Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “Fly Me to the Moon” was the first song ever heard from the moon when Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin played it on a cassette recorder after stepping onto the lunar surface in 1969.
Fortunately, you don’t have to fly to the moon to play among the stars, or to meet and play in the places where the stars once played. Ol’ Blue Eyes frequented many of the great hotels across the country, singing in their famed lounges and cavorting with his cronies in the hotels’ well-known watering holes. Crowned by legions of critics and fans alike as “the greatest singer of the 20th century,” Sinatra was born on December 12, 1915, in Hoboken, New Jersey. Today, the man and his music are being celebrated from coast to coast to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth, reminding us that wherever corporate and incentive groups want to meet, there’s a hotel that exudes the style and panache Sinatra was known for. The moon? No. Las Vegas, LA, Chicago and New York? Absolutely.
Few cities had a more complex relationship with Sinatra and the Rat Pack than Las Vegas. Sinatra and The Strip rose together, and if it can’t be said that the singer made Las Vegas, it can be argued that he brought East Coast sophistication to a town rooted in the West.
“For several glorious years, I had the chance to be associated with Frank Sinatra here in Las Vegas and also Atlantic City. Those moments and memories light up my life, even today.”
— Steve Wynn
Frank Sinatra and Las Vegas hotelier Steve Wynn were longtime friends. “For several glorious years, I had the chance to be associated with Frank Sinatra here in Las Vegas and also Atlantic City,” Wynn said in a statement. “Those moments and memories light up my life, even today.” Wynn Las Vegas and Encore are honoring Sinatra’s birthday in several ways, including a yearlong special five-course tasting menu at Sinatra at Encore, featuring many of the singer’s favorite Italian-American dishes. “This restaurant gives me a delicious opportunity to share Frank with my friends once more,” Wynn said. “I think he would dig this place.” The restaurant displays awards that showcase Sinatra’s long career and achievements, and plays a soundtrack of classic Sinatra music.
The Sahara Hotel opened in 1952. Its new tower in 1959 was the first high-rise on The Strip, setting the stage for what would come over the next half-century. Stars who performed at the Sahara are a who’s who of entertainment, and the hotel itself achieved stardom after appearing in the 1960 Rat Pack heist classic “Ocean’s 11.” The Sahara closed in 2011, and in 2014 the property reopened as sleek SLS Las Vegas.
Mimi’s Cafe, part of Dallas-based restaurant group Le Duff America, booked its 2015 GM Leadership Conference at the hotel in February 2015, drawing 220 attendees. Tracy Cruz, senior manager, operations services, says Las Vegas worked because it’s affordable and a convenient location, and SLS Las Vegas was the perfect size. “It’s not too large a venue for our group size,” Cruz says. She also points to the hotel’s attributes, including that it offers excellent meeting space, provides a high level of service and has great dining options.
“SLS Las Vegas’ restaurants were definitely appealing,” Cruz notes, “as was our first site visit with Sasha Lee and Melanie. And the fact that the hotel had just opened and everything was new was a wow factor.”
The hotel served as the primary venue. “Meeting spaces were perfect for our group. We used Foxtail Nightclub for our reception the first night and attendees still talk about that event,” Cruz says. “The attendees had a great time with good food, great drinks and a fun venue that opened up to the pool.”
The group also hosted an awards dinner in its general-session space. “The room transformed beautifully,” Cruz says. “The staff was pleasant and quick with service. The food that was served for our dinner came from banquets and was delicious, and the service from the staff that night was quick and seamless.”
To other planners considering a meeting at SLS Las Vegas, Cruz has two words: “Do it.” She calls the hotel a great venue, adding that, “The décor and rooms are very hip, trendy, unique and comfortable.”
If there’s a downside, it’s how to top this event. “They have set expectations high for our next conference.”
The epitome of Golden Age glamor, the Beverly Hills Hotel was built in 1912, before there was even a city named Beverly Hills. In the 1940s the hotel received its now-famous pink exterior, and for decades the Polo Lounge has drawn Hollywood celebrities and business leaders. Sinatra and the Rat Pack infamously overindulged there in the 1960s.
Sinatra liked to stay in the Paul Williams Suite (117), named for the architect who created the hotel’s logo and many of its signature venues. Today, the hotel melds classic and contemporary styles, offering 208 accommodations, 22,000 sf of indoor function space and 4,800 sf outdoors.
Beth Braley, event planning specialist with Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, part of Daimler AG, set a September 2015 Dealer Appreciation Event for 40 attendees at the Beverly Hills Hotel. “Our attendees were all dealer principals/owners and as such live lifestyles similar to that of the residents of Beverly Hills,” she says. “The location, culture and dining options worked very well for the group.”
The hotel’s reputation for superior services and its location, history and renovated rooms played into the decision to hold the event there, and Braley calls the banquet staff “exceptional.”
The welcome reception in the Sunset Ballroom was especially memorable. “The servers stood out,” she says. “The Sunset Ballroom is a great venue with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the pool. The size of the room was perfect for the group.”
The only negative for Braley was a food and beverage minimum imposed for semi-private space at Bar Nineteen 12. “I felt this should not have been imposed as the bar was somewhat empty the nights the group was there. If this was an ultra-popular lounge, such at the Polo Lounge, then I would completely understand; however, the lounge was not losing any revenue by the group taking up a section of the space.”
That said, Braley recommends the property without hesitation. “The entire experience,” she says, “was top notch.”
