Harbor Court is best place to stay if you're staying in Baltimore, survey reports travelers say

February 11, 1993|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Staff Writer

If the chairman of the board is visiting Baltimore, and you don't think offering the use of your fold-out couch is a hot career move, you might want to book a room at the Harbor Court.

According to the 1993 Zagat U.S. Hotel, Resort and Spa Survey released yesterday, the elegant inn on Light Street is the best Baltimore has to offer. It's also the most expensive, with an average bill of $162 a night, according to Zagat.

The Harbor Court clearly led the city in three of the four categories in which the popular guide ranks hotels: rooms, service and public facilities. It tied with the former Peabody Court, now the Latham Hotel in Baltimore, in the dining category. (That hotel has named a new chef since the survey was completed.)

But, with a score of 24 on Zagat's 30-point scale, the Harbor Court could not crack Zagat's roster of the top 50 U.S. hotels, leaving Baltimore unrepresented on the list. The Peabody Court, which changed its name Oct. 26, was the overall runner-up with a 22 score. The Stouffer Harborplace was third, at 20.

Zagat gave top honors for value to Marriott's Hunt Valley Inn. The lowest-rated Baltimore hotel in the survey was the Johns Hopkins Inn on Broadway, with scores that ranged from 11 to 14.

Baltimore was one of 36 metropolitan areas covered by the Zagat hotel survey, which relied on reports from more than 7,000 regular travelers, about 500 of whom work in the travel industry.

"We have 7,000 spies out there, 500 of whom are professional spies," said Tim Zagat, co-publisher of the guide. Zagat's methodology contrasts with other major hotel and restaurant guides, which use inspectors to determine their ratings.

The Zagat hotel survey, which previously had been published in three separate books, is published this year in a single "Bible-size" volume, Mr. Zagat said.

In only four years of publication, the Zagat hotel ratings have taken on an almost scriptural importance in the industry. "It's definitely important," said Harbor Court chef Michael Rork. "There's people who come here and live by that. It's like the Bible."

According to the Zagat survey, the city with the best hotels in the country is Phoenix -- by a landslide. The Arizona capital, along withneighboring Scottsdale, is ranked No. 1 in all four rating categories and placed three hotels in Zagat's list of the top 50 in the United States. Phoenix ranks eighth in average hotel cost at $149.34 a night.

Baltimore ranks rather high in the hotel ratings -- as long as you stay in your room. The city placed 17th out of 36 overall, with the rooms soaring to ninth and the dining and public facilities sinking to 23rd and 26th respectively. Average costs ranked 24th at $120.30.

Mr. Zagat said that while Baltimore might not rank in the top 10, "it's a lot better than it used to be."

In fact, the hotel scene nationwide is looking very good, Mr. Zagat said. While the overbuilding of the 1980s might have hurt banks and some hotel owners, it's been a boon for travelers, he said.

"We have totally rebuilt our national infrastructure of hotels," Mr. Zagat said. "The pricing is very competitive by world standards."

The most expensive city for a hotel stay was no surprise -- New York, with an average tab of $178.82, comfortably ahead of Los Angeles at $166.42. But where L.A. ranked fifth in overall quality, New York languished in 33rd place.

The highest hotel rating in the guide went to the Windsor Court in New Orleans. It was also a value, of sorts. With an average bill of $201.90 a night, it cost less than the No. 2 through No. 7 hotels.

The ritziest resort, according to Zagat, is the Point in Saranac Lake, N.Y., where the average nightly tariff comes to $405.50 -- more than $100 more than any other resort in the top 50. Second was the Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Va., near Shenandoah National Park, which led the nation in the dining category.

Among Maryland resorts, high marks -- 23 to 24 points -- went to a trio of Eastern Shore inns: the Imperial Hotel in Chestertown; the Atlantic Hotel in Berlin; and the Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels.

Washington's finest were the Four Seasons at 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. and Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City.

The Zagat survey is sold at bookstores and magazine stands nationwide. The Zagats also distribute regional restaurant guides, including one for Baltimore-Washington (640 pages, paperback, $16.95).

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