Lobbyists do not normally hang out in luxury hotels, although the Willard InterContinental in Washington DC might tell you that the word was coined during the time of President Ulysses S. Grant, who used to come to that lobby for a brandy and cigar and those petitioners who hung around him became known as lobbyists. Not true, says the Editor-at-Large for the Oxford English Dictionary, Jesse Sheidlower. He says the verb ‘to lobby‘ first appears in the early 1830s in Ohio, talking about local politics. But, add the gal, the noun ‘lobby‘ was apparently first used in the 1530s, as a covered walk from the Latin ‘laubia’ or ‘lobia’. Well somehow this has evolved into the entrance to today’s hotels, and very glorious some of them are. At Park Hyatt Zurich, for instance, a double-height space is an art gallery, with a massive 530 sq ft Sol LeWitt over the entrance and, on one wall, shown, a 90 sq ft colour block by Heinz Mack.
There are closed, intimate lobbies, like those of townhouse hotels of the calibre of the lovely Talbott in Chicago, and the elegant Hay-Adams and Jefferson, both in Washington DC. There are massive statement lobbies, in Grand Hyatts and Shangri-Las. It was The Peninsula Hong Kong that started the craze, I think, for having a music gallery set at an upper level of a two-floor lobby, and you now have the same at Peninsulas in Manila and Shanghai. The Peninsula Beijing, by contrast, is a study of when does a lobby turn into the best designer shopping in town… The lobby of Grand Wailea Waldorf Astoria, on Maui, is more when does a lobby turn into a sculpture gallery, as it is filled with so many Botero sculptures that I gave up counting (the first Botero I ever saw, actually, was the giant anthropomorphic female sculpture in the lobby of Four Seasons Miami).
Some resorts barely need lobbies at all, although reception buildings with open front and rear facets give a sense of wonder on arrival. Think of Four Seasons Koh Samui, or, here, at Oetker‘s Fregate Island Private, in the Seychelles. As always at a resort, I saw the lobby when I arrived, but I do not remember it again during my memorable stay in villa 17, called Green Gecko. I remember so many things of that visit, from a giant tortoise taking the landing-strip hostage, to the seven beaches, and giving up on trying to cycle up the ultra-steep cobbled pathway when going to the gym. No problem, it was 104 strides to get there which was excellent for the iPhone Health app.
Talking of bikes, I had a first at Maradiva on Mauritius. I do not know how it happened but it seemed that the only way I could get my bike from villa 106 out to the main Wolmar road was to cycle via the luxury hotel’s lobby, which was fortunately wood-floored, and to pedal right on through. Some of the best lobbies in the world, however, are those that are memorable for their beauty. In Abu Dhabi, the lobby of Jumeriah at Etihad Towers is an endless aura of light enhanced by six Lasvit crystal installations, each one with 33,368 crystal trimmings, which change colour slowly, as determined by a computer back in the Czech Republic. One of this hotel’s siblings, Jumeirah Emirates Towers, in Dubai, has an all-glass open-atrium lobby, with glass-sided elevators, that soar up to the 40th floor. And the flowers, down at ground level, are stunning.