It was a real milestone for the community when the 2nd operating Ritz Carlton Hotel in the world opened here in Buckhead in 1983 (the only other one at the time was in Boston). Residents are taking a moment to wax nostalgic over recent news that The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead will be rebranded as The Whitley hotel on December 1st of this year. The recent news sent a wave through locals and traveling visitors who have frequented the opulent hotel. A spokesperson from The Whitley revealed that the hotel bar and restaurant will be renovated and relaunched during the transition, but it is unclear which other features of the 510-room hotel will change.
The Ritz-Carlton has had a long-standing history of luxury in the United States. From the beginning, The Ritz-Carlton set a standard for prioritizing guest experience in hotels. From its reputation for exquisite dining, staff in pressed uniforms and black ties and small, intimate lobby settings, it’s not a stretch to imagine that The Ritz set the bar for luxury hotel experiences as we know them.While its origins begin with The Ritz-Carlton Investing Company in the early 1900s, the company eventually evolved into The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company in 1983. It was led by famous hoteliers Colgate Holmes, Horst Schulze, Joe Freni, Ed Staros and Herve Humler. Soon, The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead opened its doors to locals and travelers alike.
Since the brand’s purchase by Marriott International in 1998, some feel that the quality and service once experienced there has declined. While many are ready for a change, some long-time guests of the hotel are none too thrilled at the prospect of facing what they expect will be a decline in service.
“It was, I guess, the closest thing to heaven you could find in Buckhead…When they said, ‘It’s my pleasure,’ you hear that so often these days, and they actually made you feel like it was their pleasure to bring you more butter.” ~ Virgil Shutze
One such person is Virgil Shutze, a Buckhead resident who has been a guest of The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead since it first opened its doors. We asked him about his favorite memories of the hotel:
“It was, I guess, the closest thing to heaven you could find in Buckhead,” said Shutze. “It was an elegance this town has not seen since.”
Shutze has spent a great deal of time at The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, being first drawn in by the simple elegance of the place, later forming relationships with the staff and witnessing a community icon’s evolution over the years.
“Mostly I just remember sitting in that lobby lounge with beautiful music and wonderful people,” said Shutze. “My fondest memory was pulling up, seeing Abner [the front doorman] and feeling like I was at home. You were treated like a guest, a true guest. Not a customer…I lived there for almost two months, and it was an utter delight to come home to The Ritz every day.”
The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, as Shutze describes it, was the epitome of service with staff who went above and beyond to please guests.
“When they said, ‘It’s my pleasure,’ you hear that so often these days, and they actually made you feel like it was their pleasure to bring you more butter,” said Shutze. “Just the smallest thing was a huge thing to them. Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle. They took care of the details in every sense of the word. The rooms were immaculate, the people were immaculate.”
While the hotel’s focus on customer experience is a characteristic draw, Shutze believes this to be a result of the hotel’s focus on its own people.
“In the service business, you hear that the customer comes first. Your people come first. And if your people come first, that just oozes over to your customer base, and that’s what the Ritz did.”
The Ritz staff were reminded each day of their commitment to their guests and each other.
“The sign over the employee entrance says, ‘We are ladies and gentlemen, certainly ladies and gentlemen.’ And if you were observant, you’d sit in the bar and, whoever would bring out the ice, the bartender would say thank you and call them by name. The [waiter] would say you’re welcome and call him by name. They were gracious to each other.”
Over the years, Shutze, like many local guests and visitors, has stories of the hotel’s lavish service. Shutze described one such story when a manager acquiesced to a major request:
I had a friend staying in the Presidential Suite. We had a party at The Ritz, and a friend and I stayed at the bar a little longer than necessary… They had a portrait at the bar of a young person, and I was always fascinated by it. I went to the front desk, and I said, ‘I would like to have that delivered to my room. I’d like to hang it to the wall. It’s a very fine painting.’ And the night manager came out and said, ‘Of course we can do that.’ So he took the painting off the wall, carried it up, and [replaced] the painting on the wall with [another painting]. Where else are you going to find that?…It was a crazy request. And it was like, ‘Of course we can do that. No problem at all.’
When asked about his response to the hotel’s rebrand, Shutze is skeptical, a sentiment some share with him in the neighborhood.
“I am going to miss it greatly… Marriott is a good chain, and they have some lovely hotels, but it’s not The Ritz.”
While we wait for The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead to open its doors as The Whitley in December, we will remember what has been a local icon in Buckhead fondly. What are some of your favorite memories there? Let us know in the comments below.