The general manager of the Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport, the mammoth new hotel that opened across from the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center this week, has a bit of a confession: The hotel’s rooms are secondary. The main draw is what lies outside of the rooms.
This isn’t to say that the 1,054 rooms at the Omni aren’t nice. In one of the Omni’s 22-story towers, the rooms are designed for microhotel trend-seekers with a love of stamped concrete ceilings and hardwood floors. The rooms in the other 22-story tower are more typical of what you’d find in a standard hotel, with deep blue drapes, wood details, and an abstract patterned carpet. But the real show takes place in the lobby.
The spectacle includes everything from a small group of classical musicians from the Berklee College of Music performing Europe’s 1987 hair-metal hit “The Final Countdown” to a bar setup in the freight elevator because, well, why not? There’s a small art gallery and seven dining options on-site, including a restaurant with an interior that looks like a Maxfield Parrish fever dream and a sports bar that defiantly serves small plates rather than nachos.
“Everything is really happening in the lobby,” said Michael Jorgensen, managing director of the hotel, which is the largest to open in the city since the Boston Marriott Copley began welcoming customers in 1984. “Guests want to throw their stuff in the room, come down, see their friends, and network. We had an eye toward those kinds of things.”
The Omni is a new breed of convention hotel. It’s supersized and includes the largest ballroom in Boston with 30-foot floor-to-ceiling windows. There are some high concept tributes to Boston’s culture and science contributions. There’s even an homage to the area’s sneaker companies, including sneaker-influenced art in the lobby restroom. Jorgensen proudly points out on a preopening tour that the pieces displayed throughout the hotel are not the generic “dentist office art” that you might see displayed in other chain hotels.
But what it may not have, at least in the near future, are guests to fill all those rooms. Just before the pandemic hit, research from the advisory group CRBE Hotels, predicted that the area’s average daily room rate and the revenue per available room — the two metrics watched most closely by hotel operators — were expected to increase through 2020. Occupancy also was predicted to tick up. That made the Omni an appealing property. As demand for hotel rooms around the world plummeted through the darkest days of the pandemic, it appeared that the Omni Seaport would become the white elephant of the Boston hospitality scene.
But, as Jorgensen points out, conventions are slowly returning. There are three in October, and two scheduled for November. The hotel will open with 700 of its rooms in use, increasing as demand necessitates.
“But the question becomes ‘To what degree will they come because of this [Delta] variant?’ It could start looking a little more normal if we escape a winter surge here,” he said. “We also have the advantage of being the shiny new penny. We have 90,000 group rooms on the books for next year, so, if that holds, I think we’re going to be very busy.”
But the Omni has a revenue-generating trick up its sleeve that extends beyond bringing in conventioneers and groups. Actually, it has two tricks. The first is leisure travelers, who have been filling at least part of the void left by business travelers over the past year. The second part of the plan is for the hotel to ingratiate itself into the neighborhood with its food and beverage offerings.
There are some restaurants and bars that will be a natural draw for the neighborhood. The interior of the lavish restaurant Coquette embraces Gesamtkunstwerk to the extreme as trippy, psychedelic Art Nouveau murals burst from the walls and ruby red chandeliers dangle from above. Coquette will serve dishes such as seafood and flatbreads inspired by the Basque region of Spain and Southern France.
Another potential draw for locals is The Sporting Club, which is the hotel’s innovative take on a sports bar. It serves small bites, oysters, sandwiches, and salads with nary a hockey jersey or football helmet in sight. There are abundant, massive TVs in the great room, but there are unique touches, such as a wall completely covered in repurposed lockers. Whoever thought of using a pommel horse for the host’s stand deserves a trophy for being clever.
Unless you’re a guest, you’re not allowed to use the pool, but you can eat and imbibe at the fifth-floor pool bar, called Lifted. During nice weather, the windows fully open, garage door-style, to reveal a look out at the convention center and Fort Port Channel. The restaurant serves dishes such as crispy Brussels sprouts, steamed barbecue pork buns, and maple braised pastrami poutine.
There’s also the Mediterranean-influenced hotel restaurant, Kestra, the Crescendo lobby bar, and Cocorico, a French-style boulangerie. And, of course, the aforementioned occasional pop-up freight elevator bar. For those not attending a conference, the Omni isn’t exactly centrally located. While it has the good fortune of straddling the Seaport and South Boston, it’s not in the middle of either neighborhood, making it more of a destination spot than a drop-in location.
But along with feeling bullish about convention business returning, Jorgensen also thinks neighbors will find the Omni, and once they arrive, they’ll stick around.
“There is so much going on in here that you could make an entire night of it,” he said. “We’ve really tried to create something for everyone.”
Averages rates range in the mid-$300s, depending on demand. 450 Summer St., Boston. www.omnihotels.com/hotels/boston-seaport, 617-476-6664.