From Classic to Trendy: Greenbrier Shoots Craps

While at the Chicago restaurant show this past May, I met with Rod Stoner, who was the F&B guru at the Greenbrier for 30 years, before retiring in 2005. I told him I was writing a piece about the renovation and, specifically, about Varney's involvement. He said, “You'll have to talk to Carleton. They tied his hands; they wouldn't give him the freedom to do what he was accustomed to doing all of these years.”

Q
LH:
This $50 million renovation: Who is the designer of record?

A
Carleton Varney:
I am, with the firm in Denver. They did the planning of the Hemisphere and the disco.

Q
LH:
Let's begin with basics: the redesigns of the rooms.

A
CV:
The new rooms that were done I was never in favor of ever doing. The designs reached for another dimension, from trying to be trendy to trying to appeal to a broader demographic. It really didn't work. They are not in the full Dorothy Draper tradition.

Q
LH:
But you, “the designer of record,” designed them.

A
CV:
I did not. The restaurants were done by some kitchen planning firm out of Colorado. I designed with them as a consultant; they tried to smooth things out by the fact that I did them, but I didn't. I'll never take credit for them; they're not me. I don't take credit for what I don't design; and no one should credit me for it. The $15 million spent on the Old White renovation downstairs (Hemisphere Club and 38°80) was ill spent. It's just not right for the place. 38°80, to me, is not appropriate for the Greenbrier. It's a bar and lounge with a disco and very dark.

Q
LH:
Finish this thought: This renovation — rooms and everything else — has…

A
CV:
…begun to strip the Greenbrier of its original character and personality; and the people who have patronized this hostelry over the years apparently dislike it. At least I'm told so by many patrons. No doubt there are some who like it, but one cannot transform the Greenbrier into something ultra chic like what Philippe Starck did collaborating with Ian Schrager for all of these trendy W hotels.

Q
LH:
But that sort of design and ambiance — very trendy and contemporary — was thought to appeal to the Generation Xers the resort was after.

A
CV:
You're right: The Greenbrier decided to do exactly that and it doesn't work, in my opinion, and probably will never work. The customer who enjoys that sort of ambiance doesn't go there.

They go to Las Vegas, they go to Miami. The Greenbrier renovation, in part, seems not to be working and the hotel seems not to be able to attract the trendy crowds they anticipated. They should have left Dorothy Draper colors and styles as they were. You can't play with Dorothy Draper. She is an American icon; her style is more fashionable today than it was when she founded this company in 1925.

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