Believe it or not, Covid wasn't a total roadblock for the new Lotte Hotel downtown, which holds its grand opening today. For one thing, says general manager Victor Caguindagan, the worldwide travel slowdown meant that some great talent was available for hire, and he calls his team "the best in the world." Taking up 16 floors of a glassy Fifth Avenue tower, the Lotte aims for what sales and marketing director Matthew King calls "luxury that is approachable and not uptight," and seamless service is a big part of that.
What's more, it's a perfect time for the hotel's signature greeting, imported from the chain's South Korea headquarters: a bow, not a handshake. "It's very timely," says Caguindagan. "You show your respect without touching them, but they feel your sincerity. Very socially distant but very pure."
Lotte is named after a Goethe character (that's Charlotte from The Sorrows of Young Werther, English nerds) but pronounced "LOW-tay." The Seattle property marks the chain's third hotel in the U.S. (after New York and Guam), with most of its few dozen others in Seoul, Russia, and Japan. And unlike many of the downtown Seattle joints that have opened in recent years, the vibe here isn't at all quirky. Woodsy, sometimes, but not rustic, a brand of luxury fit for a C-suite exec or international jet-setter.
Gateway city Seattle may be an ideal locale for the growing brand, but the Fifth Avenue property has a strange history; it was built by Los Angeles hotel company SLS in the new 44-floor F5 Tower, once called the Mark. The famous Philippe Starck designed the interiors (and the renovated 1908 United First Methodist Church building next door), José Andrés was on tap for the 16th floor restaurant, and the new spot was close to opening in 2017 when SLS abruptly withdrew.
The glam hotel sat vacant for years, even as F5 Networks offices eventually filled the non-hotel floors and the refurbished church space hosted weddings and events. For a hot minute it looked like Equinox was going to turn the space into a gym, but in late 2019 Lotte purchased the hotel and sanctuary. They have changed little of the sophisticated Starck design—same wall art and decor, but crisp new linens.
The space deserves to be seen and used; the beaux arts church sanctuary is a stunning take on a hotel ballroom, from a pipe organ on the wall to a bold, abstract carpet under the 63-foot dome. The spa is all white from carpet to gauzy wall fabric, feeling a bit like a '90s sci-fi movie—one stocked with elite European facial products and a 16-head shower. Guest rooms are all shockingly large for a city hotel, and floor-to-ceiling windows mean "even the worst view is a beautiful view," says Caguindagan.
While the interiors needed little update, Lotte puts its mark on the menu with an Asian-inspired cocktail menu, like a Japanese whiskey old fashioned and a refreshing soju spritz. The 16th floor eatery, Charlotte Restaurant and Lounge, boasts two bars and a menu from chef Alexander la Motte, who has experience at the Four Seasons and Daniel Boulud's empire.
Caguindagan knows that a global pandemic is an odd time to open a hotel, but it means that Lotte has been able to incorporate temperature checks, distanced dining, and a spaced-out gym from the get-go. And the general manager thinks the finely trained staff, gathered using Zoom interviews and cross-continent phone calls, will make the difference to re-engaged travelers: "That's the thing that Covid brought us, the best people in the industry."