When the Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort first opened its doors in 1929, it quickly established a reputation as a favourite of Hollywood aristocracies such as Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe and a showcase for striking Frank Lloyd Wright-influenced design. Nearly a century later, the hotel reopens following a 15-month renovation with a new style that meticulously retains its old design while adding modern glitz.
Read on to learn about the one-of-a-kind architecture and design of the Forbes Travel Guide Recommended hotel, its show-stopping new bar, and the accommodations that have hosted US presidents and Hollywood icons.
Design and Architecture
The hotel was designed by Wright protégé Albert Chase McArthur, who hired his mentor as the principal consultant. The house was constructed entirely of “Biltmore blocks,” concrete bricks created from desert sand that was a play on a textile block that Wright had previously used in his home construction. Palm tree trunks were used as inspiration for the geometric designs on the Biltmore blocks. During the overhaul, almost 6,000 blocks were restored.
The premium hotel hired Virserius Studio, PHX Architecture, and Jim Smith of Serving the Nation, Inc for the makeover and restoration. In locations like the foyer, the designers complemented the original design by softening the blocks with modern, comfortable moss green and deep blue seats. From the spa lounge to the cutout walls in the Saguaro Pool cabanas, it echoed the block’s palm-tree design.
While going around the grounds, you may see more of Wright’s design skills. Sprite sculptures with their arms crossed over their hearts might be found looking seriously down. Frank Lloyd Wright created them in 1914 to protect Chicago’s Midway Gardens. The sprites vanished after the gardens were dismantled. Years later, they were discovered buried on a Wisconsin farm. In 1985, Wright’s wife had a mold of the “Solemn Sprite” created and donated it to the Biltmore. Today, 19 guards the Arizona Biltmore, as seen by a flock in the Paradise Garden.
Saguaro Forms and Cactus Flowers, a vivid abstract stained-glass sculpture near the lobby entry, stands out among the grey blocks and wood floor. It was inspired by a coloured pencil drawing that Wright created for the cover of Liberty Magazine in 1927, but the publication declined to print it because it was considered too avant-garde. Wright’s wife commissioned a stained-glass artisan in Mesa, Arizona, to turn the drawing into a work of art, which she then donated to the hotel.
While Wright’s aesthetic is the main attraction, design enthusiasts also see the other works on the property. Look into the Gold Room, which was once the original dining room, to see the world’s second-largest gold-leaf ceiling (the Taj Mahal is No. 1). It also has murals by Maynard Dixon, an artist known for his images of the American West.
The Cottages are a collection of cottages located throughout the
The cottages that dot the landscape around the Biltmore’s Saguaro Pool date from the hotel’s inception. Originally, the Phoenix hotel was just for adults, and children and their nannies were confined to these quarters. However, among the property’s 701 rooms, the cottages became one of the most popular places to stay. One of them was even where Ronald and Nancy Reagan honeymooned.
During the refurbishment, the 15 cottages were upgraded. With a palette of earthy colours, materials such as wood and stucco, black-and-white cactus images on the walls, pleasant outdoor fire pits, and white Biltmore bricks edging the living room fireplace, they all reveal evidence of Wright’s influence.
They’ve also updated their amenities. The attention to detail inside the roomy cottage suite includes the often-overlooked tea set. The teacups and saucers imported from France are drenched in vibrant contrasting colours, such as orange against seafoam and black against pink. A Smeg kettle is also available. The freestanding oval tub in the bathroom begs to be soaked.
The Curved Bars
The new Spire Bar, named after the surrounding 30-foot-tall cactus-like spire that pays respect to Wright’s use of nature as a guiding element in his designs, is impossible to picture the Arizona Biltmore without it. From behind the foyer, the bar itself screams for your attention. With its wide canopy covering the abundant grey and blue chairs and enticing fire pits, it grows up like a palm tree. People come here to read over coffee while listening to the relaxing sound of the gushing fountains or to relax at night when the bar’s tree trunk illuminates from red to purple.
In the evening, visit to take in the lights from the bar, the twisting spire, and the illuminated palm trees surrounding it. The lobster club, which is piled high with juicy morsels, sriracha mayonnaise, heirloom tomatoes, crispy applewood bacon, and avocado, is our favourite item on the menu. Order the Pink Eldorado (El Silencio mezcal, Aperol, Cointreau, agave, lime and grapefruit juices, grapefruit bitters), which delightfully combines smokiness and tart grapefruit.
While the Spire Bar is the hotel’s most popular hangout, the renovated Wright Bar is not to be missed. It’s significantly smaller, with only six seats, and it’s tucked inside the lobby. But it’s a gorgeous alcove, with peacock-feather-like tiles in black, teal, and navy and sleek black stone on top. The bar-top lighting, metalwork, and flooring all have an art deco feel to them.
Take a seat and order the Tequila Sunrise, created by bartender Gene Sulit in the 1930s. Forget the sweet versions you’ve had before; with Clase Azul Plata, Vedrenne Supercassis, lime juice, and Fever-Tree club soda, this Tequila Sunrise (renamed A Tribute to Gene) is light and delicious. Pair it with Spanish tapas like croquetas de jamón Ibérico (mashed potatoes, bechamel and Spanish ham encased in a crispy panko shell).
The Swimming Pool
The hotel’s 39 acres are home to seven pools. While the Catalina Pool was a favourite of Marilyn Monroe’s and the site of Irving Berlin’s song “White Christmas” (what did you expect? ), the new Saguaro Pool, named for the 140-foot-tall cactus that sits just beyond its gates, is a must-see. Behind the Spire Bar and the event lawn is the centrally placed adults-only pool. The Italian mosaic-tiled pool (the architect was an admirer of stained glass) and its bar, as well as the vivid mosaic Bisazza pebble coffee tables by Dutch designer Marcel Wanders, are all tributes to Wright.
Because loungers are in high demand, you might choose to book one of the open-air cabanas, including a ceiling fan and mister, sofa, flat-screen TV, safe, refrigerator, bottled water, and a fruit tray.
Families should visit the newly remodelled Paradise Pool, which features a 65-foot triple water slide. When the desert sun gets too hot, parents can relax in one of the 15 new air-conditioned cabanas, each with its bathroom and shower, or at the swim-up bar.
The Wellness Center
Tierra Luna Spa, which is housed in a modern structure, feels like a desert oasis. While the outside section, which will include a water circuit, is not yet complete, you’ll want to spend some time in the sand-coloured relaxation room, which features Southwestern-style pillows, wood tables, and a flickering fireplace. The 12 treatment rooms specialize in desert botanicals (the Orange Blossom Ylang Exfoliation will perk you up with fragrant citrus oils and a dry agave brushing, polishing sugars, and honey leave your skin supple and silky for days) and a cosmic connection that’s unique to these parts (the Orange Blossom Ylang Exfoliation will perk you up with fragrant citrus oils and a dry agave brushing, polishing sugars, and honey leave your skin supple (like astrology readings and a crystal bar).
The Dining Room
Renata’s Hearth, a new addition to the desert hotel, is Latin-influenced and focuses around smoke, from the fire-roasted food to the mezcal menu. A mezcal maven prepares your drinks, and a waitress dressed in a flight attendant outfit rolls over to deliver you a flight of tequila, mezcal, agaves, or margaritas.
Make tacos with the smoked Wagyu beef barbacoa and warm tortillas for dinner. Because it’s for the table, it’ll be a substantial portion, so reserve room for the divine coconut tres leches cake with light-as-air Bavaria cream and coconut anglaise. Sit outside in one of the curving tables in the gorgeous garden under the bright skies.