Peabody Court gets new name 'Latham Hotel' also welcomes new chef

October 27, 1992|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Staff Writer

The Peabody Court, an elegantly restored Mount Vernon hotel that fell on hard times, is Peabody no more.

The hotel, which was sold to Washington-based CapStar Hotels in August, has changed its name to the Latham Hotel, Baltimore, CapStar President Paul W. Whetsell announced yesterday.

The Peabody Court's transformation will also bring a new cuisine to its award-winning restaurant, the Conservatory. The top-floor restaurant, which overlooks Mount Vernon Place and the Washington Monument, will operate under the direction of Michel Richard, the award-winning owner and chef of Citrus in Los Angeles.

Mr. Whetsell said the restaurant would keep the name The Conservatory for now, but that it might be renamed after the first of the year. He said the restaurant would begin introducing new menu items created by Mr. Richard within the next two weeks and that it would close for a week in early January for renovations.

George Kelly, general manager of the hotel, said the company had decided to change the Peabody name because it did not have much out-of-town marketing power and often was confused with the Memphis, Tenn.-based Peabody hotel group.

"We feel it will always be the Peabody hotel to some local people," Mr. Kelly said, adding that the ground-floor Peabody Grill will keep its name.

The rechristened Peabody will become the third link in the upscale Latham chain, which also operates hotels in Philadelphia and Washington.

The name change marks the end of a seven-year run for the 104-room Peabody Court. The renovated hotel, located in the shell of an apartment building built in 1924, opened to rave reviews in 1985 but has been troubled by financial losses and management upheavals almost from the start.

In 1987, developer Morton Sarubin bought out his partners, Georges and Danielle Mosse, after the Mosses filed a lawsuit alleging that Mr. Sarubin was not paying his share of the hotel's debts. In February 1991, Mr. Sarubin sold it to Metropolitan Commercial Properties Inc. of Baltimore for $8.1 million -- about two-thirds the cost of its $12 million renovation.

After Metropolitan defaulted on its loan, the hotel ended up in the hands of NationsBank of Charlotte, N.C., which spent about a year seeking a buyer before CapStar stepped forward.

During the period of bank ownership, the hotel and restaurant went through several months of turmoil, including a purge in July that led to the departure of chef Michael Gettier, under whom the Conservatory became one of two restaurants in Baltimore awarded a four-diamond rating from the American Automobile Association.

If Mr. Richard lives up to his resume, Baltimore diners will have a short mourning period. For the past two years, the French-born chef has won Ivy awards as one of the finest chefs in the country. In 1988, Mr. Richard's Citrus was named Best Restaurant in the United States by Traveler's magazine.

Another restaurant guide, the "1991 Zagat Los Angeles Southern California Restaurant Survey," described the food at Citrus as "the best in LA", including the "best creme brulee life has to offer." The setting at Citrus was said to be "sun-washed, celebrity-filled." Mr. Richard's touch was said to be "whimsical" . . . Californian with style."

Mr. Richard will not oversee the hotel's kitchen on a day-to-day basis but is expected to spend several days each month in Baltimore, a spokeswoman for CapStar said. He is also chef for another CapStar restaurant, the Citronelle in the Santa Barbara Inn in Santa Barbara, Calif.

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