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Fairmont Olympic Hotel

Public space renovation is beginning

Grand since its inception in 1924, the Olympic Hotel, now owned by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, went through a total update on all rooms in 2016. The Spanish Ballroom has also seen a refresh. Now it's time for all of the public spaces to be redone, the largest renovation project for the hotel in 40 years.

The hotel was started as a community project, a mix of private and public dollars. It spans a full city block that was once the original University of Washington campus.

Because of its sheer fabulous-ness, it has mainly been a special occasion place: dinner at The Georgian Room (jackets required until just a few years ago), glamorous weddings, large fundraisers. Of course, there have been people who just like to dress up once in a while and sip a cocktail in the lobby bar. Christmas brings people in for holiday tea, the huge lobby Christmas tree, Teddy Bear Suite, and all the lights and garlands.

Courtesy of Fairmont Olympic; the new hotel's terrazzo

But times change and while fine dining exists food-wise, the days of white gloves, cocktail or long dresses, and suits are in the rear-view mirror. People will pay for good food, service, and atmosphere, but they want to be comfortable, especially in Seattle.

Fairmont (and all other hospitality companies and individuals) have to decide how they're stepping into the future. Fairmont wants to honor the history of the hotel and retain its special place yet reflect the evolution the city has/is/will continue to go through.

They've partnered with Spanish design studio Lázaro Rosa-Violán to celebrate "the hotel's storied grandeur with a lush new vision of Seattle luxury." (Fairmont Olympic's press release.) The firm is known throughout Europe for its treatment of restaurant and social spaces, but this is their first major American project. Some parts of the hotel will see restoration to their original look; for example, beneath carpets the original terrazzo and marble floors have been found and they are in excellent condition. These were put in place by 1920's artisan layers. Other artifacts, some now in storage, will either become part of the design or put on display. Lázaro, Principal of LRV Studio, puts it this way: "Our mission was to enhance the space, while explaining its history from another point of view. We wanted to create a space in which the customer lives an experience every time they enter it."

People use public spaces as social hubs now, so the revamped lobby will have a central bar that serves guests' needs throughout the day: coffee bar, afternoon tea, hand-crafted cocktails. Through a hidden door off the lobby bar will be a library bar, a "spirit drinker's enclave" open probably five days a week and used for private parties. The hotel's structure, high ceilings, historic American oak wood carved in the 20s, will stay in place.

No major construction will take place on meeting rooms; changes will be more in terms of soft goods, textures, paint, etc. The Spanish Ballroom will have minimal work done as it was redone recently.

Original terrazzo is still in place

One of the most difficult pieces may be The Georgian Room. So many personal events have taken place here that, naturally, people don't want it to change. Yet it can't exist as a special-occasion-only spot. It also will retain its high ceilings, moldings, and other design features. But it will be more casual, with new wall colors, carpets, and curtains. A bar will be added to the restaurant space, along with an outside entrance. A transitional chef is in place currently; a new executive chef and restaurant general manager will come on board later. The hotel pastry chef, who has been there for 20 years, will stay.

The closure of the lobby and restaurant/bar areas will happen in mid-January. The entire lobby will be closed, along with the escalator. Front desk, concierge, bell desk will all be located on the lower level, University Street entrance. Guests will use the downstairs elevator bank to go directly to their rooms and the pool/spa area. While work goes on, Shucker's will be open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The 4th Ave Espresso Bar will be open 6 a.m.-6 p.m.

Once the project is complete, the lower lobby will get a fairly quick refresh to match the new look and feel upstairs. The reopening of the public spaces is planned for this coming summer. Check back here to find out when you can visit and who the new restaurant leaders and their plans will be. A lovely new dawn is on the horizon for the Fairmont Olympic.

Connie Adams/January 2020

Fairmont Olympic
411 University Street
Seattle, WA 98101
206 621 1700

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