Sometimes it pays to be hospitable.
When three unknown men seated themselves in the Pattee Hotel’s dining room last Wednesday, having wandered into the by-invitation-only soft opening arranged by the hotel’s new owner to thank his local supporters with a free meal and give his cooks and servers a dress rehearsal before this week’s official opening, there was an awkward moment.
"I asked them who had sent them," Jay Hartz said Monday, "and explained the situation. They said nobody had sent them but that they thought we were open for business and were hoping to have a good meal. So I bought them their dinner and drinks."
Hartz bought a lot of people dinner and drinks last week, but this particular kindness came back multiplied when one from the party of unknowns called back Monday and booked six rooms for the week.
Hartz was plainly delighted with the turn of events, high-fiving with his staff when he got off the phone with the customer. But then he frowned.
"Now where are we going to get the rooms?"
No worries. He got the rooms with no trouble, though the guests were arriving that very night. The place is sparkling and poised for full suites and a big Art on the Prairie crowd this weekend, but these flurries of activity and excitement show launching so big an enterprise has its stresses.
Even a blessing can be stressing. The Perry ecumenical association arranged to bless the hotel’s main entrance, but by a minor miscommunication the event was thought to be held Monday but instead will happen Thursday. Hartz takes it all in stride.
"We’re ready," he said.
And so are his customers. After last week’s soft opening, the hotel’s restaurant, David’s Milwaukee Diner, did a brisk dinner business Monday night. A random sampling of diners’ opinions suggested they were satisfied with the food and its prices.
"The pasta diablo was perfect," one woman said, "just like we had it last summer in Rome."
Her husband seemed equally pleased. "The top sirloin was done just the way I like it. Iowans are used to pretty good steaks and aren’t too easy to impress that way, but this was real good."
In the bar, patrons were relaxed and even seemed a little relieved to have the hotel open again after its abrupt closure in July.
"I like the tone here," said one woman as she sipped her Heineken. "It’s about the only place in town not dominated by a flat-screen, sports-bar atmosphere. I love sports, too, but this is quieter and nice for a change. I’m really glad they’re back."
The City of Perry has been generous to the Pattee Hotel through the years, and the city council is considering further extending its help to the tune of $350,000 in urban renewal funding over the next three years, but support for the hotel also appears on a more personal scale.
For instance, after its two-hour meeting Monday night, the Perry City Council, or at least enough of its members to make quorum, repaired to the Pattee Hotel bar for refreshment on the eve of the general election.
"This is such a great day for Perry," said Mayor Jay Pattee of the hotel’s reopening. "So many towns are trying to establish their identity, to figure out what it is they want to be known for, and more and more Perry is being known for the Hotel Pattee."
The mayor recalled skiing in Colorado recently and meeting people on the ski lift from New Mexico. When they learned he was from Perry, "They asked me, ‘Say, don’t you have a really good hotel there?’" Pattee said.
"The hotel was a gift when it was built by the Pattee boys for their father, and it was a gift again when Roberta (Ahmanson) dropped all those dollars into restoring it," he said. In big ways and small, it seems hospitality pays.