Blending High Style and Authenticity
You can find everything you need at the Seminole Hard Rock & Casino, a 500-room hotel with a 130,000-square-foot casino floor in Hollywood, FL. It's got live action poker and all kinds of gaming machines. It's got the kind of stores you see at those suburban lifestyle destinations supplanting core cities, and it has entertainment at “Hard Rock Live,” a state-of-the-art, high-tech facility that can seat 5,500. It has restaurants spanning the Blue Plate, a casual, ‘50s-styled room with a gang of neon and cool, single-blade fans, and Council Oaks, a fine dining eatery boasting dark woods, designer steak and a sumptuous wine list.
The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is so well appointed and fashionable that you don't even have to gamble to enjoy it. It's a place where you can hang out without feeling like you've been marooned. It even has local character, the key to its Seminole Indian-flecked style. The character has an aroma that wafts through the complex.
“Every hotel has to have amenities,” says Dale Hipsh, vice president of operations. “We hit upon probably the most dominant plant material in the Seminole culture, which they call sweetgrass.”
Sweetgrass is a grass indigenous to the Everglades. The Seminole Tribe, which owns this Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, uses sweetgrass to weave baskets; examples figure prominently at the Seminole Okalee Village and Museum, a section of the property devoted to the art and culture of the tribe.
“It has a very distinctive aroma to it that anyone who knows it recognizes,” says Hipsh, noting the Seminoles also use sweetgrass to create herbs and medicines. “We sent a bunch of it up to Canada, where I had my perfumer distill an essential oil of the sweetgrass, which we use as the base note of our amenities program.”
A lodging industry veteran who has worked for Hyatt and for Atlantis magnate Sol Kerzner, Hipsh owns property in Bali. He also designs furniture, jewelry and perfume, so helping concoct an aroma reflective of this part of East Coast Florida was a natural.
Blending the notes of sweetgrass and citrus, another product associated with the area, produced an “essence that was a beautiful scent,” Hipsh says.
“What you end up with is a true work of love,” he says. “You have an amenity product that's world-class, absolutely spa quality or better. And you have the ability to study and create something that has a cultural context for the tribe, and that's huge.”
The amenities line — and other tributes to the marriage of Hard Rock and Seminole culture — attest to the good relationship between Hipsh's boss, Jim Allen, and the tribe.
As CEO of gaming operations for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Allen developed and is responsible for operations of the Seminole Hard Rocks in Hollywood and Tampa and four other such facilities the tribe owns. A certified hotel administrator, he has a certificate in slot and table games management from the University of Nevada. He and Hipsh worked together at Atlantis under Kerzner; when terrorists blew up a nightclub in Bali in winter 2002, “it just stopped Bali,” where Hipsh was living.
Allen, meanwhile, was setting up the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and called Hipsh to come work with him. Coming to Hollywood to help develop an ambitious and successful complex — the Hollywood property drew five million visitors between May 2004, when it opened, and this May — seemed to address his calling.
In the distant past, the peoples who made up what has come to be known as the Seminole Tribe numbered some 400,000, but they were decimated from the 16th century on, first by the Spanish, and later, by the U.S. government. According to the tribe's website (
The Hollywood facility sits on 100 acres of the Seminole Hollywood Reservation. Greeting visitors is a 50-foot neon guitar modeled after one used by Jimi Hendrix, one of many rock icons whose memorabilia stud the casino walls.
While the Seminole Tribe operates the Seminole Okalee Village and Museum, Hard Rock Hotels runs four-star, entertainment-oriented properties around the world. Natural Hard Rock sites are gateway cities like Las Vegas and Chicago. The company plans to open Hard Rock Hotels next year in New York, Madrid and San Diego.
The vibe is kinetic, particularly at the Hollywood complex. How to blend an ancient, indigenous culture with far more modern rock culture was Hipsh's challenge.
“People don't see this property as the cultural pool that it is,” Hipsh says. “I call it diving into the deep end of the pool. In the Bahamas (where he and Allen worked to embody the vision of Atlantis, Sol Kerzner's mega complex), it was like wading in an ankle-deep pool because it's a young country.
“What always attracted me about working in foreign countries is understanding those other cultures and integrating them into the iconic brands I've been associated with, like Ritz-Carlton, Hyatt and Atlantis.”
In Hollywood, Hipsch focused on Seminole textile technology; the baskets the tribe makes incorporate sweetgrass and Palmetto fiber.
“The things you take away from studying the tribe are the tradition of family and knowledge of the land, specifically the subtropical environment of south Florida, the Everglades, along with their unique use of fabric technologies and their quilting,” Hipsh says.
The Seminole culture is even apparent in the uniforms of the doormen: patchwork decorations incorporating traditional Seminole designs adorn their jackets.
At the same time, the facility has a rock ‘n’ roll atmosphere. Casinos are inherently flashy, with their literal bells (if not whistles) and their neon. But the Seminole Hard Rock ratchets that up, adorning the casino walls with instruments from rock stars spanning Styx and Hendrix, posters, photography and gold records.
ROCKING THE GUESTROOM
In the deluxe guestroom, the bed is comfortable, with ultra-luxury pillow top mattress and sheets of Egyptian cotton. There's a T-1 Internet connection available through the concierge; pay $10 for an Ethernet cord and you're on line for the duration of your stay. The TV is flat-screen, d the minibar well stocked, the bathroom sumptuous, with a large tub and a separate, stand-up shower with 10 (!!) heads.
But there's more, all with a decidedly rock ‘n’ roll flair. It pops out at you in the ironing board, with its leopard-skin cover, and in the guest services book, another leopard- skinned item. It's clear in the laundry bag, with “Dirty Laundry” lyrics courtesy of Don Henley. The theatricality of the place comes clearer with the ticket replica affixed to the toilet paper. It says “Admit One.” The spare roll says “Roll With It, Baby.” There's also a trashcan, lime-colored like the spare toilet paper wrap. The towels are folded to enclose the soap, as on a cruise ship.
In the guest services book, each section leads with a rock ‘n’ roll quote.
Look under the “Privacy/please do not disturb” heading and you'll read “I hear you knocking but you can't come in,” from Fats Domino's 1958 hit, “I Hear You Knocking.” “Desmond has a barrow in the market place, Molly is a singer in a band” heralds the Hard Rock Store heading (yes, that's the Beatles, from “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”). Even business services get the rock ‘n’ roll treatment: Check out “meetings and ballroom facilities” and you'll encounter the Who's “I Can See for Miles.” The comment card, of course, bears the headline, “Rockin' Review.”
“My assignment was to create a boutique property of four- to five-star caliber,” Hipsh says. “When I was benchmarking, it wasn't about what's Bellagio doing? It was about what's St. Regis doing? What's the Kimpton Hotel Group doing?” Integrating innkeeper knowledge into a casino property is his aim, Hipsh says.
“We're going to continually reinvent ourselves, continually redesign,” he says. “Just like in your home, you don't throw out all the furniture, you get new bedspreads, new flowers.
“You have to ask, what's the right thing to do in this environment? If it passes through both your cultural filters-the Hard Rock and the Seminole guidelines, it's the right way for it come to life.”
THE BIG IDEAS
Make it entertaining. Garnish the guestroom with rock 'n' roll spicing. Have fun. Be bold. Be fresh.
Make it user-friendly. The guestroom should be user- and tech-friendly, in addition to being entertaining.
Respect the local culture. Incorporate notes and motifs from the area. At the Seminole Hard Rock, that means sweetgrass and basketry, along with a museum showcasing the culture of the Seminole Tribe.
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