Want history in a central Houston location – and lovely, caring people for whom nothing seems to be too much trouble? Hotel ICON, on Main Street, is also a hotel that offers the luxury of such photo opportunities as a stupendous safe (see its door, above, photographed behind front desk) and a serious gym with colour. The 12-floor building was opened in 1912 as the Union National Bank, first charter bank of the State of Texas: its first chairman was a member of the Rice family, of Rice University ongoing fame. Over the years it morphed into JP Morgan Chase, says the gal, and in 2004 developer Randall Davis spent $35 million converting it into a hotel.
Fortunately no-one, including subsequent owners Lowe Enterprises, followed by Magic Johnson and friends and now, for the last two years, Westmont Hospitality, has attempted to update too drastically. The soaring main lobby, for instance, has gigantic lampshades, and vitrines showing the bank’s history climb up to the mezzanine level from here. A metrosexual snug bar reminds me of the always-popular lounge above the lobby of The Hari London Belgravia. From the main lobby, go down, rather than up, and 20 original stone steps – or an elevator – take you to the lowest level, where the gym is. This facility, which is 24/7, is splendid.
The bare brick walls gives a retro feeling similar to the gym at The Greenwich in New York, but here the scarlet equipment, Cybex and Nautilus is, to me, unique, and a brilliant innovation. I smile as soon as I go in there, and I smile again at the supplies of fruit, and the easy-to-operate standing television sets. But then, quite honestly, I smile quite a lot while staying in this 135-room hotel, part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. I know I will be leaving at 5.45 am, before room service starts, so I order, at 4 pm, tomorrow’s breakfast. A black-haired young man with a top-knot, shaved sides of his head, and a neat goatee comes up 30 minutes later with an open bowl of yoghurt, a dinner plate filled with mixed berries, two bananas – one under- and one over-ripe, for my choice – and plenty of cutlery. He does not tell me I am crazy.
I dine in the hotel’s basement wine cellar, which apparently is justly popular for small events. Yes, one wall is lined with bottles, including the year-anonymous Josh Cellars Pinot that both GM Peter Wright, a long time Leading executive who moved here two months ago, and I are drinking. After dinner, he shows me the rear of the safe, in the back office behind front desk, and then I head for an early night. Sure enough, I wake as scheduled, head to the gym – perhaps unsurprisingly I have it all to myself. To me, attributes of any luxury hotel must include a no-question, instant hot water shower, and this fits that bill – as you can see from the video below, the bedroom in 1217, The Claridge’s Suite, also has a free-standing clawfoot tub right in the bedroom. I also find the Keurig espresso maker surprisingly easy to work. I eat my pre-ordered berries and fruit, and head down for my 5.45 a.m. pick-up. A beautifully-manicured and alert young lady gives me a big smile, offers me a bottle of water and a granola bar, and says please come back soon. SEE SUITE 1217, BELOW