Eveything old is new. Once a vibrant public space that welcomed all manner of people, the hotel lobby for much of the past century served as a private, single-use waiting area for guests.
As hotel brands today try to win over Airbnb-obsessed millennials, the lobby is once again becoming a vibrant gathering place for patrons and public alike.
We took a firsthand look at how this trend has played out in Marriott hotels. Downtown Portland is hopping with new lodgings, and the Marriott alone has opened two new hotels this year, the AC Hotel by Portland Marriott and the Hi-Lo, part of the Autograph Collection Hotels by Marriott.
These new offerings join the longstanding Marriott Downtown Waterfront Hotel and the Residence Inn in the Pearl District.
Traveling north, I charted the evolution of the Marriott lobby, gathering ethnographic clues from four hotels, old and new.
Downtown Waterfront Hotel
Clientele: An older crowd. Grey-haired businessmen tapped on laptops and read the Wall Street Journal. A few middle-aged women chatted, outfitted in designer boots and handbags. The lobby bookshelves featured Marketing Movers, Basic Boating, along with 19th-century English literature tomes.
Design: Conventional hotel lobby fixtures abound — faux plants, gold trim, plush seating — mixed with a few modern touches, terrariums and wood sculptures. Dark, rectangular windows did not beckon the general public.
Vibe: Anonymity reigns supreme in the airy lobby, with smooth jazz playing and most guests reading or working.
AC Hotel by Marriott Portland (opened 2017)
Clientele: Not many people were around when I dropped by at 10 a.m. But compared to the Waterfront clientele, the average age was a good 10 to 20 years younger.
Design: A blend of the natural — granite panels framing the window of the “The Slab” coffee shop, wall-mounted naturalist sketches — and the modern stainless steel tables, marble walls, a minimalist black-and-white color scheme). The business desk offered Macs — the Waterfront had PCs. The reading selection featured bold modern typefaces and insights on photography, coffee and tech.
Vibe: A “We're in There!” sign invites the public to The Slab. Nevertheless, a manager stopped me to ask what I was doing, even after I bought a pastry from the coffee shop — though this was probably because I was poking around and taking too many pictures. The soundtrack had modernized compared to the Waterfront, with Imagine Dragons and funky electronic and pop.
Hi-Lo, Autograph Collection Hotels by Marriott (Opened 2017)
Clientele: Young professionals in button downs and jeans, along with some well-heeled 30-something couples. A few Ubers and Lyfts pulled into the entrance — no cabs.
Design: Slabs of blonde wood, a green and gold color scheme, and a slightly industrial look with unfinished concrete pillars and walls. Branding was a mix of old and new: no business center, but still some faux plants.
Vibe: A welcoming lobby, despite the upscale design and clientele. Large, almost floor to ceiling windows allowed the public to peer in and the guests to gaze at the grit outside: a parking lot and a large “Exotic Dancers” sign. A piano begged “please play me.” A hip soundtrack, featuring a Sylvan Esso remix and some dreamy indie electronic.
Residence Inn by Marriott Portland (Opened in 2014)
Clientele: Relatively staid compared to the youthful vibe of the Hi-Lo and AC. Plenty of traditional suits and professional attire. A realtors meeting was underway.
Design: Clean modern design, with plush couches, a fireplace and warm lighting. The bar consists of a minimalist white counter.
Vibe: Open and welcoming, but the unobtrusive background music — jazz and pop — reminded us of where we started, the dowager Waterfront Hotel.