On a vacation, it’s not just about the suite, the resort’s proximity to the beach, that long awaited rendezvous with your favorite travel companion, the lavish amenities, the splendorous sheets or the first-in-class activities. Sometimes what actually compels you to return to a certain hotel is simply the existence of one extraordinary person. Legendary characters have been a standout resource at the world’s best hotels for eons. Doormen, concierges, activity managers, bartenders, elevator operators, waiters and more, they are people who have worked so long in their job and so joyfully that they define the destination. They welcome back adult guests they first met as children—and so it goes for generations. As time passes, resorts evolve. And the standout characters retire or, sadly, pass away. But they’ve left their legacy. Whether it’s legendary characters such as Andrew Lounsbury who operated the gilded cage-style elevator at Hotel Del Coronado for four decades, Pierre Grueneberg who taught celebrities to swim at Four Seasons Cap du Ferrat’s cliffhanging pool during a nearly 70 year career, Jessie Davis a charismatic, four decade-long restaurant server at The Wigwam in Phoenix’s West Valley, Ritz Paris’ Hemingway Bar Head Bartender since 1994 Colin Peter Field or Freddy, whose margaritas were so famous the Maroma, A Belmond Hotel on the Riviera Maya named an iconic beachside bar for him, we raise our glasses to you. This story is my ode to them—and to the new generation of hotel personalities that forever draw us back to a place.
Here are a few to meet on your next trip.
Donald Crawley, Director of Golf Instruction at The Boulders Resort & Spa Scottsdale, Curio Collection by Hilton, Carefree Arizona
Originally from the UK, Donald Crawley has been teeing off in the otherworldly Sonoran Desert for more than twenty years, starting the Boulders Golf Academy two decades ago. Guests repeatedly return to take their annual lesson from Donald, who has been named named Golf magazines “Top 100 Teachers in America” for 20 consecutive years—a recognition considered to be the industry standard for teaching excellence. hilton.com
Eddie Mahoney, Director of Astronomy at Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa, Hawaii
Stargazing with guests for more than 22 years from this island resort’s rooftop observatory (rated number one in the world), Eddie Mahoney is a NASA Ambassador who offers guests a Tour of the Stars experience several nights per week where attendees can see 80 of the 88 constellations. Enamoured by the stars since watching Sputnik, the world’s first satellite to orbit earth in 1957, Edward lovingly remembers helping a young boy with the Make A Wish Foundation see his dream of a shooting star. www.hyatt.com
Dwayne Hamilton, Doorman at The Langham New York, Fifth Avenue, New York City
At the hotel since its inception more than a decade ago, beloved doorman Dwayne Hamilton reigns as the star of the Langham New York’s social media content thanks to his beaming smile and big personality. A natural ham that one guest described as “the sunshine of the hotel,” Dwayne once tried his hand at the front desk, but returned to the door as he missed his daily interactions with arriving guests. He also stands in as the hotel’s resident photographer. langhamhotels.com
Sylvie Gonin, Head Concierge at the Beau-Rivage Palace, Lausanne, Switzerland
Breaking all stereotypes that suggested only men could lord over the concierge desk in stately European palace hotels, Sylvie Gonin took over the role as Head Concierge in 1995 at this noble hotel on the Lake Geneva. Her stories of achieving the impossible for guests are legion, though favorite memories include the time she was given carte blanche to find a small dog for gift (she selected a Bijon Frisé.) and a Middle Eastern guest’s request for estrogen to treat his 500 camels. brp.ch
“Pops”(Tom Vincent Davis), Concierge at Perry Lane Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Savannah, Georgia
Evoking Southern amiability with his welcoming parlance and dapper seersucker suit, Pops gets rave reviews on TripAdvisor for his personal touches and sincere hospitality from his outpost at this historic district sited luxury hotel. Greeting guests with complimentary Champagne or cocktails, he shares insider tips that can’t be found elsewhere, sometimes even taking guests on mini-tours of the city as he directs them to nearby restaurants or monuments. One guest wrote: “Running into Pops is like coming home.” Where did he learn his consummate customer service? “It’s something that cannot be taught, something you’re born with,” he says. marriott.com
Roberto Wirth Jr. Executive Chairman and Veruschka Wirth CEO, Hotel Hassler, Rome, Italy
The magniloquent Hassler, the only “grand hotel” in Europe that remains privately owned and managed on a full time basis by its owners, stands proudly above the Spanish Steps. The hotel, founded in the 19th-century, has been led by six generations of the Wirth family. With the recent, sudden death of their father, legendary hotelier Roberto Wirth, his children, twins Roberto Wirth, Jr. and Versuschka Wirth, sixth generation hoteliers, took the rein. Known for his warm, elegant and effusive welcome to guests, as well as his generous charitable works, particularly with the deaf community, Roberto will be honored by his children as they embrace his ethos and memory, even as they look to the future. “The Hassler is in our DNA,” say the twins, who plan to increase the hotel’s sustainability and green footprint, institute a spa and continue to bring the restaurant and wine cellar of the Hassler’s ancient grotto to life.
Ron Porter, Maintenance Worker, Twin Farms, a Relais & Chateaux hotel, Vermont
Having worked at Twin Farms for 30 years (and on the farm property for two decades longer) beloved jack of all trades Ron Porter loves his job most for the people he meets. “Everybody has a story and I so enjoy hearing bits and pieces of peoples’ lives, the places they have been, and their experiences,” he says. He notes that he is particularly liked helping to create successful guest experiences—such as a three day birthday party the resort once organized for a guest in the middle of winter. Revered by guests who run straight to see Ron on return trips, he has mascot status at Twin Farms. twinfarms.com
Bob Tagatz, Resident Historian, Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, Michigan
An historic hotel needs a storyteller. Enter Bob Tagatz, a passionate historian, who has been named a Historic Hotels of America Historian of the Year. Obsessed with the bygone glamor of sumptuous heyday hotels, fervent about telling their stories, Bob came to Mackinac island 27 years ago to work at the Grand Hotel, begging them to christen him the in-house historian. Instead, they started him as a bellmen. But, Bob persisted, studying the hotel’s history at night, impressing guests with fun facts. Respecting his knowledge and commitment, the hotel created the position at last, a job Bob does with gusto. Today, he leads acclaimed daily tours and gives myriad lectures at the hotel, relating both the Grand Hotel’s and the island’s history. grandhotel.com
Pilou, Resident Cat, St James Hotel, a Relais & Chateaux hotel, Paris
In Paris’ only chateau hotel, neatly secluded in gardens in a residential pocket on the Rive Droite, a beautiful black cat stands at attention, watching as each guest enters the feline’s personal haven, sometimes deigning to greet them with a purr and playful meow. Pilou, fourteen years old, has long held court at Saint James Paris, its walled garden of topiary and flowers his playground. Happily napping on a sofa in the restaurant or by the palm plant, this truly French chat knows where to sit and how to act to be perceived as the consummate prince. saint-james-paris.com