Sinatra developed his cocky swagger and cool style growing up in gritty Hoboken, across the Hudson River from Manhattan. Today, it’s one of Manhattan’s sought-after bedroom communities with a view of the city Manhattanites can only dream of. Margaret Frasher, regional administrative specialist with car brand Infiniti, calls Hoboken ideal for Infiniti East’s October 2015 organizational meeting with 35 attendees.
“It all worked,” she says. “It was a combination of the convenient, fun location and beautiful setting on the Hudson River. The area was very safe and clean, and it was walking distance to great dining. Our group had a great time hopping from bar to bar.”
The meeting was based at W Hoboken. “Everyone,” Frasher says, “was absolutely wonderful and very accommodating. Sherrin Thomas, first point of contact, was very pleasant and eager to work with our group. Ona Magnacavello has a wonderful personality, was easy to work with, made sure everything ran smoothly and was always checking in onsite. Julia Egli stayed on top of daily changes and updated me as far as room accommodations, and when we picked up the phone in the meeting room there was Christopher making everything better, like magic.”
Meals were high on Frasher’s list of positives. “The breakfast was perfect but the lunch superseded my expectations. We had the Fiesta package and among the things that stood out were the churros.”
Monday evening’s welcome reception at Lulu’s went off without a hitch. “Everyone enjoyed the inside and outside areas since it turned out to be a beautiful night,” Frasher says, “and that really made it a great time.”
She credits the team at the W for taking a lot of the pressure off. “The only suggestion I have for other planners is to not worry so much about it — any of it. The team at the W made sure that everything went smoothly.”
While Sinatra was born in Hoboken, he made a name for himself in Manhattan and gave the city its enduring theme song. He wasn’t the first to sing “New York, New York,” but his version is the one most often heard at city events. The singer is closely associated with one of the most recognized addresses in the world, the Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue. He performed three times a week in the Wedgewood Room, later called the Empire Room, and lived in the Cole Porter Suite (33A), a five-bedroom, 5.5 marble bath suite still in the hotel’s inventory.
The Waldorf Astoria New York has always been known for elegance and service, and that hasn’t changed. For Michael Taylor, president and CEO of Illinois-based M. J. Taylor & Company, whose clients include the American Football Coaches Foundation, the Waldorf is an exquisite venue — one he returns to time and again.
“The American Football Coaches Foundation CEO Coach of the Year Dinner, which began in 2006, held its inaugural event at the Waldorf Astoria in the Grand Ballroom, and it continues to be held there,” he says. “The elegance, rich history and commitment to first-class service that exudes from the moment you walk through the doors and make your way to the main lobby create the type of experience we want for our event guests.”
And when it comes to charitable events, the Waldorf has history. “The Waldorf is at the nucleus of where charitable events began in the United States when the original hotel opened in 1893,” Taylor says. “To be a part of that storied tradition is important to the American Football Coaches Foundation.”
Taylor points to the hotel’s long list of illustrious guests, including royalty, presidents and leaders in the realms of business, politics, religion and sports. In many ways the staff has been just as illustrious.
“I have been working with the Waldorf staff since 1998,” Taylor says. “Many people have stood out for the American Football Coaches Foundation and for me. One person who embodied the history and character of the Waldorf was the former senior catering sales manager, Larry Amato, who was always quick to point out many historical pieces at the Waldorf. Jim Blauvelt made a great impression as well. From time to time he would smile and say, ‘Nothing is impossible at the Waldorf.’ I still get that feeling when I walk through the Park Avenue entrance.”
The foundation’s primary event is set each year in the Grand Ballroom, and Taylor works with the hotel’s catering, décor, lighting and AV staffs. “Each one of these functions has been first-class in service and product,” he says. “It is a luxury to have a team of dedicated people who are great at what they do but who can also change course quickly and adapt to new requests and changes without missing a step.”
Taylor advises planners “to go beyond thinking about their event details and consider the opportunity to be part of the growing history that is the Waldorf.”
Palmer House, a Hilton Hotel, the nation’s oldest continuously operating hotel, has hosted U.S. presidents, Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde, among others. In 1933, the golden Empire Dining Room became an epicenter for entertainment, drawing such luminaries as Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Liberace and Sinatra. In recent years the hotel underwent a $170 million renovation, ensuring that it meets the needs and expectations of 21st century guests — guests such as the 450 attendees of Benjamin Moore & Company’s November 2014 North American sales conference.
Lauren Errico, executive sales coordinator and analyst with the company, says they chose the hotel because of its staff, architecture, hospitality and prime location. “We fell in love with the décor and meeting space throughout the hotel — the Grand Ballroom and Red Lacquer room made our event!”
Errico says every staff member from the DOS down made the group feel welcomed and cared for. “You could tell that they are passionate about their jobs and their clients no matter how big or small the event. Staff that truly went above and beyond includes Flo Fougerouse, Jennifer Marszewski, Kevin Clifford, Sarac Vahap and all AV personnel. Because of their passion, it was an easy decision to return in 2016.”
There was a challenge posed by having meeting spaces on different floors, but that became a positive. “The benefits of the architecture and location of the hotel outweighed the meeting space specs.” Errico says. “The hotel assured us that with their staff and blue-coat service, no attendee would ever feel lost. Staff members made sure attendees felt comfortable and knew where they were going at all times, some even bringing attendees to the appropriate space to make sure they were where they needed to be.”
For Errico, the only surprise was the extraordinary dedication of the staff. “I didn’t know the dedication of the Palmer House team prior to our event,” she says. “I know now that I am in great hands for 2016 and it will be as successful as our 2014 event.”
Something all of these hotels have in common is an elite level of service and expertise. Groups can truly “do it their way” to paraphrase the song, with help from accomplished staff members.
Sinatra would approve. C&IT