News Article | 6/30/2006

Hustle and bustle

Hipness is the stock in trade of the W hotel brand. And at Thursday night’s buzz-heavy grand opening of W Dallas-Victory, the hipness was flowing on tap.

Standing in the middle of it all was the squarest guy ever to wear a rep tie: Victory developer Ross Perot Jr. “Jonas is the hip one,” he said, pointing out Jonas Woods, president of Mr. Perot’s Hillwood Capital, and the guiding force behind Victory. “I’ve outsourced the hipness to him.”

With the opening of the W and the upcoming opening of the Times Square-like Victory Plaza, the two men have delivered on the promise that building American Airlines Center would spawn ancillary development and move the gravitational center of downtown.

Cuba Gooding Jr. hung out at the 16th-floor pool and other movie stars and demi-stars flew in late Thursday to hang out in the 33rd-floor Ghostbar. But the real scene was the gaggle of VIP Dallasites making mental checklists of who did and who did not manage an invitation.

As owners of the Ghostbar (the original is on the 55th floor of the Palms Casino Resort in Vegas), Michael Morton and Scott DeGraff are Dallas’ latest gatekeepers of cool. But Mr. Morton, son of the late Morton’s of Chicago steakhouse owner Arnie Morton, readily admits it was not always this way.

“When they opened the Morton’s in downtown Dallas, I worked there,” he said. “I was sweeping the floors and never dreamed that 17 or 18 years later, I’d be back in Dallas doing something like this.”

Mr. Morton’s brother is Hard Rock Cafe co-founder Peter Morton, who recently sold his Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas for big money. But he is not involved in Ghostbar. “No,” explained Mr. Morton. “Peter is selling and we’re building.”

“In other words,” added Mr. DeGraff, “Peter has a G-IV [private jet] and we don’t.”

The W’s signature chapeau is the white helipad jutting out from the roofline. Wednesday night, Mr. Perot (the first pilot to circumnavigate the globe by helicopter) christened the landing pad with his own helicopter.

“We landed seven times,” he says. “Then we went into the Ghostbar for a while before flying back to Love Field.”

Among the notable attendees were a few W rivals discreetly checking out the competition. John Scott, president of Rosewood Hotels & Resorts (The Mansion on Turtle Creek and the Hotel Crescent Court), stopped in to survey the scene. Crescent Real Estate Equities president Denny Alberts and his new bride, Cynthia Comparin, also made their way around. Denny is building the Ritz-Carlton complex just rock-throwing distance away at McKinney Avenue and Pearl Street.

W Hotels president Ross Klein welcomed all comers from the purple-carpet arrival area. “Opening in Dallas is an important milestone in the timeline of the W brand,” he said. “This is our first vertical W with a residential component.” The first 16 floors are for the hotel while the next 16 are privately owned condos.

Thursday night, the ground-floor Living Room lounge proved to be the place where sane people gathered for actual conversation and libation. The trendier set – the ones who use “party!” as a verb – waited in the interminable elevator line to the Ghostbar. As the evening wore on, the line became a major piece of cholesterol blocking the lobby’s main artery.

But quick bypass operations were performed on the line by bellmen bringing in bags for a few hearty souls who actually checked into the hotel during the party.

While Thursday evening had the vibe of a once-in-a-decade event, the scene will be repeated in the fall when Victory Plaza opens. The facades of the two low-rise buildings connecting W to American Airlines Center will feature a total of 11 giant outdoor TVs (16 feet by 25 feet each) moving around on steel tracks.