Dallas’s Lorenzo Hotel: From Roughs to Riches
By: Kimberly Suta
Photos Courtesy of: Lorenzo Hotel
The building that is now the Lorenzo Hotel, a newly renovated boutique hotel in downtown Dallas, sat empty and unused for years. “It was a Ramada Inn back when it opened in ’71,” explained Larry Hamilton, CEO of the property. “It’s worthy of a historical footnote as the place where Tina Turner split from Ike while in Dallas for a concert.”
According to Larry, the infamous duo were staying at the Statler Hilton, history that has been revealed in her memoir, I, Tina and in the biopic, What’s Love Got to Do With It. Following the infamous incident in their limo, Tina “hightailed it to our hotel. She told the manager that she didn’t have a dime in her pocket and asked if he could help. He put her in the presidential suite with a guard outside,” said Larry.
The hotel became a bit tired over the subsequent decades. Larry and his team at Hamilton Properties purchased it in 2006 from a foreclosing lender with big plans to renovate it into the hotel it is today, but those plans got delayed when the recession hit in 2008. They closed the hotel and installed an overseer of sorts, a man by the name of Tom Coughlin, to keep out trespassers. “He was in Tina’s suite all by himself… kind of like Jack Nicholson in The Shining,” Larry joked. “He’s kind of an eccentric person, but he held down the fort for us and repelled invaders. We memorialized Tom by making a cast of his hand that holds a directional sign on each floor. That’s the kind of whimsical approach that sort of defines our hotel.”
Larry refers to his company as the “un-corporate developer.” In fact, Hamilton Properties is known for their skill at taking historic buildings that have become obsolete and renovating and repurposing them into stunning masterpieces. The Davis Building, Magnolia Hotel, and the Dallas Power and Light Complex are all good examples of this. “We’ve influenced the downtown revitalization in Dallas, the downtown skylines with respect to historic buildings, perhaps as much as any developer. The Wall Street Journal credited us in 2005 for jump-starting the revitalization in downtown Dallas,” Larry said, proudly.
It is clear when speaking with Larry, that he is as passionate about the artwork that adorns the walls, rooms, and ceilings as the artists that created them. Larry adores it so much that he is unable to pinpoint a favorite. “It’s just the total package. You can’t pick out any one thing – there are so many aspects to it, the uniqueness of it. There’s nothing else like it anywhere and no one could ever duplicate such a thing. If you want a one-of-a-kind experience, you can get it here,” he said.
When the twelve-story, 237-room hotel just re-opened in February of this year, they were still finishing renovations. Larry describes Lorenzo’s atmosphere as funky and artsy. “It’s an art-centric boutique hotel,” he said. Merriman Anderson/Architects, Inc. were responsible for redesigning the building itself, but interior designers Stanley Abbott and LaRue Thornton of Khaos masterfully placed their artistic stamp throughout the hotel, from the larger communal spaces to the smaller details found within the guest rooms. As Hamilton Properties’ go-to designers, these visionaries helped transform the property from installing murals on the side of the building to hanging a 20-foot chandelier over the pool to creating abstract and individualized headboards in the rooms. They utilized just about anything and everything that could serve as a canvas or space for a piece of art. Where else can you find Einstein spitting water into a pool? And instead of hiding things like the mechanical systems and plumbing, they painted them.
“The designers are great. Stanley is very interesting – he’s not only a designer, he’s a hands-on kind of guy. He installed those birds on the cornice of the hotel on the twelfth floor himself in climbing gear, hanging over and screwing in birds,” Larry shared.
The LCD panels of images of candles with flickering flames were made with their friends at Studio 217, and the striking eye murals are by local artist, Angela Antonson, who Larry discovered by chance while she was doing a photoshoot. The Lorenzo also features three themed suites: Nomad, a Moroccan-themed room; Zen, an Asian-themed room; and Cake, named for Marie Antoinette, an ornate French-themed room that would make King Louis XVI envious.
The restaurant and dining programs are run by Executive Chef Juan Rosada, who hails from Puerto Rico. “I grew up around food. My dad had a restaurant when I was in high school, and I immediately fell in love with cooking. Even in ninth grade I knew I wanted to be a chef,” he said.
“Our chef is a no-nonsense kind of guy. He has a fine dining background, and he brings that to this, but we’re not pricey. It’s kind of down to earth, but with a little kicker. The dishes are creative. It’s the sort of thing I like about Stephen Pyles, down to earth dishes with this great culinary imagination and flair, and I think Chef Juan has that,” said Larry.
Whenever possible, Chef Juan likes to inspire guests with his unique flavors and ingredients. “I do incorporate some of my native cuisine. Latin American or Caribbean cuisine is still a little unrecognized, so I put in a little bit here and there. My personal favorite is plantains,” Chef Juan said.
He describes the menu at Lorenzo Kitchen as elevated Texas Hill Country Southern food, such as chicken fried steak, shrimp and grits, salmon with a voodoo sauce and blackened short ribs. “Our food approach is about serving the highest quality we can serve and making it affordable. We’ve got a very unique menu for a hotel; it’s comfort food so it’s food you’re going to recognize, and you’re going to crave when you see it!” he added.
As for the hotel, Chef Juan notes, “In general, it’s very visual. They designed it for your senses . . . They paid so much attention to the little details.”
For those looking for a little nibble in the morning, you can head outside to the container village, as Larry calls it, of brightly painted, repurposed shipping containers, and enjoy a homemade kolache and coffee. In the evening, the container operates as a bar. Located next to the resort-style pool, reminiscent of South Beach, you can relax and take in the fun features and beautifully-landscaped area, complete with three cabanas for some serious lounging.
The Lorenzo is just south of the convention center, at the gateway to The Cedars neighborhood, an interesting, artsy neighborhood which itself has been changing. Here you will find several art studios, galleries, early adopters, urban pioneers, and a smattering of urban loft projects. “On Lamar is an emerging entertainment district. That’s the neighborhood we’re in,” Larry said.
The Lorenzo Hotel is, in fact, ideal for art enthusiasts. You do not have to walk far to take in some local galleries. The Tin Ranch, a block south of the Hotel, has Jim Bowman’s Glass Works, and studios for artists Rick Maxwell, Lisa Ehrich, Rusty Scruby, and Mary Lynn Bowman. Also within walking distance are the R2O Gallery, Cedars Gallery, Shotgun Gallery, and Heritage Village City Park, which is a museum unto itself. You are also just a hop, skip and jump away from South Side Music Hall, a popular venue for concerts and events. Keep moseying on down for a few drinks at The Cedars Social or Full Circle Tavern. It is guaranteed you will not run out of things to do!
The Lorenzo Hotel is clearly for folks who are looking to be visually-stimulated. “Our thinking is there are a lot of branded hotels people can go to where they can avoid unpleasant surprises by having their expectations met. Our approach is the opposite. We’re about being creative and sort of stimulating the senses. We’re for people who want a different experience – a hip and cool urban boutique hotel,” Larry said happily.