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.
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.
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.