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Traveler's Diary

Try Taking to the Waters in Dallas

May 04, 1986|HORACE SUTTON | Sutton is editor of Signature magazine.

DALLAS — It is not as if Texas needed a Bath. It is simply that the English city of Bath, a spa and an architectural gem, provided the inspiration for architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee when they were commissioned to draw the plans for a huge center in Big D.

It would encompass a hotel, a three-tiered shopping center that is sort of a vertical Rodeo Drive and an office tower topped by a super-spiffy Crescent Club.

They recalled the Royal Crescent in Bath, England, a city that traces its origins to Roman times. The Royal Crescent there is a soft curve of town houses 1,000 feet long facing an expanse of lawn.

Urban and Suburban

In Dallas the architects were faced with the problem of creating a street that wasn't in the suburbs and yet wasn't exactly downtown either. "We decided to create a soft curve that kind of cuddles you," Burgee says, "welcoming you into a stylish hotel that faces a compatibly curving office building."

And that's how the 200-room Crescent Court was born, rising seven stories like an over-yeasted French chateau with slate-covered mansard roofing.

As an added inspiration they incorporated the filigree ironwork so popular in Galveston, which borrowed the style from New Orleans. The French mansard touch, Burgee says, comes from early Texas homes that copied existing French fashion in chateaux and town houses.

The result, for travelers, anyway, is a splendid barracks created for business persons and is the latest in a string of Rosewood Hotels that include the Mansions at Turtle Creek, a small elegant nest (also in Dallas), the Remington in Houston, the handsomely refashioned Bel Air in California, and the Hana Maui on the island of Maui in Hawaii, now under considerable refurbishment. Coming, too, is a property in Washington, a 90-room inn in Georgetown.

A Vaulted Sanctum

What the traveler will find at Crescent Court, as this hotel is called, is a Great Hall built of Indiana limestone, a material easy to carve into arches, cornices and pediments. The two-story vaulted sanctum was created as a congregation center for business travelers making deals in comfortable surroundings.

A step away from the Great Hall is the Beau Nash, named for the celebrated bon vivant of Bath's heyday. It is the only restaurant in the hotel. With its dark woods and terra-cotta floors, it is meant as a glorified brasserie that is open-shirt informal.

The menu, with overtones of Northern Italy, is no run-of-the-mill choucroute garni beer hall. A three-colored fettuccine is served with smoked tuna, artichokes, lobster sauce and roasted vegetables. A pizza is topped with smoked salmon, sour cream, lemon, dill, red onion and golden caviar.

A lowly calzone is stuffed not with ricotta cheese but with pesto sauce, lamb sausage and red onions. Texas goat cheese appears (no Tex-Mex around here) mixed into the linguine, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, basil and olive oil. The fine hand of Wolgang Puck, the consultant from Los Angeles, is everywhere.

Special Spa Area

Bath, England, is a great spa city, so it is altogether fitting that Crescent Court have a spa of its own. That doesn't mean it is sitting on a natural water source. It means that below the lobby are several levels of elegant massage parlors, a vast array of sadistic machinery lined up in exercise rooms, an assortment of whirlpool baths both hot and cold, Swiss showers, a barre for ballet exercisers and an experienced core of practitioners for special skin care.

Spa devotees can recoup at the juice bar, which is really more than it says it is. With wicker chairs drawn up to marble tables, it provides sensible meals as well as nibbles of dried prunes, apricots and nuts.

A walk through the Great Hall leads to a three-tiered gallery of shops. To Boot will sell you a pair of sky blue buckskin shoes for $98 or woven leather loafers for $155. A lizard belt at Bigsby & Kruthers will hold up your trousers for $122.

But then there is Art & Tradition selling English furniture, and Treasure de Chine (they mean China) stores with goods from Cathay. Zen the florist has orange-hued amaryllis from Holland, orchids and traveler's palms grown in the nursery of Hana Maui.

Upstairs, the marble baths have gold fixtures, but like the rest of the hotel, the tones are quiet except for sprays of rare flowers. The hang-on-your-door breakfast menu includes such caloric delights as hotel apple beignets with vanilla sugar, macadamia nut waffles with coconut butter and fruit, and a smoked pork with crispy hash browns flavored with rosemary.

I'm not sure why anybody would want to stray from these premises, but in case they do the Rosewood people have supplied three trolley cars with rubber wheels that will invade the forest of skyscrapers of downtown Dallas that loom on the horizon like some out-of-this-world Oz.

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