It’s Charleston’s first full-service hotel to open since the city started topping national lists as the best city to visit.
And the Grand Bohemian Hotel at 55 Wentworth St. does not disappoint.
But what’s great about this new hotel isn’t so much the hotel part, as nice as it is, but its many public spaces that promise to enrich life for those of us who already live here.
Richard Kessler, president of The Kessler Enterprise luxury hotel group, oversaw the project and says the mission was “to create a monumental hotel for an iconic city that is functional, charming and would be graciously received by the citizens of Charleston.”
The city’s zoning provided an early assist.
Charleston limits new hotels south of Calhoun Street to no more than 50 rooms, even though the corner lot at Meeting and Wentworth streets was plenty large enough to hold many more while still remaining within a height limit of four stories.
That motivated the company to confine the hotel rooms to the second and third floors while finding other profitable, and public, uses for the ground and top floors, such as a cafe, a restaurant, an art gallery and a wine bar.
In fact, the 50-room limit also makes it the most intimate of the dozen luxury hotels in the Kessler Collection.
Its design, by Reese Vanderbilt Architects and Lew Oliver, Inc., as well as LS3P Architects, masks the building’s size along Meeting Street by two important moves, the first being recessing the fourth floor. That creates both a three-story building along the street as well as a dramatic outdoor deck for the fourth floor’s Eleve restaurant.
The second move was recessing the building’s southeastern corner to create a small courtyard that not only preserves two large oak trees but also provides a welcoming outdoor spot for the cafe’s customers.
That makes the building’s most visible part, its northeastern corner, more compatible in size to its neighbors, while its less visible portion further down Wentworth Street is taller but also the same height as the neighboring parking garage.
The design practices good manners in another way.
Its largely creamy exterior pallet of cast stone and stucco, complete with simple columns and pilasters, is a safe choice, a conservative complement to the historic surroundings.
Kessler says its exterior also has a decidedly French dialect, borrowing heavily from Parisian architectural types.
The Meeting Street facade also features a pronounced gallery entrance that runs the entire three floors as well as generously sized windows to give pedestrians more to look at.
The interior is where the “Bohemian” name comes into play in its informal, unconventional and avant-garde sense.
There are colorful glass chandeliers, striking artwork (both in the gallery and in the lobby, halls and other public spaces), vibrant carpets and other fun touches, including the translucent stone registration desk that glows or the scalloped recess for a couch near the main door.
The Bohemian theme also appears on the rooftop deck, whose modern furniture, large pink glowing plant pots and artificial grass form a contemporary foreground to the historic rooftops just over the parapet.
It’s a fun place to visit, whether grabbing a cup of coffee in the cafe or having Sunday brunch on the roof. (Much like the company’s Bohemian Hotel’s “Rocks on the Roof” in Savannah is one of that city’s best places to visit for a drink at day’s end).
And Kessler’s design goal also shows how it fits in to the city.
“We strive to design buildings that will become acclaimed structures for the preservationist of future generations,” he says.
Charleston’s tourist scene succeeds because it’s sort of the anti-Las Vegas.
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, while many Charleston visitors probably think about what it would be like to live here.
That’s why a new hotel here succeeds the best when it serves more than those who are passing through.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.