Sake, Tattoos and Fine Art: Andaz Hotels Reintroduce the Salon

SAN DIEGO (MainStreet) — The setting: upscale, trendy. Think dark velvet couches and chairs, dim lighting, a boutique hotel in San Diego’s Gaslamp District.

The crowd: definitely hipsters. Of all ages.

The event: On this evening it’s a Napa Valley Winery representative standing before a crowd of perhaps 30 people, explaining the colorful history of the winery and its unique product as people enjoy samples and listen quietly.

The gathering was hosted by the Andaz Hotel. And it was just the latest in a series of unique events the chain began offering at its locations around the world in 2011. Known as the Andaz Salon series, it takes cues directly from the salons held in France during the 17th and 18th centuries that were dynamic gatherings of society’s leaders, artists and politicians.

Andaz, a chain of nine boutique hotels with locations from San Diego to New York City to Shanghai and Amsterdam, prides itself not only on providing great places to stay, but on showcasing the creative, the artistic and the up and coming.

“We wanted to create these unique events — whether it’s a farmers market or showcasing an artist or a conversation with fashion designer — that bring hotel guests and locals together,” says Andaz’s Tristan Dowell, regional vice president of global sales for the Americas.

The hope is also that the events help Andaz’s guests depart from a destination feeling more like a local than a visitor.

“Our ultimate goal with the brand is to enhance the guest experience and provide an engaging experience,” Dowell says.

Andaz has hosted a range of salon events. Past events have included a farmers market at the Andaz Wall Street location featuring farmers from the Hudson Valley, and the chef from Andaz London taking a salon audience shopping at a local market, then returning to the hotel to host a cooking demonstration.

Many of the events are free, but some cost as much as $200 or $250, Dowell says. The number of people in attendance typically ranges from a handful to 30 or 40.

“We never envisioned these as massive,” Dowell says. “With Andaz, we’re not trying to provide glitz and glamorous. What we’re trying to provide is a meaningful experience with locals and customers.”

What they do hope for, though, is to organize their salon events worldwide effectively enough that they become a very distinct sub-brand of Andaz Hotels — as a program that allows customers and locals to engage in, and experience, a destination through the eyes of Andaz.

“We don’t want the hotels to be just hotels,” Dowell says.

Back at Andaz San Diego, the lineup of salons has included The Art of Sushi & Sake, featuring a presentation from a local sushi restaurant and some on-the-spot omekase; Malts, Hops & Curds, which involved a local craft brewery and local cheese maker; and Art & Fashion Collide, a presentation of two local artists’ works at the Andaz Wine Bar in conjunction with a fashion show at the Ivy Nightclub.

The Andaz San Diego salons have grown to include a music series known as Digital Music Forums. The first was The Evolution of Electronic Music, while the second, Women Turning the Tables, focused on women’s place in the electronic music scene and their struggle to be accepted.

“We’re delivering art, food and fashion to the luxury customer ... people who are culture mavens,” says Rusty Middleton, general manager of Andaz San Diego.

Plans for future San Diego salons include an homage to tattoo parlors and barbershops — two of the industries that were part of the Gaslamp Quarter’s early roots, says Andaz’ director of sales and catering, Kris Umstattd.

True to form, there will be plenty of local participation, including Andaz’s own Middleton and Umstattd, who are busy designing their own tattoos for the upcoming salon.

“We want to stay hand in hand with the neighborhood. We want the community to continue to embrace us and know they are welcome,” Umstattd says. And he’s willing to get a tattoo, with the community watching, to help make that happen.

For a list of upcoming Andaz Salon events, check here.

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