Portland, OR – Dreaming of Owning the Benson Hotel

I love old hotels. Ever since I was a kid and read the novel “Hotel”, they have come to represent to me, a different time in our history, and I have been fascinated in that they are like miniature cities, and can present logistical nightmares and problems to solve. While none of the classics fall into the same category as today’s mega hotels, like in Las Vegas, with 3,000+ rooms, can you imagine trying to manage all that needs to be done in one of those? Not me.

But grand old hotels, like the Benson, which is approaching its 100th anniversary, present special challenges as the clientele of hotels change. It’s tough to remodel an old hotel to become ADA compliant…or to enlarge rooms to accommodate the perks travelers expect these days. Yet, most of them remain with their stately glory, quiet elegance, a reminder of where we have come from.

The Benson, in downtown Portland, is one such hotel. It’s been the host to many celebrities over the years, as well as most Presidents. (Wonder why Al Gore chose the Lucia, down the street, over the Benson?)

The lobby is an incredible display of old world craftsmanship, I haven’t been in any of the guest rooms, but will get a chance to see that later in July when Mrs. BDB and I stay there for a nite on the town.

I’ve stayed in some of the world’s finest grand old hotels, the Peninsula in Kowloon, the Grosvenor House, George V….but the Benson holds a special place in my heart.

So I’d like to own the Benson, and I hear it’s for sale. Most lux hotels sell for about $200,000 per room, and with 287 rooms, that puts the Benson in the spendy range, or north of $50 mil. That would buy a lot of pizzas!

We joined another couple last nite for one of our “happy hour excursions” in which we try one of the different happy hour menus that are common everywhere in Portland. In the lobby bar, The Palm Court, the Benson offers their bar menu at reduced prices during happy hour. The menu is diverse, with items ranging from a couple of sushi selections, to homages to the past, like fondue, and salutes to the present, with a couple of different sliders.

I went for the steak tartare, because I love it, and it’s so hard to find anywhere these days. The El Gaucho restaurant, which is coincidentally an occupant of some of the Benson’s retail space, has a pretty fine steak tartare, still prepared table-side in the old way. While I haven’t sought any out, just an FYI, a lot of times the best (or only) steak tartare in a city can be found in Ethiopian restaurants.

We had a fine time in the Palm Court, except for there was a private reception adjacent, with a loud band, that made conversation in the bar impossible. We were the only customers, save for one elderly couple that wandered in as we were leaving.

Our server was over the top, very knowledgeable about the drinks, wines, and food offerings. She had some sympathies for us about the band (who were pretty bad, actually), and playing to a very small house.

Most Portland happy hours have menus that include a number of items at $1, $2, $3, or $4. The Palm Court’s happy hour menu, even with a couple bucks off, most items were 2-3x what we are used to seeing around town. Not that it isn’t worth it, but it makes for a pretty spendy happy hour – for a total of 3 beers, 1 glass of wine, 2 mixed drinks, and a few appetizers, the bill came to over $100. That’s tough to swallow.

But I want to own the Benson anyway. It’s starting to show its age in places, and I don’t want to let that patina take over in an adverse way. I promise to make the city proud of her again, and make her a mecca for the hoity-toity.

I promise to live on site, be a hands-on manager, and make every guest feel like they are “family.”

So, $200,000 X 287 rooms……I guess I could scrape together a down of a few thou….will you guys carry the paper on the rest? Please?

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