For the last several years during Christmas week I have been spending a few nights at the Copley Plaza in Boston, the hotel that once billed itself as “Boston’s Grande Dame.” Specifically, I hole up on its “Gold Floor,” which, according to the introductory patter of the desk clerks, is “patterned after a fine home on Beacon Hill.” And it is true that on the Gold Floor there is a large drawing room complete with fireplace, a paneled library with leather wing chairs (and books), and, best of all, a butler’s pantry. It’s enough faux Brahmin to make one forget that the Gold Floor is just another manifestation of the marketing concept many hotels use to charge more for essentially the same room that’s on any other floor by slapping a name on it (“concierge level,” “grand club”) or providing the illusion of exclusivity by issuing special keys to bring the elevator to the exalted level. Nevertheless, for three days just before New Year’s I happily play let’s pretend and wallow in the artifice.
For a single woman, this is almost dream getaway. You want to be called “Miss”? The obliging staff calls you “Miss.” You want your slippers and robe set out for you? No problem. You want elves to shine your shoes for you overnight and return them gift-wrapped in the morning. Sure thing. Hang a “privacy, please” tag on your door and you can laze around till 3 p.m., go out for a brief constitutional and return to a room freshly made-up by unseen hands.
And then there is that butler’s pantry stocked with every imaginable breakfast item, hot and cold, all morning long, its selections changing daily. Mid-day there are cookies and fruit and come cocktail hour (or on the Gold Floor, cocktail two hours) a lavish display of canapés appears, along with an honor bar that would knock your socks off. You never have to leave the Gold Floor for the duration of your stay!
And this year, I barely did. I was writing, so I alternated between the laptop I brought with me and kept in my room and, when I wanted a change of scenery, the desktop computers tucked away in the drawing room. My meals were there for the taking, as were my adult beverages. So what’s with the “almost”? What’s not to like? Well, a couple of things.
First, the television. When I entered my room I gave a little gasp of joy, for the Copley had finally upgraded to flat screen, high-def models. Great, I thought, the perfect antidote to my chronic insomnia. Silly me. I had forgotten my brother-in-law’s first rule of hostelry: the more expensive the room, the fewer the TV channels. Not only did the Copley spurn many of Boston’s local channels, which meant no nightly hour of Family Guy, but of the measly number of choices it did offer—twenty-five, maybe—a full third to half of them were sports: ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN HD, ESPN News, ESPN Classic, NESN, something called “Speedway,” and on and on and on. I understand that in the heart of Red Sox nation there is interest in keeping up with the local teams, but to dedicate our precious airways to all sports, all the time, including repeats of games from five years ago? An entire channel for motorcycles? You know what I think? Of course you do. Whatever genius thinks up the television selection for the Copley has got to be a man, programming for all those he-man road warriors out on the hunt to bring home the bacon for the little woman. Me big-man traveling IT consultant. Me want my sports TV. Somebody needs to remind these hospitality experts that women constitute half the workforce, and that most women at the end of a long day working (or, in my case, loafing) are not interested in catching up on curling matches from 1983.
The other drawback that keeps the Gold Floor from delivering single women to the promised land is that for all its luxe amenities it apparently represents a real bargain for families on holiday. For a single person paying the same as a couple or a family of four for a room on the Gold Floor, the cost of that one “complementary” breakfast and a plateful of appetizers is more than built into the price of the room. But for the traveling Griswolds, with multiple hungry mouths to feed, it is an incredible deal. Nothing shatters the illusion of exclusivity faster than a father looking the other way as his kid plunges her hands into a chafing dish of oatmeal. Nothing kills the frisson of that first sip of martini faster than a sullen teenager discovering that mini quiches make great projectiles. And nothing but nothing eliminates the possibility of strangers-that-pass-in-the-night romance faster than a raucous family reunion fueled by an honor bar. Next year I am hoping that the Gold Floor will hire a couple of bouncers.
I know that I could decamp for the Mandarin Oriental that’s just opened, or the Taj that occupies the old Ritz, but I am a creature of habit and tradition. Especially that one about kids being seen and not heard.