If the name Anthony Melchiorri doesn’t ring a bell, chances are you’ve never watched Travel Channel’s Hotel Impossible, a show that takes viewers inside struggling (being polite) hotels in America. Melchiorri, a sought-after hospitality expert with a number of successful turnarounds under his belt, The Algonquin Hotel being his most remarkable, gives the hotels a new lease on life with his signature, pull-no-punches attitude. Along with a team of designers, he conducts a full evaluation of the hotel in just four days, pointing out problems, providing guidance on fixing the issues, overseeing renovations, all tucked nicely into a one-hour episode.
Prior to entering the hospitality industry, Melchiorri served at Missouri’s Whiteman Air Force Base. After this stint, he got a job as a night manager at New York’s Plaza Hotel, and moved up quickly to Director of Front Office Operations. His portfolio of work includes top positions, industry awards, and headline-making renovations. Melchiorri’s work on The Algonquin Hotel is the stuff of legends. It can be considered a precursor to his hit show, and the beginning of a miracle-making career resurrecting hotels across the country.
The Algonquin Hotel
The Algonquin Hotel is a luxurious property on West 44th Street near Times Square in New York City. The 181 room hotel first opened its doors in 1902. A look back into the hotel’s roots reveals that it is actually two buildings. The Blue Bar is an extension of the building, and started life as a carriage house back in the 1860s when West 44th Street housed stables to the north of the block. In between, it housed the Oak Room Supper Club, opening in 1939, but quickly closing with the onset of World War II.
Through the 20s and 30s, The Algonquin Hotel gained fame as a meeting place for some of the country’s best-known writers. Satirist and short story writer Dorothy Parker and her circle of intellectuals, proclaiming themselves “The Vicious Circle,” – among them writer Ruth Hale, playwrights Marc Connelly and George S. Kaufman, and humorist Robert Benchley – dined at the hotel’s round table for ten years nearly every day for lunch. According to popular legend, the coterie exchanged repartees, undoubtedly inspired by the martinis they copiously consumed. Melchiorri, upon taking the helm, picked up on this martini history and made some history of his own…
The Algonquin Hotel’s guest list has, in large part, added to the property’s reputation and history. Besides the aforementioned writers, critics and playwrights who’ve lunched and dined here include silver screen icons such as Charlie Chaplain, Angela Lansbury, and Anthony Hopkins, all of whom have been frequent visitors.
The Algonquin Hotel has changed hands over the last three decades. In 1987, it was acquired by the Aoki Corporation, a Brazilian subsidiary of a Japanese corporation that installed self-service elevators in 1991. Ten years later, Aoki sold The Algonquin Hotel to the Camberley Hotel Company, and subsequently underwent a $4 million renovation. Interior Designer Hall of Fame member Alexandra Champalimaud was hired to update the interiors while retaining the feel and character of the hotel. She wanted to convert the lobby into “a moody pace clogged with furniture,” and a social den for authors and academics.
Before Melchiorri brought new life to The Algonquin Hotel, Champalimaud was able to revive it, winning the Gold Key Award for her work. The hotel’s fresh face was welcomed by everyone, except by its 90-year old owner, Mary Bodne, who is said to have remarked that while the place looked nice, it would never feel the same as the old hotel.
The Algonquin Hotel was ready to move ahead with the times. It faced the task of appealing to a modern clientele with evolving demands. After its acquisition by Miller Global Properties in 2002, The Algonquin Hotel installed a state-of-the-art computerized check-in database that instantly retrieves guests’ personal preferences, a unique feature at the time. Three years after this $3 million update, the hotel was sold to HEI Hotels & Resorts, owner-operator of 25 other full-service properties. It was during this same time that Melchiorri left The Lucerne Hotel, which had just won the Best Service Hotel award from the New York Times Travel Guide under his stewardship. West 44th Street beckoned, and Melchiorri took up the position of General Manager at The Algonquin Hotel, embarking upon a revolution that is still jaw-dropping to this day.
