Suites to those sweet on Jerry Garcia

March 19, 1995|By Gary Dretzka | Gary Dretzka,Chicago Tribune

For Dead Heads who've gotten too brittle, or too co-opted, to maintain the nomadic lifestyle embraced by younger legions of devotees, Jerry Garcia offers a suite alternative.

Two generations of admirers still flock to Grateful Dead concerts 30 years after the psychedelic survivors helped invent the San Francisco sound -- but many find their tie-dyed rock-and-roll hearts now beat under a pinstripe suit or silk blouse. For them, the days of sleeping under the stars or in VW vans are long past.

It is for these counterculturally challenged fans that the Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group has introduced J. Garcia Suites in two of its California properties -- the Beverly Prescott in Los Angeles and Hotel Triton in San Francisco.

J. Garcia . . . J.?

Yeah, good ol' Jerry, founder of the Grateful Dead and spiritual leader for thousands of Dead Heads . . . Captain Trips his own self.

The guitarist and singer is a master of improvisation. He keeps adding new riffs to his commercial repertoire, first heard in 1987, when he played on an ad for Levi's 501 jeans ("A good pair of Levi's are bound to set me free"), then allowed his name to be used by Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream for its Cherry Garcia flavor.

After a serious health crisis, Mr. Garcia renewed his lifelong interest in art, and in 1991 finally permitted pieces of his work to be sold in galleries. They were signed "J. Garcia."

These colorful and occasionally surrealistic paintings, prints and sketches would inspire menswear companies to come to him for permission to market lines of J. Garcia neckwear, shirts and vests. By the start of the Clinton era -- both Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper, are fans -- Mr. Garcia had become the unlikeliest of corporate symbols.

According to Grateful Dead spokesman Dennis McNally, the idea for creating the hotel suites was born when the 52-year-old musician's art agent, Nora Sage, saw the bolts of fabric used in his clothing lines and imagined what the designs might look like on curtains and furniture. Connections were made along the Dead network, and the San Francisco-based Kimpton Group agreed to promote a J. Garcia Suite along with other rooms by designers Joe Boxer and Suzan Briganti in its arty and intimate Hotel Triton.

Last month, the Beverly Prescott Hotel -- a chic but mostly unpretentious hotel perched on a hill overlooking much of L.A.'s 90210 ZIP-code area -- added a J. Garcia Suite (Room 807) to its attractions.

Dead Heads expecting psychedelic graffiti on the walls of the suite, or marijuana joints in the honor bar, might be disappointed by the room. Business travelers and harried tourists, however, likely will find the unexpected patterns and tones a nice escape from busy Pico Boulevard eight floors below.

A dozen of Mr. Garcia's lithographs are prominent on the walls of the one-bedroom suite. The windows are trimmed with beige raw-silk drapes and navy-and-peach valances that mimic images from nearby landscape prints, as do the tailored duvet cover, pillows and bed cover. The shower curtain borrows from the "California Mission" print.

A humorous fish design is embossed on the lampshades and reappears on ashtrays and on the terry-cloth robes in the closet. The overstuffed chair and ottoman echo the beige raw silk of the curtains, and two desk chairs repeat images from the "Lady With Argyle Socks" print.

Jerry (not J.) Garcia Band music is available on the CD system, but guests will have to wait a bit longer for Cherry Garcia to become available in the refrigerator.

Also hung on the wall is a signed, framed grouping of Mr. Garcia's neckwear designs. It reminds visitors of the musician's clandestine appeal.

Some things don't change, though.

"Jerry doesn't own a tie," admitted Mr. McNally. "At his own wedding [in 1994], he was very snazzy -- a black vest over a nice white shirt -- but not a tie."

David Smith, general manager of the Beverly Prescott, said that the launch of the suite was "the single most successful event from an interest angle for us," and that he had logged reservations for the two weeks after its opening at the end of January. He credited the 18-hotel Kimpton Group with transplanting the J. Garcia Suite concept from San Francisco as "an idea that could work here," adding that "our company isn't cookie-cutter."

The firm opened the Beverly Prescott in May 1993, after the hotel -- previously the austere Beverly Hillcrest -- underwent a $12.5 million renovation and injection of hipness.

Jan McCormick, general manager of the 140-room Triton, said that since September, his J. Garcia Suite has had a 90-percent occupancy rate, and that tourists will drop in wanting to see it: "Dead Heads, but also people who are interested in his art."

Although he isn't likely to spend much time in the suites that carry his name, Mr. Garcia did attend the Triton opening and signed a wall.

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