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Randy Opens His Boutique (Hotel)

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Paul Bass PhotoThe first of New Haven’s new wave of “boutique hotels” has quietly opened its doors on High Street, with a five-star Big Apple chef whipping up fresh mortadella made from a New England farm’s pigs.

The six-story 108-room hotel, called “The Blake,” has its official opening next week. Some customers have begun staying at the rooms, which rent from $250 up a night, as the staff puts on the finishing touches.

Developer Randy Salvatore, who built and operates similar small, locally-themed hotels in four other Connecticut cities, beat the competition to open one downtown on the site of a former car-rental lot at the corner of George and High.

Up to five other “boutiques” are in the works for the city, starting a second wave of such hotels a decade after The Study opened 124 rooms and an upscale restaurant on Chapel Street.

A Chicago developer at work transforming the old Duncan Hotel into the university-themed “Graduate New Haven” several doors down from The Study. Another developer prepared Wednesday night to pursue its final needed government approval to turn the old Webster bank site at 80 Elm St. into a 132-room Hilton Garden Inn. The owner of the Union apartments across the street has plans to build a small hotel on a surface lot, though that’s on hold. IKEA won approvals to pursue an operator to convert old Pirelli building on Sargent Drive into a 165-room hotel; and developer Yves Joseph is pursuing an industry partner to build a hotel on the Route 34 West land across from Career High School. Meanwhile, the new lead developer in the plan to build on the grave of the old Coliseum site is undertaking a feasibility study aimed at reviving a plan for a larger hotel and conference center there alongside a residential and commercial development.

City Development Administrator Mike Piscitelli said officials began noticing the “pent-up demand for hotel rooms” in New Haven several years ago. Small hotels were popping up in suburbs like Milford and Wallingford; visitors to New Haven often found themselves having to stay there and then rent a car or take a train into New Haven. As builders have raced to fill the downtown void, he said, they’re also tapping into that “boutique” trend of “more unique, more interesting” locally themed, high-quality hotels.

Randy Salvatore was ahead of that trend. He opened his first boutique hotel, called Hotel Zero, in Stamford in 2009. He has since opened others in Norwalk, Danbury, and Hartford. He has been building apartment and commercial developments in New Haven in recent years like the Novella and the Hill-to-Downtown project. So it made sense to leap into the boutique hotel rush as well.

The Blake has a first-floor bistro called Hamilton Park, named after a 19th century sports venue/gathering spot at Whalley and West Park avenues. Salvatore recruited Matt Lambert, a New Zealand-born chef who has run a five-star restaurant in New York called the Musket Room for the past ten years, to run it. On Wednesday, the restaurant staff was deep in training in anticipation of next weeks opening. The restaurant will have a staff of about 30; the hotel itself another 20.

In this video, Lambert discussed some of the specialities he’s cooking, based on a New England theme heavy on charcuterie and seafood. Listening to him, I learned a lot about what top-flight chefs can do with pork.

On a tour of The Blake Wednesday, Salvatore said his goal is to create a “meeting place” for New Haven, not just a hotel. The bistro opens onto a bar and then a spacious sitting room in the lobby. “The restaurant bleeds into the lobby. The lobby bleeds” into the bar and into the restaurant, by design, Salvatore said. “Everyone would have a reason to come here,” whether they’re working on a laptop, meeting for drinks or a private or group dinner, or holding private meetings in some of the meeting rooms at the other end of the first floor. A second, rooftop restaurant with a retractable glass roof is under construction on the sixth floor.

The basement included a high-tech work-out room, with interactive machines that include virtual trainers (such as at right).

The hotel itself is named after Alice Rufie Blake, the first woman to graduate from Yale. “We wanted it to have some connection to New Haven; she was pioneer,” said Claire Salvatore, who has been overseeing the hotel project along with her husband.

The rooms have kitchens with microwaves and ranges, pots and pans, dishwashers, designed for extended stays as well as overnight visits. Salvatore said the aim is for a “homey” feel. The 108 rooms include nine suites and 99 guest rooms.

Salvatore turned around and sold his first successful New Haven project, The Novella, after completing it. He said Wednesday that he will not be putting the Blake up for sale.

“The hotels are definitely something I’m doing long term,” he said, noting that he has held onto the other four he has opened since 2009. “We’re building a brand.”



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