Turnaround of The Algonquin Hotel
The Algonquin Hotel had received updates under each of its owners, but none were as ambitious as the one that Melchiorri had in mind. His goal was to reposition the hotel and communicate its historic significance in the midst of growing local competition. What followed was a landmark, top-to-bottom renovation, which was remarkable (to say the least) for multiple reasons.
First was the sheer pace of the renovation, which was completed in 29 days. Melchiorri has admitted that desperation is a motivating force to get things done. A self-confessed adrenaline junkie who operates on four hours of sleep, Melchiorri says that there is no time to pause when a renovation is the need of the hour for whatever reason, whether it’s foreclosure, bankruptcy or an image transformation.
Second, it was the first time that the hotel had ever been closed. Melchiorri says that he had to convince the owners to completely stop operations and shut the property down. Risking his personal and professional reputation, the owners agreed, and he began the work. Immediately. The full-scale renovation included all the rooms, from painting, wallpapers and cleaning to new draperies, furniture, as well as policies and procedures. Working non-stop over this period paid dividends, and Melchiorri was able to pull off the deadline in style. The $15 million job from roof to basement was a grand success, allowing the owner to sell it for handsome returns.
A New Round Table
Melchiorri replaced the historic round table with a rectangular, dark wooden table and dedicated it to “writers, wits, and wags of the future.” When the renovation was made public, the celebratory party included Robert Benchley and F.P.A. Adams, two of the Vicious Circle’s surviving talents. Dorothy Parker Society president Kevin Fitzpatrick remarked that The Algonquin Hotel was going back to its roots. Under Melchiorri’s guidance, the hotel paid homage to its past, albeit in modern style. The first and second hotel floors were equipped with Wi-Fi Internet access, allowing writers to stretch out with their laptops and seek inspiration from the surroundings.
The $10,000 Martini
Melchiorri wanted to reopen The Algonquin Hotel with a bang, and in the ultra-competitive New York City market, he knew it wouldn’t be easy to get people’s attention. That’s exactly what Melchiorri did with the introduction of the “$10,000 Martini.” It’s similar to your standard martini, except it features a sparkling diamond at the bottom. The idea was forwarded by Carla Caccavale PR, and Melchiorri was quick to realize its marketing potential. The creative strategy won The Algonquin Hotel the Best of Show Award from the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International.
On his blog, Melchiorri calls this strategy a “stunt,” admitting that it was outrageous enough to be recognized by the press, and whose allure has endured among travelers and New Yorkers to the present day.
If the “Martini on the Rock” at The Algonquin Hotel’s Blue Bar interests you, you’ll need to provide a 72-hour advance notice and meet with the hotel’s jeweler to pre-select the rock. The drink is priced based on the market value of the diamond in the glass. Besides the option to customize the ring, you can also have your martini prepared any way you like, just as Melchiorri would have it.
Melchiorri went on to assume the position of Senior Vice President of the first Nickelodeon Hotel and Resort, entrusted with a 25-acre, 800 room property.
One of his philosophies is to deliver what people want. In his experience with Nickelodeon, for example, Melchiorri encountered young kids asking for a SpongeBob celebration or an Eloise tour, and proceeded to provide them just that. He believes that hotels mustn’t charge guests for internet. If Dorothy Parker asked for a pen at the Algonquin Round Table, she would get one for free; by the same token, the modern guest should be able to use the internet without having to pay a fee, concludes Melchiorri.
He’s also very particular about fixing problems, his meticulous attention to detail allows him to catch everything from dirty perimeters and carpeting, to uniform-less front desk personnel, and employees who don’t make eye contact. Melchiorri brought this talent for detail to The Algonquin Hotel’s renovation, though it has never been revealed by him or others how exactly he managed the challenging feat in such a short span of time.
The Travel Channel has renewed Hotel Impossible for a seventh season, which will see Melchiorri doing what he does best over 13, one-hour episodes. If you haven’t seen it, let the binge watching begin.