• January 2012

Inside Boston's Oldest Inn—The Omni Parker House

What makes a hotel more than just a place to drop your luggage, or plunk your head down for the night? That’s the question we strive to answer in our Hotel column.

Since traveling is often a big part of most professionals’ lives, this year we’ll be reviewing more of the spots worth staying in the cities we are investing in through our new website, Inkandescent Networking.

We have visited a handful of establishments where we are likely to make reservations again. In addition to interviewing the owner and/or general manager of each property, you’ll find our “Room With a reView Guide,” an eight-point assessment outlining what we liked best, what we thought needed improvement, and what we’d advise you to be on the lookout for.

Of course, we want to know what are your favorite spots to stay and eat when you travel throughout the United States. So do send us an email with your suggestions, and we may hire you to write a review: hope@inkandescentpr.com.

And now, on to our review of the oldest of Boston’s inns, the Omni Parker House Hotel.Hope Katz Gibbs, Publisher, Be Inkandescent

Boston’s Omni Parker House

America’s Longest Continuous Operating Hotel

Step through the revolving doors of Boston’s Omni Parker House Hotel, and you will feel the history of this establishment, which Harvey D. Parker opened for business in 1855.

As you’d expect, the hotel looks little like the original five-story “new marble building.” In fact, in 1860, Parker added a six-story addition, and another wing was added three years later. New owners also helped to update the hotel in the decades that have passed—including a $30 million restoration in 2008 to add modern-day amenities to the property, such as a downstairs gym, 24-hour guest-room dining, and complimentary wi-fi in the rooms and lobby.

Lovely as it is, location is another of the hotel’s best attributes. Strategically placed at the junction of Tremont and School Streets in downtown Boston, this inn has been frequented by literary heavyweights Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Longfellow. They regularly met for conversation, drinks, and dinner at the hotel restaurant, which was then the Saturday Club.

Boston baseball greats Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and David Oritz came in to unwind.

And US presidents—including Ulysses S. Grant, FDR, John Kennedy, and Bill Clinton—have assembled for private meetings, press conferences, and power breakfasts.

Today, luminaries continue to frequent the hotel, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma, chef Rachael Ray, and actor Ben Affleck.

For the mere mortals among us, the Omni Parker House is also a big draw for executives, conferences, and families, says general manager John Murtha.

“We are located along Boston’s Freedom Trail, so it is a very convenient place for tourists to stay,” explains Murtha, a 37-year veteran of the hotel industry, who has been at the helm of the Omni Parker House since September 2007. “We are also a very popular destination for conferences and conventions—whether they hold their meetings here, or just have their guests stay in our rooms.”

While the recession has taken a toll on most hotels since 2008, Murtha says the Omni Parker House has fared pretty well.

“Back when the recession first hit, we knew it was going to be a rocky few years, and we were told by the leaders in the company to cut costs where we could—but not cut back on staff or service,” Murtha shares. “That turned out to be exactly the right decision, because we kept all of our staff members and continued to provide top-notch service. That consistency of quality is one of the things that guests continue to come here for—and I think that because we were able to maintain that level of service, we held our own in 2008 and 2009, and have come back strong as the economy picked up.”

Maintaining its long-time staff members is one of the attributes that the Omni Parker House prides itself on. Murtha says that of his 350 employees, 27 of them have worked for the hotel for 30 years or more.

“Eddie Catto has been a bellman here for 42 years,” Murtha says, noting that each December, he hosts a celebration dinner for these devoted staff members. “He tells me that when he first worked here the floor in the lobby was white marble, and that there are fancy marble columns, which have been covered over. I haven’t seen those yet, but we are undergoing some renovations in 2012, and I am looking forward to discovering what might be under there.”

A Room With a reView: The Omni Parker House

1. The lobby: The spacious lobby offers chairs to sit and wait for guests and friends, and free wi-fi to guests, and it is a throughway to get to the hotel’s bank of elevators, two restaurants, gift shop, and gym. Decorated in dark fabrics, and custom cherry furnishings, don’t miss the cabinets filled with heirlooms collected over the decades.

