Up Front With Martin B. Deutsch
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A Century of Roman Grandeur
November 1, 1994 -- Most of us will never make it to the age of 100. It will certainly be a cause for celebration if we do.
For that matter, I don’t know of too many hotels that enjoy this distinction either, since taste and needs change with the times. But there are, of course, exceptions.
Rome has been the site of a venerable property, Le Grand Hotel, which opened its 170 rooms in 1894 to great acclaim. Its mandate in 1894? Serve the international and Italian business communities. The menu in 1894? Created by Georges Auguste Escoffier. Since then, the CIGA hotel has catered to a list of world leaders and celebrities that fairly boggles the mind. Top corporate executives such as Fiat’s Giovanni Agnelli have maintained apartments at Le Grand. Others who have occupied regular suites (there are 36) include Burt Lancaster, Richard Burton, and Liz Taylor, and Madonna.
Those who visit this year may partake of a special 100th anniversary menu based on Escoffier’s original recipes at the plush Le Restaurant, one of the city’s finest. The plush hotel is centrally located on the Via Orlando, within easy walking distance of the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Via Veneto and a sister hotel, the CIGA Excelsior. The hotel also offers an impressive roster of business services: telex, fax, photocopies, multilingual concierges, currency exchange, car and limo rentals and--for the real heavy-hitters--private CIGA jets. Meeting and function spaces, with all the modern trappings, hold groups of up to 400. But maybe the most noteworthy change since 1894: The entire hotel is air-conditioned.
Most importantly, this is not one of those intimidating old grand dames that litter the European hotel landscape. During a recent two-night stay, I found Le Grand to be comfortable and gracious, its service low-key, friendly and highly competent. I also enjoyed meeting general manager Enzo Caser, a Venetian of quiet style and charm. Caser, who’s been with CIGA for 15 years, started with the Excelsior in Venice in 1979 as food and beverage manager, and joined Le Grand this year from the luxurious Cala Di Volpe in Sardinia. Business has not been booming--1993 was “poor”--but Caser is pleased with the 65 percent occupancy this year. The hotel has been hurt by such diverse factors as the Tangentopoli corruption scandal (Italy’s Watergate), which has kept many Italian industrialists and politicians tied to their desks or in the courts. The recent upturn is due to the devaluation of the lira, a reduction of the VAT from 19 percent to 13 percent and the general economic upturn. A planned renovation should also boost occupancy.
Other factors point to change: The Grand’s parent, CIGA, has been in the news lately with a spate of acquisition moves by such giants as Forte and Marriot. But ITT Sheraton has emerged from the pack with enough piecemeal stock bites of the 41-hotel CIGA chain to give the Boston-based group a 35-percent share, with majority control around the corner. CIGA brass apparently welcome Sheraton’s arrival.
As Le Grand celebrates its centennial, I offer my very best for the next 100 years. It certainly seems within the realm of possibility. Wish I could be there.
A 2017 update: Sheraton became Starwood and Le Grand first went to the Luxury Collection and was then renamed The St. Regis Rome. It has received several renovations over the following decades including one taking place now. It still ranks among Rome's best properties and wins raves from Trip Advisor reviewers for its old-world grace and modern amenities.
This column is Copyright © 1994-2017 by Martin B. Deutsch. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Martin B. Deutsch. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.