love hotels. While I can understand traveling friends who flinch at the nightly

cost of booking a room, I've never found convincing the old saw about only

needing a place to sleep. It's like saying the only reason for eating is



even if it's for business, is a kind of waking dream. Our bodies — and

the consciousness they carry — are literally transported from a place

that's familiar, to one that isn't. When we arrive, the weather is different,

people we've never seen before are speaking with different accents or

languages. There may be palm trees, which, for a Midwesterner, is enough to make

you stop and stare.


good hotel becomes an indelible part of this experience. Such hotels needn't

cost a fortune but, like good restaurants, they tend not to be cheap because

the people working in them care about doing a good job.


tendency is to favor older hotels, those with some history in their bones. In

the States, many of these were constructed during boom times, in either the

1890s or 1920s. They were built of brick and held their respective blocks with

an imperial dignity. These hotels were landmarks. They not only welcomed

travelers, they proclaimed that the cities where they stood had also arrived.


new JW Marriott hotel projects a similar, albeit highly contemporary, sense of

purpose. Located on downtown Indianapolis' western flank, the JW is a 33-story

concave column, sheathed in blue glass that, on sunny afternoons, casts a hyper-real

glow east, down Washington Street. It's the tallest hotel in Indiana, the first

skyscraper to go up in Indianapolis in several years. At 1,005 rooms, it is

also the largest JW Marriott — the Marriott Corporation's luxury brand

— in the world. In Indianapolis, the JW is, quite literally, the high



to say, as a hotel lover, I was delighted when the JW Marriott folks took me up

on a proposal to spend a night in their care. I wanted to see what the JW

experience was like. I also wondered what this experience might add to




are the transit hubs of choice for cities today. The rising price of fuel

notwithstanding, we fly places. Our understanding of geography is measured in

hours, instead of days.


lobby of the JW Marriott seems airborne. You enter beneath the arc of what

feels like a great wing. Once inside, the verticality of the building's

exterior gives way to a wide-open space that one might be forgiven for thinking

is an extension of the airport.


lobbies in vintage hotels were designed to evoke palatial fantasies of days

gone by. They seemed set in a deco version of King Arthur's Court. The lobby in

the JW Marriott, on the other hand, casts you forward, into a plausible future.

One of its ground-floor restaurants is even called High Velocity.


a little disconcerting. On the one hand, you are surrounded by a visual

cacophony of objects — light fixtures, furniture, wall coverings and

incidental objects — all implying streamlined motion. Yet, everywhere you

look is imagery intended to suggest an avant-garde take on the seeming

timelessness of the Midwest.


a bold juxtaposition that finds expression throughout the hotel.


the check-in stations are large, back-lit glass photo-transparencies of golden

clumps of marsh grass set against an inky, vaguely menacing, prairie sky. This

is the Midwest as if imagined by David Lynch. Which, let me hasten to add, is

not bad. After a lifetime of picket fence clichés, it's actually refreshing to

see our home ground expressed in such a primal way.


on the floor dedicated to conferences and meetings, there are chest-high

pedestals supporting small platters covered with swatches of living moss. There

are also decorative installations featuring the decapitated trunks of birch

trees and vases with prairie grass. You can't turn around without finding the

shadow of Queen Anne's Lace or a photographic mural featuring sheaves of wheat.


is, in fact, so much design going on — from the eccentric to the merely

decorative — that you begin to wonder whether the people commissioned to

embellish this place were as unsettled about how to describe the Midwest as the

rest of us.

The Executive



a thrill associated with seeing a place you think you know well, but from new

angles. The JW Marriott provides this experience in spades. Upon taking what we

were told is "the fastest elevator in the state of Indiana" to our suite on the

28th floor, my wife and I were knocked back by the floor-to-ceiling

views of the city afforded by hallway windows. Over here was the White River,

fat from torrential rains, snaking its way through the city's Westside. There was

the IUPUI campus, seen whole: Finally, more than a series of parking lots, but

actually taking form.


