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Hotel offers adult amusement

The Menage is the Disneyland resort area's first boutique property. The owners say Anaheim is ready for lava lamps and red leather couches.

August 01, 2007|Kimi Yoshino | Times Staff Writer

The wall of huge red lava lamps lining the driveway of Anaheim's new Hotel Menage sends a clear message: This is not your father's Disneyland hotel.

Anywhere else and the Menage might not make waves. But this is Anaheim, land of the cram-the-kids-in-the-room motor inn and convention-friendly, cookie-cutter chains.

The Disneyland resort area has nearly 21,000 hotel rooms, but Hotel Menage is widely considered its first boutique property.

"It's such a punch when you're looking off [the street]," said hotel managing partner Richard Ham. "Before people even look at the entrance, they say, 'Oh my goodness.' "

The lobby could have been snatched from a W Hotel, with white flowing drapes, lounge-style couches and cool, ambient music. A red room -- which doubles as an office center -- is filled with red leather couches, another red lava lamp and lush, red curtains. Rooms are sleek, with concrete floors, leather headboards and 41-inch plasma-screen televisions.

Even the conference rooms are different: One is Zen-inspired, another is brightly colored with oversize beanbag chairs.

"These new hotels are popping up everywhere," hospitality consultant David Brudney said. "Why should Anaheim be any different?"

All over the country, developers are opening boutique hotels -- typically smaller, hipper properties that cater to Generation X, Generation Y or young baby boomers.

Starwood is debuting its newest brand, Aloft, next year, trying to capture a younger customer. Even Marriott, the nation's largest hotel chain, is jumping into the mix, announcing a recent partnership with hotelier Ian Schrager, who pioneered the boutique hotel concept, to launch a brand.

The number of boutique hotel rooms in the U.S. has grown more than 15.3% since 2001, according to Tennessee-based Smith Travel Research.

Bruce Baltin, senior vice president of Los Angeles-based PKF Consulting, said that just as mass-market stores such as Target Corp. were signing deals with designers in an effort to be more trendy, the boutique hotel movement reflected "a cultural need for style."

Ham and partner Christopher Keller have a long history with hotels. Their company, Casa Resorts, bought the 41-room La Casa del Camino in Laguna Beach in 2002. This fall, they expect to complete the purchase of their third property, Laguna Beach Inn.

Ham and Keller worked for years for other hotel companies, but decided they needed to form their own company if they wanted to grow.

"It was time to be an entrepreneur, really, time to make money on our own," Ham said.

They settled on Laguna Beach, deciding that beach tourism is nearly recession-proof. The hit MTV show "Laguna Beach" and the luxury Montage resort have also helped drive tourists into the area, Ham said.

Both worked for years at the Anaheim Hilton. After studying the market, they realized they could fill a niche in Anaheim too: "Not only is there a huge amount of leisure business, the conventioneers that are actually attending meetings in the city are looking for this."

They found the 248-room Hotel Menage, a former Holiday Inn, in a prime spot -- visible off the Santa Ana Freeway and on Harbor Boulevard, the same street that fronts Disneyland.

They paid $22 million for the property and invested an additional $5 million in renovations, stripping the rooms, replacing all the furniture and fixtures and completely redoing the lobby and restaurant.

Rates start at $129 a night and Ham is hoping to net $10 million to $12 million in sales the first year in operation. The company employs 130 people at each of its hotels.

They also renovated the one-acre pool area, adding a palapa bar, 42 speakers and upgraded lounge furniture. They rented the pool to a local promoter, who recently held a party reminiscent of the Las Vegas poolside bashes that have brought a nightclub atmosphere into the sunlight.

"If you like the club environment, you'll like the hotel," Ham said, noting that the hotel has a contract with Anaheim's House of Blues to put up artists in town for gigs.

"The artists that play there want this," Ham said.

Still, this is Anaheim; its tourist base is families and conventioneers.

"I've been in this city for a long time," Ham said. "I do think it's ready. The response that I've been getting is that it's more than ready."

Although the hotel has been open for business during renovation, it held a grand opening in June. Ham has been pounding the pavement in Las Vegas and Phoenix -- the cities where most Anaheim tourists come from -- to introduce the properties to travel agents and media.

Riverside resident Michael Buchner, 41, stayed at the hotel over Memorial Day weekend with his wife, a quick getaway from their four teenage daughters. He liked it so much that he's recommended the hotel and restaurant to his friends and his brother, who spent the Fourth of July holiday there. He may even book one of the conference rooms for a business meeting.

"I really feel like I was out of town, instead of in Anaheim of all places," Buchner said. "Being in Anaheim is not my idea of getting away. But I really feel like I was in San Diego or even Santa Barbara or San Francisco."

Although Buchner said he saw children on the property -- and considered it family-friendly -- he said the hotel and pool were not overrun with kids as they could be at Disney's hotels or some properties closer to the park.

Ham said he and his partner named the property Hotel Menage because it means "together" and strove to make the public areas fun yet comfortable .

"It's no longer about how old you are," Ham said. "It's about how old you feel."


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