The Last Hotel Tells the Story of St. Louis—and Not Just to Visitors
“The Last Hotel” sounds less like the name for an actual place you can rent a room than the title of a black-and-white film where glamorous noir heroines sashay through the hallways in silk gowns. And for co-owner and developer Tim Dixon, that’s not entirely wrong.
Since its opening on Washington Avenue on July 1, he’s been telling the story of his latest venture as if it were a great novel, and every single person who passes through its doors—from the guests to the bartender to the valet on the curb—was a character on the brink of a night that could change their lives forever.
Located just steps from St. Louis’ perhaps most beloved borderline-indescribable attraction, the City Museum—the two buildings actually share a walkway, which Dixon and his co-partners, Mike Qualizza and Neil Freeman, hope to turn into a whimsical greenhouse—and home to a restaurant and rooftop bar/pool that promises to become serious attractions in their own right, The Last Hotel is quite literally positioned to become the rare place where a critical mass of locals and visitors meet.
“Our guests, instead of staying at a hotel where they’re just heads in beds and getting a bad drink in the hotel bar before they leave the hotel to go find the culture—we bring the culture to them,” Dixon says. “We create, through design, what we call opportunities for interaction. So a local is sitting here talking with a visitor, and all of a sudden there’s this connection. And it might become something amazing.”
No, Dixon isn’t necessarily selling the romantic fantasy of meeting a handsome stranger over a martini on your St. Louis vacation. Because even if you don’t talk to another soul during your entire stay at the Last Hotel, you’ll meet a charming local just by virtue of where you’re staying. The building itself is something of a local character: locals probably know it as “The Hippo Building,” for the Bob Cassilly creation that once perched on the corner of the roof. (Dixon and his team took the pachyderm down to keep it safe while they completed renovations; they plan to put it back on the roof soon, where it can sun itself in that sweet rooftop pool.) In a former life, it was the administrative headquarters of the International Shoe company—if you haven’t made the connection yet, the mold that shoe-makers use to shape the body of a shoe is called a “last.”
Dixon embraced the industrial history of the space in other ways, too. Every element of the design—from the wrought-iron side-tables to the lovingly preserved art deco detailing to the leather furniture that put the smell of the shoe-finishing floor back into the space—speak powerfully to the history of the building. He’s even putting a shoeshine station in.
There’s no element of the space that better speaks to Dixon and his partners’ passion for the region than the menu in the eponymous hotel restaurant, The Last Kitchen—and it’s no surprise, given that they put food and drink at the center of all their hotel concepts. Dixon even dug through the rare book department at the Central Library in search of historic menus that could inspire his team, and the range of cuisine he came up with is a love letter to the Mississippi River and the unique blend of cultures it brought to our shores.
“We traced the river from Minnesota all the way down to New Orleans, and we developed a menu that’s at the intersection of all those influences,” Dixon says. “So thinking about Minnesota, for instance, you’ve gotta have a white fish in your menu; well, walleye is the Minnesota fish to eat. Get a little further downriver, and of course, you’ve gotta have toasted ravioli. But everybody’s doing toasted ravioli. So we have boudin, which is a New Orleans sausage, in our toasted ravioli.”
But perhaps what’s most exciting about The Last Hotel is something that you have to visit to experience: how subtle it is in delivering what Dixon calls “a true St. Louis, Missouri experience.” Don’t call it a boutique hotel, Dixon says, and certainly don’t talk about it as a themed hotel. Think of it more like a mystery novel, written with an author’s careful hand, designed to draw you deeper and deeper in.
“If you’re writing a book, you don’t want [the themes of the story] to be screaming out at you,” Dixon says. “You want all these subtle surprises. You want to be able to see the story evolve, and every single associate, from the housekeepers to the bartenders to the valet, will be able to help you understand that story because they can tell it. They’re a part of it.”
Images courtesy of The Last Hotel.