our suite on the northeast corner of the building, we could see the Statehouse,

where several hundred people were standing in the rain, protesting attempts to

dismantle public education. Even at this great height, their voices echoed up

to us. In our bedroom, we stared down the length of Washington Street, all the

way to the eastern horizon. To one side, was Lucas Oil Stadium, a behemoth

finally given some perspective by the vast expanse of the Convention Center's



"The Executive Suite," our space consisted of a living room and one-and-a-half

bathrooms. It was as handsome as one would expect, replete with stylish

furniture, a human-sensing energy management system, water-conserving toilets

and faucets and a connectivity panel for DVD players, gaming systems and

digital cameras. There was even a recycling bin.


not really large enough for entertaining, it was, for a couple, the equivalent

of, say, a moon orbiting the larger Planet Marriott. It was a place with heavy

doors and underfoot, warm, undulating carpet. The master bath included a

walk-in shower with a total of four showerheads. Getting clean in this place

amounted to an amusement park ride for grown-ups. There were not one, but two

flat-screen TVs, and the king-size bed gave you the impression of rolling

across a cloud.


a recent visit, the boss, JW Marriott himself, complained that the desk chair

in his suite was too hard to adjust. Although I didn't have that problem, I

would say that the lack of a simple luggage rack left us wondering where,

exactly, to put our stuff in a way that didn't sully the elegance of the space.


with the bathroom. To conserve water, the hotel encourages reuse of towels, but

while there were plenty of shelves, there was only one hook to hang anything

on. Who uses shelves in a hotel bathroom? Finally, the bathroom door contained

a large plate of frosted glass. It looked great, but it also conducted light,

meaning that, at night, the entire bedroom was illuminated if someone flipped

the switch after closing the bathroom door.




users also prize location, and this is where the new JW really pays off. It didn't

take us long to grasp the ways in which the JW clarifies and, perhaps,

redefines our understanding of downtown Indianapolis.


hotel acts as a pole, creating a force field of coherence for a cluster of

public attractions that have heretofore lacked focus. The presence of the

hotel, with all the people it accommodates, serves as fulcrum for the White

River Park vicinity's amazing array of resources, including the State Museum,

Eiteljorg, History Center, Victory Field, NCAA Hall of Champions and the Luc.


that's just the beginning. The city's skywalk system broadens the reach of the

JW — as well as several other major hostelries — virtually

extending the hotel's interior to include the massive canyons of the Convention

Center and even Circle Centre Mall.


there is a deliberate synergy between the JW and the recent Convention Center

expansion. Where most of the hotels in the JW Marriott chain have been created

with the luxe-inclined traveler in mind, the Indianapolis version sees

conventioneers as a primary clientele. Even more than the Convention Center

expansion itself, the JW may be the greatest indicator yet of how important the

convention business has become to the downtown's continuing viability. [See



you stroll through the city's network of weather-proof boulevards, you can also

see how Indy's Super Bowl proposal practically wrote itself. Like a lot of

people I know, the prospect of holding the nation's Big Game in the dead of a

Midwestern winter made me skeptical. But I had never experienced Indianapolis

like a tourist before and taken the time to actually use the skywalk system.

I'm not skeptical anymore. At the very least, I have a renewed appreciation for

how the city has managed to create a downtown experience that can function 24

hours a day, if need be, and at any time of year. It really works.

From another



we gazed out at the city, my wife and I started counting all the buildings that

have been added to the skyline since we arrived in Indianapolis in 1988.

Downtown has been — and continues to be — transformed. It is hard,

though, to think of any one addition that has made such a self-conscious

attempt to introduce itself with an exclamation point as the JW Marriott.


JW stands out. Literally, of course, but figuratively, too. Built for a

cosmopolitan traveling public, it speaks with a broader vocabulary than many of

us are used to. At times, it feels like a visitor from another galaxy.


in its insistence on trying to find ways of expressing a local sense of place,

the JW, in its way, includes us in a larger, more worldly, urban conversation

that might give us clues about what makes Indianapolis a distinctive 21st-century



my taste, the JW tries a little too hard with many of its design flourishes.

You wonder how much we see today will still be visually relevant as little as

five years from now. But it also gets some things, like its marvelous city

views, the unfailingly friendly sophistication of its staff and its decision to

try to find new ways of expressing a Midwestern aesthetic in its interior

design, impressively right.


hotel, with its skywalk access to the Convention Center, may have been intended

for conventioneers, but it also succeeds admirably as a getaway — at

least as far as this stay-at-home tourist is concerned. For a day and a night,

I dreamed I was in Indianapolis. It was a great trip.


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