Madison and the much deserved HotelRED

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by Libby Vertz

If Madison spirit knows no bounds, then Madison’s new HotelRED may be its boutique hub.

The independent boutique hotel, located on the corner of Monroe and Regent Streets, opened its doors August 16, last year, and immediately found itself reeling with business.

Still, it was just several weeks ago the hotel’s bistro restaurant, The Wise, began offering a full menu. And so far, it seems this new addition, led by Chef de Cuisine John Bauer, has only augmented HotelRED’s success.

The hotel features 48 cozy-chic guest rooms and suites, three conference rooms, and a spacious lobby. The Wise, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, is located just off the first-floor lobby, and offers a small plates menu. It connects to a full bar, stocked with a variety of cocktails and beers.

The hotel’s goal has been to be the go-to locale for everyone from young professionals to corporate travelers. And so far, it seems they are.

“Business is really starting to pick up now that the name recognition is out there,” says General Manager Jason Ilstrup. “People are finally realizing we’re here, and they’re starting to book rooms—and they’re booking again and again.”

Ilstrup says several factors helped them reach this point. One key factor has been their location—across the street from Camp Randall, and in the midst of several neighborhoods. This means they’re not just catering to hotel guests; they’re also catering to nearby residents’ tastes.

This means the restaurant, not just the hotel, caters to both Madison residents and hotel guests, too, according to Bauer.

“On the rooms end, we like to provide food in a hotel that is not hotel food—what I mean by that is the traditional hotel fare,” he says. “We get a lot of business and professional travelers that come through, that maybe have had enough of the typical hotel fare and want something a little different.”

Some standout dinner plates include a seared scallop plate, served with a cranberry and curry oil; pan-roasted chicken, brined in-house; a pork tenderloin with ginger, lemongrass and more; and a short rib plate with Asian influences, served with a rich demi-glace with spices, chiles, ginger, and lemongrass, according to Bauer.

And while the food may be far above par, they’ve made a point to keep their menu affordable.

“That was one of the main goals: we didn’t want to out-price ourselves from people from any demographic being able to come in and enjoy themselves,” says Bauer. “For under $30 you can walk away fed and [having had] a few glasses of wine.”

Another local consideration for the hotel and restaurant are the companies they work with. They buy locally as much as possible, says Bauer. For instance, a lot of their cheese, other dairy products, and meat come from local businesses. Other local venders include Maurie’s Fine Chocolates on Monroe Street, J. Kinney’s Florist, and Cha Cha Tea, according to Istrup.

In short, they’re doing everything they can to make the hotel as Madison as possible. Ilstrup says it was their goal to add to Madison’s culture.

“We want to be the independent Madison boutique hotel,” says Ilstrup. “We want to be that quintessential Madison place.”

“Madison is a hot city,” he adds. “Look at all the different awards. Middleton is the most livable city in the country. Madison is the smartest city in the country. We think it needs a hotel of that quality.”

And so far, it seems HotelRED and The Wise are filling that niche. Another factor to which Ilstrup and Bauer attribute their success is the boutique’s atmosphere.

The hotel gives off a modern, sophisticated, and energetic vibe throughout. The restaurant’s atmosphere in particular is unique, says Bauer, because of its open design. The lobby leads into the bar, then into the restaurant, which features an open view of the kitchen.

“We provide a different type of atmosphere than most restaurants or hotels in Madison,” he says.

But there’s another important factor in HotelRED’s success: the events they host. Sales and Events Manager Amanda Ridout says the events they’ve held so far have been crucial to the hotel’s growth.

“Having events here builds awareness, and also introduces us to the neighborhood and to Madison,” she says. Getting people in the door leads them to recommend the hotel and restaurant to their friends and family.

“We’re found that folks who come in love HotelRED, and can’t wait to come back,” she adds.

So far, they’ve hosted an average of six to 10 events per month, from social events to corporate meetings, according to Ridout. Social events have included birthday, holiday, and tailgate parties; and soon they’ll host their first wedding.

She says the hotel is hoping to soon expand their events repertoire to other wedding-related events, like bridal showers and bachelorette parties. They’re also open to renting to campus organizations, she says.

Her department is also hoping to begin offering HotelRED-sponsored events soon, like Wine Wednesday, trivia nights, or movie nights, says Ridout.

But a lot of her work also takes place over social media, according to Ridout. Her department posts regularly on their Facebook page and Twitter account. Using social media helps reach out to target potential customers, she says.

And potential customers seem to be lining up at the door for HotelRED. She says after the brief industry-wide slump they experienced in December and January, they’re already back and busier than they expected to be.

It seems slumps aren’t in the cards for HotelRED.

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