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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Looking to Check Into the Next Big Thing?

For MTWhile Moscow does not yet have any boutique hotels, smaller hotels like the Savoy already target a similar kind of traveler.
Soviet Moscow was once a gray, unfriendly place, suspicious of foreigners and their motives. Anything considered fashionable in the West was easily ridiculed as bourgeois if it had no functional value.

But in the few short years since communism was thrown off, the capital has become vibrant and tolerant of individual expression. It is quickly becoming a magnet for trendsetters and style gurus.

One signal of this trend is the interest of American hotel operator Ian Schrager, who pioneered the concept of boutique hotels in the 1980s. Last year, he visited Moscow to investigate the city's potential, eyeing some of the trendiest nightclubs in town, including Jet Set and First.

"If Ian Schrager moved in, it would be a seal of coolness for Moscow," said Helene Lloyd, marketing director of Tourism, Marketing & Intelligence in Moscow. "His company is very particular about where and how they open their hotels."

Schrager's style, developed with French designer Philippe Starck, relies on a general disregard for convention, along with a severe attention to detail and personal service. "The result," said Lloyd, is a an "'anti-brand' hotel based on diversity rather than homogeneity, which is opposite to normal hotel brands."

Schrager may best be known as the co-creator of New York's Studio 54, the Manhattan nightclub that defined 1970s decadence.

In 1984, Schrager opened his first hotel, the Morgans Hotel in New York, which made a name for itself as a brooding, cozy alternative to the city's brassy elite hotels. Since then, Schrager has gained recognition by opening hotels that bear no resemblance to the other properties in his company's control.

"As such, the definition of a boutique hotel is anti-hotel in many ways," Lloyd said. "It should not be part of a large chain, it should be individual, have excellent service, and be very tailor-made to the clients."

There are plenty of imitators, some of them in existing large chains. There are now 18 W hotels, owned by Sheraton. Le Meridien has also reacted, creating a line of high-design Art + Tech rooms.

Today, Ian Schrager Hotels owns and operates nine properties, notably the Hudson, Paramount and Royalton in New York, the Mondrian in Los Angeles and the Delano in Miami. The company operates two hotels in London, and Schrager recently referred to his "aggressive expansion" in Europe in a prepared statement.

As for Moscow, the company is thus far publicly noncommittal. "There are no current plans to open a Schrager hotel in Moscow," said Lisa Walker, a Schrager publicist.

In this light, there appears to be room to move in Moscow's hotel marketplace.

"I do not think that Moscow really has any boutique hotels at the moment," said Lloyd, bringing to light the recent trend toward personalized accommodation. "The discerning traveler no longer wants the standard room, which does not reflect the country that he is visiting, but is looking for something more creative, personal and tailor-made."

However, such hotels generally have fewer rooms and a smaller market niche than the large hotels operating under international brands, and have to work harder to develop clientele. There are, though, a few non-chain properties in Moscow that provide much of what can be found in a boutique hotel.

The 84-room Savoy, on Ulitsa Rozhdestvenka, (priced at $150 to $600 a night) is a celebrity favorite, having hosted Luciano Pavarotti, Julia Ormond and Ted Turner.

The hotel has a rich history that dates back to the 19th century, when a German restaurant called Alpenrose was opened in a building owned by Princess Olga Turkestanova. The restaurant was popular with the artistic elite.

After an expansion, the Savoy hotel opened in 1913, richly decorated with salamanders, a mythical reptile believed to be able to survive flames. "We have it everywhere, and we believe it protects us from problems," sales manager Galina Klypina said.

From 1958, the Savoy was known as The Berlin, but its old name and palace-like interior were restored in the late 1980s.

Yevgeny Stetsko / Vedomosti

Another proto-boutique hotel, the Alrosa opened three years ago in a restored house.

Its mahogany corridors are lined with paintings selected by a curator from the Tretyakov Gallery.

"It's a hotel with a soul," Klypina said. "No modern hotel can tell stories to people like we can, and there are a lot of people who want to stay in a historic hotel. They want to know more about the country."

Ninety percent of guests at the cozy 15-room Alrosa hotel, on 1st Kazachy Pereulok, ($170 to $300 per night) are foreigners.

"We have succeeded in attracting the clientele that we want," said Irina Pecherskaya, rooms division manager. "Big businessmen don't want a great number of people to see them. They want a small hotel, but they also want quality."

Owned by the Sakha-based state diamond monopoly, the Alrosa is a turn-of-the-century reconstructed mansion with a classical design. It opened in 2000 with rooms that are, on average, 10 square meters larger than standard rooms in Europe and the United States.

"We create our own standards that are based on international standards," Pecherskaya said, boasting that the hotel's management had received training at international hotel schools. "But at the same time we want to create our own market." W Hotels The Hemple Ian Schrager Hotels Le Meridien Hotels