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Le Soleil and Vitesse Striving Hard Not to Be the
 "Hotel Restaurant and Bar" at the Conrad Indianapolis

By Kelly Kendall, The Indianapolis Star
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Mar. 27, 2006 - So, you won't be reserving one of the Conrad Hotel's posh suites anytime soon -- you already live here.

But staffers at the new Downtown hotel, which officially opens its doors today, still hope you won't be a stranger.

They want you to dine at Le Soleil, a restaurant that just happens to be inside the hotel but is not a "hotel restaurant," thank you very much. The Conrad hopes the Parisian-style brasserie, headed by world-renowned chef Jonathan Wright, will be a draw in its own right.

Or maybe you'll stop in for wine and tapas at Vitesse, the lobby lounge that the Conrad hopes will attract customers beyond just hotel guests who wandered downstairs.

Ten years ago, hotel bars and restaurants were not exactly a big enticement -- they were a requisite amenity hotels felt they owed their guests. But in recent years in other cities, they've become hot properties on the nightlife scene, shedding their traditional image as a place for traveling salesmen to stop in for a scotch. High-profile bars now draw the club crowd with mod designs, pulsing house music and $12 martinis.

Cutting-edge cool isn't really what the Conrad is going for with Vitesse, however. The burgundy leather club chairs and polished wooden tables, plus its upcoming soft jazz nights, set a scene that's more traditional than trendy. The drink menu focuses not on candy-colored cocktails but on wines, of which 60 selections will be available by the glass.

Bars and restaurants, whether traditional or trendy, have become bigger business in recent years. According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, sales from hotel restaurants and lounges accounted for 26.2 percent of total hotel revenues nationwide in 2004, having increased 6.1 percent from 2003.

One trend has been creating a "sense of place," referring to a chain's policy of having each location reflect its surroundings. The upscale W Hotel chain, for instance, has Beach, a rooftop bar with heated sand, in its San Diego location, while a New York location houses Whiskey Blue, where cosmopolitans are served to guests perched on supple leather sofas.

Vitesse's name, which is French for "speed," references Indianapolis' longtime history of racing, and Indiana limestone creates a nubby white backdrop to the bar.

Jody Pennette, CEO of CB5 Restaurant Group in Connecticut, says that ever since people started checking into the Mondrian Hotel in Los Angeles just so they could get into its white-hot Skybar, hoteliers have taken a look at the profit possibilities of a hip lobby bar.

But hip doesn't get you the five-diamond rating Conrad is seeking from AAA, which is why some hotels prefer not to bother. Industry observers say the never-ending quest for cool can come at the expense of top-flight service and the requisite attention to detail, and the more conservative guests that make up much of the five-star hotel demographic don't really want a party raging in the lobby.

"There's a challenge there," acknowledges Justin McNaull, a spokesman for AAA.

Regardless, the Conrad isn't reaching out to the trendsetters, or clubbers who move from one "it" spot to the next.

"It doesn't have anything to do with trendiness," says Jean-Francois Poujol, manager of Vitesse and Le Soleil. "It's for people who want things well done."

Still, he promises, "every time a new vodka comes out, we'll be the first to have it."


The restaurant: Le Soleil

-- The pitch: Head chef Jonathan Wright has garnered national attention for his work, most recently at the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans. He was head chef at Great Britain's Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, which Bon Appetit magazine named one of the 50 best restaurants in the world.

-- The look: Sleek Parisian brasserie, with white tablecloths, shiny metal accents and lots of sunlight.

-- The size: 196 seats.

-- The plan: Focus on French cuisine with a heavy dose of Mediterranean. Keep food simple but sophisticated. Use locally grown ingredients as much as possible, including cheese, eggs and produce.

-- The cost: Most entrees are $22 to $30.

-- Opening day: Today.

The lounge: Vitesse

-- The pitch: Everything's affordable in small doses at this tapas/caviar bar. Sample a $400 bottle of wine via a $20 glass, or try oysters or a new kind of ham.

-- The look: Neutral walls, Indiana limestone, burgundy leather club chairs.

-- The size: 90 seats.

-- The plan: Start as a coffee shop early in the day, featuring local Hubbard & Cravens coffee and an array of pastries; serve a traditional English tea from 3 to 5 p.m.; as the sun sets, turn into a lounge.

-- The cost: Tapas will be $7 and up. About 60 wines will be sold by the glass, starting at $8.

-- Opening day: Today.

The fitness center

-- The pitch: Ultra-personalized workout routines. There's a lap pool, whirlpool, sauna and steam room.

-- The look: Upscale natural -- stone, ceramic tile and warm wood molding -- with a wall of windows facing Washington Street.

-- The size: 16 machines.

-- The plan: Tailor offerings to each guest's preferences.

-- The cost: Four membership packages will be offered.

-- Opening day: Wednesday.

The spa

-- The pitch: Treatments are tailored based on the results of a self-assessment questionnaire designed to reveal a person's primary cause of stress. It will be run by Spa Chakra, a global luxury spa network.

-- The look: Spa Chakra locations tend toward the poshest kind of minimalism: black marble pedicure chairs, state-of-the-art hydrotherapy spa tubs and stems of velvety white lilies.

-- The size: 11 treatment rooms.

-- The plan: Personalize treatments and don't skimp on the luxury.

-- The cost: $140 for an hour of massage, purifying back therapy or reiki, which is intended to promote self-healing and balance. A specialty facial, incorporating infusion masks, is $295. A package of three 90-minute sessions of retinol anti-aging treatments is $850.

-- Opening day: In May.


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