snapped up downtown commercial real estate.
Lo would not reveal the purchase price of the 687-room hotel and tower, but real estate brokers and hotel industry observers estimate they fetched only $60 million, or about a quarter the estimated $219 million a Japanese investment group--TAT Los Angeles Ltd.--paid for them seven years ago.
The hotel will be renamed the Regal Biltmore Hotel. Lo, whose company owns and manages more than 100 large hotels worldwide, said the Biltmore’s current management will be retained. He also indicated that any current labor contracts--which have been a source of controversy in recent hotel acquisitions--will also be honored.
“Nothing will be changed with the staff,” Lo said.
The Biltmore, which was built by a group of local businessmen in 1923 at a cost of $10 million, has a rich history. Besides serving as a rest stop for presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Bill Clinton, it was the site of a 1927 banquet at which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was created and the design of the Oscar conceived.
The latest sale price is in line with other recent real estate sales in the downtown area, brokers said. Last year, the 1,368-room Bonaventure Hotel was sold for an estimated $50 million to Taiwanese investors.
The Biltmore has far fewer guest rooms than the Bonaventure, but the historic structure facing Pershing Square includes a 24-story office tower and an ornate, gilded interior that has been restored and would be hard to duplicate.
“The Biltmore is a wonderful grand dame of downtown Los Angeles,” said Donald W. Wise, a broker and hotel specialist at CB Commercial. “The chairman [of Regal] likes properties exactly like the Biltmore--hotels that have [a sense of history] and a grand lobby.”
Lo agreed, saying he prizes the 73-year-old hotel’s design and ambience. He also said the Biltmore will benefit from Regal’s ability to funnel its Asian and other customers to the hotel’s doorstep.
“There will be a strong interest in a hotel like this,” said Lo, whose company’s Colorado-based Richfield Hospitality Services subsidiary manages 124 properties.
Downtown Los Angeles hotels have some of the highest vacancies and lowest room rates in the area, but the market has shown signs of improvement lately. During the first three months of this year, occupancy rates rose to nearly 60% from 49% during the same period of 1995, according to industry statistics.