2. The restaurants: Located at street level is The Last Hurrah, a popular restaurant with a full bar that is frequented by travelers and locals. During my three-day stay, I had the privilege of meeting one of the mayor’s assistants, a businessman from Denmark, and spent time talking about the old days at the Parker House with the bartender, who has been an employee for more than 20 years.

Voted by Whiskey Magazine as a “Great Whiskey Bar of the World,” the cordials and cocktails at The Last Hurrah make it worth stopping by. Unfortunately, the food is typical bar fare: slightly tasteless, mediocre presentation, and not cheap ($7 to $17 for starters; $10 to $21 for salads, sandwiches, and entrees). As one patron told me when I asked what to order, “Well, this is a great place to stop in for a drink, but for dinner, try one of the restaurants down the road.”

At the other end of the lobby is the mezzanine-level lobby lounge, Parker’s Restaurant. Once a reading library, it is now their fine dining restaurant—and it’s packed to the gills on Friday and Saturday nights. The food options are better here, which is reflected in the higher prices.

One thing you must do at the Omni Parker House is order a slice of its famous Boston Cream Pie. This rich and creamy delicacy was created here in the 1856 by a French chef named Sanzian. In fact, Oct. 23, 2012 is “National Boston Cream Pie Day,” so mark your calendar.

And no trip here would be complete without savoring the hotel’s melt-in-your-mouth Parker House Rolls. The chef says more than 1,200 are served daily.

3. The rooms: If space is what you crave, the Omni Parker House isn’t going to cut it—especially if you opt for the most affordable 90 sq. ft. “Petite” room. In fact, the original hotel had a whopping 800+ rooms, which were closets compared to today’s standards. Fortunately, recent renovations expanded the size of many guest rooms, of which there are now 530 of average size, plus 21 deluxe suites.

For the average business traveler, the size is probably more than adequate—especially if you request a room with a view. Without exception, each room is well-appointed with soothing hues and polished cherry furnishings. Most importantly, it is incredibly clean, especially the bathroom.

4. The service: This is one of the things that the Omni Parker House is known for. Without exception, the staff is warm, accommodating, and friendly.

5. The extras: These include the health club in the basement that is packed with dozens of workout machines to try and TVs to watch. There is also free wi-fi in the lobby, which is also free in the guest rooms if you are an Omni Hotel member (there is no application fee to apply for membership).

While there’s no complimentary coffee in the lobby each morning, there is a coffee maker in the room—but scoot over to the gift shop for a cup of fresh Starbucks. Biscotti and other breakfast treats and sandwiches are also available at affordable prices.

There’s also a rumor that ghosts live in this historic hotel. But that’s a topic for another article.

6. The price: Low to average for a large urban area. But like any hotel, the cost to stay at the hotel ranges, depending on date and availability. Average prices range from $144 for the Petite room with an AAA card, to $243 for the Premier Suite, which is 520 sq ft. Most of the rooms feature a 32-inch TV, premium bedding, and a work desk.

7. The overview: The convenient location, rich history, friendly staff, and luscious Boston Cream Pie (and the convenient gym in the basement to work it off in) make this hotel a very good choice if you are in Boston, whether for business or pleasure. However, if you are traveling with a family, you might reconsider due to the small size of the rooms.

8. The bottom line: Even if you don’t stay here for the night, do stop by for a glass of whiskey, tour the lobby featuring the historic heirlooms, and order up a slice of the Boston Cream Pie. If those white marble floors ever see the light of day again, that will be yet another reason to visit Boston’s oldest inn.

Inkandescent rating: Three candles out of 4.

For more information about the Omni Parker House:
Visit: www.omnihotels.com.
Call for a reservation: 617-227-8600 / 800-THE-OMNI
Stop by for a tour: 60 School Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02108