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Copley Plaza redefines opulence for its second century

The Oak Long Bar + Kitchen opened summer 2012 as the newest iteration of the Copley Plaza’s flagship restaurant.

david lyon for the boston globe

The Oak Long Bar + Kitchen opened summer 2012 as the newest iteration of the Copley Plaza’s flagship restaurant.

The Fairmont Copley Plaza, Back Bay’s grande dame hotel, celebrated its centennial this year with a $20 million restoration. But certain things never change: Catie Copley, the genial black Labrador retriever, still meanders around the reception area, thumping her tail and greeting guests. When she needs a break from her hospitality duties, she can curl up on her new padded (but tastefully restrained) dog bed, her reward for enduring a stream of renovators for almost a year. With its brushed fabric and rolled arms, that canine cushion signals the hotel’s renovation strategy of melding comfortable modern style with grand surroundings.

For the full Copley Plaza experience, enter through the St. James Avenue door flanked by stone lions and proceed down the mosaic-tiled walkway of “Peacock Alley” into the vast, barrel-vaulted main lobby. The word “lavish” comes to mind. So does “opulent.” The public areas are as overwhelming today as when the hotel opened in 1912, five years after its Manhattan big sister, the Plaza.

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The Copley Plaza represents the stylistic apogee of its age: a display of wealth and glamour meant to wow all who see it. It was brash and nouveau riche, yet nonetheless stunning. Time has erased the nouveau, leaving behind only the riche, and ornamentation that might have seemed gauche in 1912 seems adroit today. In renovating and restoring this bejeweled grande dame, Fairmont has burnished the beauty of the public spaces, and redone the rooms in a less showy but no less luxurious style appropriate to a new century.

Eight of the suites got an upgraded treatment themed to what the hotel calls “an iconic Boston institution.” They include the Museum of Fine Arts, the Boston Pops, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Freedom Trail, the JFK Library and Museum, the Boston Public Library, the Museum of Science — and Catie Copley. (She’s a sweet Lab, but an “iconic institution”?) Marvelous photos and memorabilia strike each theme.

David Lyon for the Boston Globe

Intricate mosaic tiles line the floors of "Peacock Alley" at the Fairmont Copley Plaza.

The other 375 rooms and suites are hardly slackers. Two colors (blue or plum) predominate, based on the base tone of the corridor rug. Furniture leans to medium-dark wood tones with taupe, gray, sage, and light brown upholstery. The look is low-key, creating an air of quiet luxury for guests who prefer their bedrooms to be sanctuaries of rest rather than overstimulating boudoirs. (The concierge can arrange for champagne, rose petals, chocolate truffles, etc. They’re just not standard with the room.)

The exclusive Fairmont Gold Lounge re-creates the ambience of a Back Bay private club, providing a space for socializing over complimentary canapés and drinks from the honor bar. A continental-plus breakfast is also served in the lounge for guests on the Fairmont Gold floor.

One new addition is the 3,000-square-foot health club at the roof level, which opens to an outdoor observation deck on the west side of the building. The club is mainly accessed by stairs (hey — you’re going for a workout!), but an elevator from the sixth floor also accommodates wheelchair users. State-of-the-art TechnoGym machines fill the space. Chilled washcloths are a nice touch.

Fairmont did make some changes to the ground-level public areas, most notably installing a snazzy, vaguely Deco-styled lobby lounge so guests have a place to sit while awaiting dinner companions or business associates. The Oak Long Bar + Kitchen has replaced the old Oak Room and Oak Bar. The more modernized, breezier venue can be entered from the main lobby as well as from St. James Avenue. Only open since summer, the Oak Long Bar has the kind of timeless styling that makes it seem as if it’s been around since 1912.

As you might expect from a hotel with a doggie ambassador (Catie even has her own e-mail and an appointment book for guests to take her on walks and runs), the Fairmont Copley Plaza is extremely dog friendly, hosting at least two guest canines each week. Doubles from $289; check for specials; $25 per day surcharge for dogs.

Fairmont Copley Plaza  138 St. James Ave., 617-267-5300, 866-540-4417, www.fairmont.com/copley-plaza-boston

Patricia Harris and David Lyon can be reached at harris.lyon@verizon.net.
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