In July, 2003, a shocking news story hit the wires: basketball mega-star Kobe Bryant was arrested for allegedly raping a woman in the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera in Edwards, Colorado. The story went global. Pre-Kobe, the hotel was known as an exclusive, low-key resort for quiet getaways in the mountains. Overnight, it became infamous. “The hotel was inundated with people requesting to stay in the Kobe room,’” said a hotel spokesperson.
A single incident involving a celebrity can turn even a low-profile hotel into a star-map attraction. Case in point: on February 7, 2007, who knew anything about the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida? But the following day, the hotel was on the lips of the world when Anna Nicole Smith was found unconscious in a room there, and now masses of people want to bask in the ambience of tabloid history (it’s “out of inventory” until the situation settles down, if you needed to know).
Of course, celebrities often act out on the very public stages of restaurants, nightclubs and hotels. Obviously, hotels are the most private — and ripe for scandal. And ever since “George Washington slept here” became a cliché, travelers have wanted to follow in the footsteps of fame, renting a room just to lay their head at the scene of an embarrassing drunken incident, a shocking criminal act or a death.
This creates a quandary for the hotel: how to handle the clamor for one specific room? In the case of the Cordillera, hotel management simply wanted the story to go away. So they played a game of three-room Monte: they renumbered the rooms and are keeping mum about where the star actually stayed.
Other hotels take a different approach: at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort in Clearwater Beach, Florida, televangelist Jim Bakker was caught after having illicit sex with a church secretary named Jessica Hahn back in 1980. Today, the hotel encourages gawkers, so much so that it promotes the room — #538 — on its Web site.
There are, of course, plenty of celebrity incidents that play out in the public areas of hotels. Russell Crowe made news by reportedly throwing a phone at an employee of New York’s Mercer Hotel. And of course, there’s the hotel that became the linguistic model for all subsequent scandal names — the Watergate.
But for our list of hotel celebrity scandals, we wanted to stick to incidents in specific rooms, and to hotels open today. That did rule out some good stories: Johnny Depp being arrested for trashing his room at The Mark hotel in New York back in 1994 (the hotel is closed for renovation until 2008), or Howard Hughes infamously holing up in his penthouse at Las Vegas’s Desert Inn with long fingernails and tissue boxes instead of shoes (Steve Wynn dozed it when he created his luxury behemoth).
In the best-case scenario, you can actually rent the room where the incident occurred: the Oscar Wilde suite at the Cadogan Hotel in London, say, where the author’s homosexuality was enough to create a furor and get him arrested in 1895. But sometimes, because of a desire to shut out a curious public (or simply because of renovations), the room is no more. The best you can do is get close.
Still, in the case of the Cordillera, you may some day find yourself in the “Kobe room,” albeit unknowingly. Because of the incident, though, one thing you won’t find at the hotel is Kobe beef; said a spokesperson, “the restaurant won’t serve it.”