|By David Kaplan, Houston
ChronicleMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 27, 2007--The Warwick Hotel is going from quiet, Old World opulence to bold, sexy and ready to party.
Hotel ZaZa Houston co-owner Charlie Givens, who took over the Warwick property, describes the new place as "Phantom of the Opera meets George Clooney meets Versace meets Alan Greenspan."
Don't laugh. People chuckled when the ZaZa opened in Dallas, but not anymore.
Even though Givens had limited hotel experience and opened it during a big hotel slump in Dallas, the ZaZa was a smash hit. Months after a late-2002 debut, Conde Naste Traveler named it one of the hottest boutique hotels of 2003.
Last year, the Dallas Morning News ran this headline: "The glitterati go gaga over ... ZaZa."
But the hotel is more than just glitz.
According to hotel consulting firm PKF Consulting, Dallas ZaZa's revenue per available room, a key indicator of a hotel's financial performance, is among the state's highest.
But if ZaZa blows them away in Dallas, will it do the same in Houston when it opens June 4?
"I think Houston is such a powerful, broad-shouldered town with great style," Givens said. "I think Houston will eat this up."
The suite life
Like its Dallas cousin, Hotel ZaZa Houston will have themed suites: For Your Eyes Only; Houston, We Have a Problem; and Love Shack, to name a few.
But the Houston ZaZa is not an exact replica of the Dallas model.
For the Bayou City, Givens has injected more of a business-hotel flavor while still making it a chic "celebration of fashion and celebrity." Houston's ZaZa has far more conference-room space, much of which is as playful as some of the concept suites.
Clients that have already booked the Houston ZaZa include T-Mobile, Origin Design and Oil & Gas Financial Journal. An international ship design symposium will be held there in the fall.
Though rates for the themed rooms can run $2,500 a night, rooms are available for under $200. The average price is $260.
The Dallas ZaZa's revenue per available room -- a function of the hotel's average occupancy rate and average room rate -- is $226, a high number, said John Keeling, Houston-based senior vice president of PKF. It's above that of the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, he said.
If the Houston ZaZa has a 60 percent occupancy rate, its revenue per available room would be $156, Keeling said, which would rank it among the highest levels in Houston.
In comparison, the Houstonian's is $150, the Four Seasons' is $147 and the Houston Icon's is $124.
Keeling described the ZaZa as a "luxury boutique" and said the Hotel Icon is the only other such hotel in Houston.
"The arrival of ZaZa is good for Houston, in that the luxury clientele set will increase here," Hotel Icon general manager Roland Maldonado said.
It's making other high-end hotel operators in town realize that "we've all got to improve our game," he said.
ZaZa doesn't shy from decadence. The top floor's 2,300-square-foot Rock Star suite, for example, has private access to a glass elevator, which descends to the Monarch restaurant.
The Houston ZaZa pool, Urban Oasis, has elegant Italian Piazza-themed private cabanas with flat-screen TVs.
The Monarch features a semicircular terrace and lounge overlooking the lawn of the nearby Museum of Fine Arts. Its chef is Houston native Bradley Manchester, who previously worked at Envy and Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. The Monarch lounge also will feature DJs and cabaret music.
The ballroom is just the place for a wedding, Givens said: "You can have the bride and groom come up from the floor."
Isolation a challenge
The challenge for the Houston ZaZa is that it is relatively isolated, as opposed to being surrounded by "demand generators," such as business, restaurant and entertainment districts, Keeling said.
"They'll have to be really special to overcome all that," he said. "They did spend a lot of money and time to create something unique, and it's in a beautiful area."
They're hoping to create a trendy scene inside the hotel to make it a big enough draw, in itself, he said.
Givens also is banking on suburban Houstonians staying at the "urban retreat" on weekends to visit the Museum of Fine Arts and ZaZa's pool and full-service spa. The ZaZa plans to draw museum-goers to its Saturday and Sunday brunches.
With light rail next to the hotel and its central location, ZaZa also may attract Texas Medical Center and downtown visitors, said Greg Crown, PKF's vice president in Dallas.
Fixed up old houses An affable, blue-jean-wearing, Oklahoma City native, Givens doesn't seem like a guy who would name a hotel ZaZa. A University of Oklahoma dropout, he began fixing up and selling old houses at age 20. One year later, he developed an 80-unit apartment complex.
In the early 1980s, he opened a mixed-use project in Oklahoma City, the Waterford, which included a four-star hotel.
It was during an oil bust, not an ideal time, he recalled. He later sold it.
Before opening the Dallas ZaZa with business partner Jeff Records, Givens developed upscale retirement communities, office buildings and resorts.
He wouldn't say what he spent on the Houston ZaZa or what kind of revenue he expects.
Prestigious spot Unlike the Dallas ZaZa, which Givens built from scratch, the Houston ZaZa moved into the former home of the 81-year-old Warwick, set on one of the most prestigious real estate sites in town.
Consequently, ZaZa will retain a "certain Waldorfishness," Givens said.
While respecting the Warwick's legacy, Givens brought in modern art and furnishings and made stunning views more accessible.
The area surrounding ZaZa is "the closest landscape in Houston to approximate the early 20th-century planning ideals of the City Beautiful movement," local architectural historian Stephen Fox noted.
The movement sought to achieve beauty and grandeur in cities by creating tree-lined boulevards and monumental buildings to contrast with common street patterns.
In the 1960s, when oilman John Mecom bought the hotel, hand-carved paneling originally commissioned for Palais de Versailles, Baccarat chandeliers and Louis XVI chairs were added.
Over the years, the hotel was host to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, the Shah of Iran, Imelda Marcos and Bob Hope.
Hope and the Warwick are forever linked. In 1979, NBC's Phil Donahue asked the entertainer to name the most beautiful view in the world.
"Donahue appeared slightly incredulous when Hope, after some consideration," named the Warwick, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Hope stayed in a Warwick suite facing south.
If you rent the Black Label suite, you can enjoy that splendid view -- from your balcony bathtub.
Copyright (c) 2007, Houston Chronicle
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