Boutique Hotels

How does a hotel qualify for that status?
BY: RON TELLESSEN

Boutique.  I remember first seeing the word in 1967.  I was traveling on the New York City subway's B train to Brighton Beach, reading the New York Daily News, occasionally nodding off in light sleep (I was working nights at the time), and then, in a moment of drousy wakefullness, amid the plethora of advertisements in that New York Daily tabloid, I see this irksome word, "boutique".   In the ad, Boutique with a capital B, was included in the name of a new and trendy women's clothing store.  Both the store and the ad for it were designed to appeal to the "in-crowd," a term now left behind, however, 'boutique' we have kept, expanded upon, and now use with little discrimination.  The word has been stretched and, may I say, the meaning has become elastic.

Why do I remember all of this?  Because I was irritated by that word boutique.   And the irritation, itself now mostly gone, left a nick in my psyck, and there is still a little bit of boutique left at that nick. The word, I immediately suspected, came to us from the French.  But at that point in my life I didn't like other countries and their languages butting in, certainly not the French, who were beginning to strike back at the brash Americans who were overrunning Paris and Versaille, snapping photos everywhere.

But there is still that word boutique in all its elasticity and prissy, frilly, French poodle feel (again I apologize to France).  I hear it more and more in the Todos Santos/Pescadero area.  So, I set out to discern what the word means in the lower Baja, and where better to start than with the people who are using it here.  I began with local owners (or in some cases, managers) of places of lodging.  If, in advertising, they use the term boutique hotel to describe their establishment, I wanted to find out why.

My first call went out to Hacienda Todos Los Santos Boutique Hotel, a neat, secluded hideaway surprisingly close to the center of Todos Santos. I was given the number of Mr. Nieto in La Paz.  He told me to email my questions to him.  I did so on Monday.  By Saturday I still had no reply. Perhaps,  thought I,  boutique actually means secretive or confidential in hotel parlance.  Some hotels are so boutique that they divulge no information. But that can't be true because they do advertise.

I also rang up Guaycura Boutique Hotel and Beach Club, another venerable name in local hotelery.  Located in a 19th century red brick building in the historical district of Todos Santos, the place fairly exudes distinction and class.  Their kind manager, Yolanda  promised to email the information I requested.  That was Monday. On Wednesday I received an email from Fernando Salas, representing the hotel.  Mr. Salas wrote, among other things,  that "The building is located in the heart of Todos Santos, so you can walk around art galleries and boutiques the minute you arrive."  Yes, boutiques, the minute you arrive.  But Mr. Salas did not address the question that I put to Yolanda, "what makes Guaycura Boutique Hotel a boutique hotel"?

Not wanting to leave out Pescadero (or more specifically, Cerritos),  I looked up the number for Freesouls Boutique Condos.  Now we're talkin', boutique condos, no less!  I was told to phone Marc Jouille in San Jose for more info.  He replied promptly.  He gets high marks for professionalism, though his definition for boutique, as applied to living accomodations, was somewhat sketchy.  His condominiums offer some cool amenities and he did mention small an unique in referring to those condos.   As to their boutiqueness, it is hard to think of two bedroom, two bath apartments as small, and eight units as unique.  Still, Marc sounded knowledgable, so who am I to say that his condos are not boutique? 

Lastly, I phoned Hacienda Cerritos after viewing one of their full page advertisments on the back of a slick Baja journal.  In large letters the ad attests to the fact that Hacienda Cerritos is "Baja's iconic Boutique Hotel".  Wow, not only boutique but also iconic; they're covering a lot of area.  The edifice is beautifully situated on high ground overlooking the gorgeous, blue Pacific, and a real contrast to the hodge-podge architecture and deeply rutted, mud/sand roads a stone’s throw inland.  I was put through to Michelle.  When I ask her what a boutique hotel is, authoritatively and without hesitation, she cheerfully replied, "not more than 14 rooms".  She put the period on it.  Laid it to rest.

So, dear reader, there you have it.  Not from Webster's or the Oxford English Dictionary, but some hotelery association has decreed that a "boutique hotel" is one having not more than 14 units.

Todos Santos is increasing by more souls every month, and Pescadero, too.  Many will be staying in the burgeoning number of boutique hotels, boutique condos, boutique apartments, boutique B and B's, bou.......well, you get the picture.