Culture / Travel

The Post Oak Hotel’s Palace Secrets — Hidden Details and Behind-the-Scenes Maneuvers Drive Houston’s New Showcase Tower: Tilman Fertitta’s 5 Star Rating Obsession Will Not be Left to Chance

BY // 05.14.18
Houston’s new showcase hotel, The Post Oak, greets the world as a grand luxury tower. With a $350 million price tag, two-story Rolls-Royce dealership and Billion Dollar Buyer Tilman Fertitta as its lord commander, maybe that’s expected. A closer look reveals that the hidden details are what will set it apart. If Fertitta’s five star rating obsession is going to be reached, it will come from the unexpected boutique elements. From a surprisingly sophisticated shopping guru to a book-filled retreat to a data driven plan, this is the hidden side of The Post Oak.

Sitting in the third-story library, surrounded by Assouline books, looking down on a pool that’s much more boutique hotel than sprawling Las Vegas-style, party resort, the true sensibilities of The Post Oak set in. Tilman Fertitta’s new 38-story luxury hotel, high-rise, office, restaurant and shopping complex may be grand, but it’s full of little escapes and surprising touches that set it apart.

The library is one such retreat. 29° North — a boutique carefully curated by Ben Freedland, a former buyer for Bergdorf Goodman — is another. Almost tucked away at the end of a long first floor hallway, this store is marked by brands not found elsewhere in Texas, such as Zambezi Grace, genuine Nile crocodile leather handbags crafted in South Africa, and Jennifer Chamandi, a British-Lebanese footwear designer whose needle heels first caught the eye of Bella Hadid. Bouchee Patisserie, a gelato and macarons shop that looks like it was lifted straight from the Instagram feed of the cutest blogger ever, provides another kind of refuge.

This certainly isn’t a hotel that bonks you over the head with its assets with look-at-me swagger and in-your-face demands. It almost forces you to discover things on your own, like you’re flipping through the pages of one of those beautiful books in the library.

“To be honest, I always thought Houston must already have a hotel like this,” says Freedland, who worked in Boston, New York and Austin before getting lured to Houston by Fertitta’s pull. “It’s one of the biggest cities in the country. It has to have a really great hotel.

“Then, I spent some time here and realized, it really doesn’t. That this place could set the bar.”

As Freedland talks, Fertitta and Jorge Gonzalez, the suave general manager recruited away from the Mandarin Oriental Miami, are down the hall, having another one of their walk-and-talk meetings where they stroll the hotel and obsess over little things that can be done better. Fertitta and Gonzalez push for improvement in a manner that the analytics-driven NBA team the Houston billionaire owns would appreciate.

As much as Fertitta relies on his own eye and instincts (he moved some of the hotel’s museum worthy art around after seeing how they looked in their originally planned locations), things are also data driven.

A Five Star Mission

Gonzalez reached out to the Forbes Travel Guide powers that be to get the exact criteria the travel bible requires a five star hotel to have in all the categories rated. There are no Forbes Travel Guide Five Star hotels currently in Texas — such a rating comes about as easily as true love on a reality show. But Fertitta is obsessed with making The Post Oak hotel the first, no matter who doubts it can be done. So Forbes’ Five Star criteria became the mantra.

“We started training to the standards from day one,” Gonzalez says, smoothing a sleeve on an expensive suit that’s every bit as pressed and spotless as a Navy admiral’s dress whites. “I believe you have to give your staff the right tools to succeed. And everyone on staff knows the standards.”

In many ways, it starts with the design from the Houston offices of San Francisco-based Gensler and Fertitta’s own in-house development team, which went through round after round of revisions from the tycoon, who first envisioned this tower more than 15 years ago. Long before he emerged as the star of his own CNBC business reality TV show. Long before he ever bought the Houston Rockets for a record $2.2 billion.

Post Oak Hotel Rolls Royce
Houston’s Post Oak Hotel comes with its own Rolls Royce dealership.

Getting to this point with this tower often seemed like a Sisyphus-worthy task, with Fertitta rejecting many plans (and firms) that did not meet the grandeur and nuance of his original vision. “I have spent millions in the conceptual process of developing this project with multiple architecture and design groups,” he says.

In the end, Gensler proved to be the right outside voice. “My development department and I believed that bringing in another group would give us some contrasting design ideas,” Fertitta says.

The Post Oak Hotel’s Lobby Wonder

The scene’s set in a calming lobby infused with deep-hued orange, fuchsia and aubergine, swirling patches of seating arrangements and a massive Frank Stella on the wall. It’s all somehow still intimate and not too overpowering (even with a million dollar chandelier — custom built with 15,719 crystals in Czechoslovakia — hanging overhead).

Take a turn to the right and you’re in the H Bar, the off-the-lobby lounge with fresh sushi and walls covered in striking black and white photographs of iconic Texas scenes.

Fertitta’s passions are on display here — in the shots of Houston sports legends such as Earl Campbell, Hakeem Olajuwon and Warren Moon; and the scenes of the Galveston he grew up in. This is another one of those little touches. As much as The Post Oak hotel is designed to look like no where else in Houston, it can also ground you quickly. One just needs to know where to look.

Of course, you’ll also find a Howard Hodgkin — a print that’s easily worth close to $30,000 — just hanging over a manicure station in the spa.

Fertitta is a showman too. He appreciates the power of a good wink.

“This is as personal as it gets,” Fertitta says. “This is a legacy, generational type project for me.”

The Billion Dollar Buyer seems invigorated by some of his new staff. He’s already promoted Freedland to overseeing retail at his other properties too. Freedland’s working on revamping the offerings at the San Luis Resort in Galveston to make them less touristy and more boutique.

Once you delve into the little things, they grow. Even the grandest hotel is only as good as its smaller parts.

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